Confessions of a Coffee Heretic

I am a coffee lover by birth and by nurture. I come by my passion for coffee honestly, having been raised by an Italian grandmother who kept a hand-cranked coffee grinder on the shelf above her cast iron stove and was never happier than when she could get green beans to roast. Most of the time, though, she resorted to buying bags of roasted beans at the A&P. Eight O’Clock Coffee was my idea of heaven, and one of my favorite chores as a little girl was to turn the crank on the old-fashioned coffee grinder. The aroma was incredible, better even than the steamy coffee smell that filled the whole house when Nana brewed her coffee.

Alas, even Nana, who washed dishes after they came out of the dishwasher because a machine didn’t know how to wash dishes, eventually succumbed to buying ground coffee in cans. She had no choice. By the time I was in my teens, there wasn’t a single supermarket that sold whole bean coffee anywhere in the city. My tastebuds, whetted early on by freshly roasted and ground real coffee, learned to accept anything dark brown that tasted vaguely coffee like, though I preferred my coffee strong enough to stand a spoon in. My friends learned to never let me make the coffee – they preferred typical New England coffee, pale enough to see the light through. There were small blessings now and then – visits to the homes of aunts and uncles that ended with wonderful espresso, the occasional perfect cup of coffee at the end of a North End meal – but for the most part, I grew accustomed to having ‘just coffee’.

That all changed in 1982 when I walked through the door of a tiny storefront coffee house and fell in love with coffee all over again. Ethiopian Yrgacheffe was my main passion, but I could be coaxed to try others. I bought a French press and a coffee grinder, even though both seemed to be a bit of an affectation. My husband wooed me with pounds of specialty coffee beans. I kept the drip coffee maker, because it was handy, and honestly, when I started with good coffee, it made good coffee. But the very best coffee came out of the steam moka pot I picked up at a yard sale for a buck.

In 1999, my adventures with coffee took another turn. A coworker introduced me to the joys of coffee fresh from the roaster. Peter belonged to a startup coffee cooperative that experimented daily with different blends and roasts of coffee from all over the world. Once or twice a week, he brought in a new blend or roast, made a pot and shared it. It was under his tutelage that I learned all the nuances of flavor that coffee could bring to the cup – the fruity notes, the woody undertones, the earthy hints, the richness and complexity of the flavors imbued by wind and earth and sun and heaven knows what other factors that impacted the growth of that coffee. It was Peter who introduced me to the concept of Fair Trade and estate coffee and single origin coffee. And it was with Peter’s blessing that I embarked upon roasting my own coffee.

All of this is by way of introduction – presenting my credentials, so to speak. I’m not a coffee newbie. I’m no barista, and certainly no expert in the ways of the roast, but I do know a thing or two about coffee, and I’ve had my share of wonderful, sublime coffee moments. But I don’t subscribe to the mantra of the coffee snob. I am, quite frankly, a coffee heretic. When friends ask my advice about coffee, I tell them simply, “Drink what you like.”

That’s right. Coffee is a matter of personal taste. If you like coffee in your drip coffee maker, go for it. You’re not ruining good coffee, you’re simply making it the way that you like it. I won’t preach the evils of the percolator. If you like your coffee perked, go for it. I’ve even stopped trying to convince acquaintances that if they only tried REAL coffee, they’d never drink the swill they enjoy again. Because honestly, If you like it, it’s not swill. So here is my coffee manifesto.

Coffee is good. Good coffee is better. Good coffee made the way that YOU like it is a cup of nirvana. Don’t ever let yourself be intimidated or shamed by your coffee preferences. There is no shame in liking perked coffee. It’s all in your taste buds. Buy what you like. Drink what you like. And don’t let anyone ever tell you that your coffee isn’t good enough.

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