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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Coffee can be grounds for change

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ordering coffee used to be one of the easiest things in the world. It was once such a simple pleasure: Black, two sugars, thank you very much.

Oh, sure, you could have cream, too. But dump in a little too much, and pretty soon somebody asks, "Oh, you like Boston coffee, huh?" Like Boston cream pie, I suppose.

Back in the day, every movie detective worth his rumpled trench coat ultimately sidled up to the counter at the corner diner in some cheesy transitional scene and ordered up a "cup of Joe."

That even carried over to TV in the 1990s. Special Agent (Dale, not D.B.) Cooper made a ritual of it, alternately seeking out Laura Palmer's killer and "a damn fine cup of coffee" (which he took black, of course) in the drama "Twin Peaks." He was partial to "a good cherry pie," too, as I recall.

Businesses used to build coffee breaks into the daily schedule. Pretty soon our coffee wasn't just good to the last drop, it was a necessity to get through the workday.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the office coffee pot. Coffee got complicated. And I don't mean just deciding between decaf and drip grind.

Where a few cans of Folgers and Maxwell House once competed with Chock Full o'Nuts, store brands and instant varieties in an aisle of the local A & P, you now need a PhD in caffeine just to figure out which coffee to buy these days.

There's ground and there's beans. Kona blend, Arabica, Java, Sumatra and Colombian.

Flavors like Hazelnut, French Vanilla, English toffee, Swiss mocha and caramel macchiato. Every flavor but Flav. Either roasted right into the beans or added via creamers like Candy Cane Coffeemate.

Sugar has yielded the sweetness to saccharine, Sweet 'n' Low, NutraSweet and Splenda. Now Splenda even comes with its own flavoring (the French vanilla is pretty sweet).

Man, it's intimidating enough just trying to order at Starbucks or one of those other $5 coffee places.

Latte? Well, la-di-dah. Espresso? I can't express my distaste enough. Half-caf? What's that, a kid-size hunk of veal?

The barista (fancy word for counter help) suggested I try a pumpkin spice latte the other day. That's when I knew what I really needed was an Irish coffee.

Black coffee with cream and whiskey? That I can understand.

Yep, this coffee culture has come a long way from my first taste of after-dinner java with mom and dad.

That became our evening tradition. Once the dinner dishes were done, the percolator would come out, the coffee would be brewed (not steamed, pressed or poured through someone's sweat socks) and mom would serve it up on those rickety, old TV trays as we watched "Columbo" or "Perry Mason" or Richard Kimble chasing the one-armed man.

Those memories came flooding back the other evening as I stood in front of bag after bag and can after can of coffee, trying to pick something that sounded interesting yet flavorful.

I picked up a 12-ounce bag of something called Highlander Grog and read with interest the package's side panel. Seems it's a blend of quality coffee, roasted pecans, Scottish brandy and 11 secret herbs and spices. (OK, so I made up that part about the secret herbs).

But it's kind of a nutty, spicy, boozy mixture that would make a pirate proud and smells for all the world like maple syrup.

Yep, that's my kind of coffee all right. Can't believe it took this long to find it.

So if I seem a little more jittery than usual these days, I thought it only fair that you all know: It's the maple syrup.