The thing about coffee

The first time I tried coffee I thought it was wretched… and in truth it most likely was. As far as memory serves, the first time I tried coffee was at a Boy Scout camp many, many years ago. It was served to me in a small Styrofoam cup and had come from one of those giant metal urns one associates with industrial kitchens, like say the kind you would find at a Boy Scout camp somewhere in Illinois, sometime in the very early 1980s. I could not choke the stuff down and had no interest in trying. Just tea thank you.

The next time I tried was actually a similar sort of situation… sort of. I was in Denali Park working in the now defunct Park Hotel kitchen. There was no Styrofoam cup this time but the stuff did come out of a large metal vat. I was urged to try it mixed with hot cocoa. The taste was still a bit dodgy, but the physiological effect… well that was something altogether different. I was not really sure that I liked it but I would come to understand its value.

I am not entirely sure when I truly learned to appreciate coffee, but I would be very willing to bet it was in Talkeetna, in particular when working at the Roadhouse (to this day Trisha still serves Café Del Mundo I expect). I am also fairly certain that it was during this time that I learned about the various ways to brew coffee, and likewise how to appreciate the various characteristics coffee can exhibit. Coffee is a world unto itself.

I am not ashamed in the least to say that I am — for the most part — a coffee snob. That said I believe that coffee exists in a sort of continuum. There is no doubt that I have experienced coffee so foul it startled me at its overpowering wretchedness. Likewise I have savored coffee so inextricably sublime that the interaction went far beyond the mere gustatory into realms of combined sensory bliss.

I love coffee. Just ask the Wife how much coffee we brought back from Hawaii recently (best not to ask how much is left though…).


It was also in Talkeetna where/when I first was introduced to Agent Cooper. Now for those of you that do not know, Agent Cooper — Coop — to his friends, REALLY liked a good cup of coffee (and pie, but that is another matter). But, like myself (and here I might suggest that our paths are intertwined… despite the potentially alarming possibilities this might imply)  Coop was quite articulate in expressing the value of coffee in an existential sense. There is good coffee and there is the goodness that is coffee. These are different things. So when he suggests, as in the graphic above (via his creator David Lynch), that “Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all” I would implore that this statement is expressing the truth in the latter of the two positions stated above rather than the former.

You see, coffee in the purest sense of the word, is an experience, not simply a beverage. When treated as just a beverage the goodness of coffee is severely underwhelmed, if not lost altogether. When treated as a sensory experience, as a ritual, this thing called coffee takes on a much more complex level of existence. In the latter case, the “quality” of the coffee is really just one element in the “quality” of the experience. Certainly the smell, the taste, the appropriate temperature and serving vessel, the manner in which the coffee was prepared (from growing and harvesting to shipping and storing to roasting and brewing), the environment in which the actual, physical beverage is partaken will all play a part in this experience. But it is more than that. In its truest form coffee is an experience.

Point being the best coffee in the world served in a cold, dirty, Styrofoam  cup in a dark alley may still taste ok but it may not live up to its full potential. On the other hand if the person drinking it is also cold and dirty and just wants something warm to drink, the flavor may be overlooked, but the experience certainly will not. Conversely, the most wretched, foul bitches brew treated like Jamaican Blue Mountain and served in immaculate surroundings, may disappoint in flavor, but the person drinking it may accept it (or at least tolerate it) as passable because of the overall experience.

Either way it is beside the point. You see Coop is not merely mumbling the plea that, of a morning, when really in need of “coffee” (in this expression “caffeine” may be the better term and this is really completely beside the point here) anything will do. Rather, he is suggesting that coffee, being an experience in and of itself exists in a continuum, as I have already suggested. Thus when one truly wants a “cup of coffee”, even “bad” coffee will do.


2 thoughts on “The thing about coffee

  1. That said, Sanka is the sad equivalent of a smoker rummaging through a public ashtray looking for a but hey, I’ve been there before… I would help a brother out. Even the toxic vats of swill at 12 Step recovery meetings was an improvement along the long, slow path of recovery into coffee elitism. Years back I couldn’t stand Kaladi Brothers (locally via LuLu’s), it being too strong and bitter, but now that’s most of what moves through my veins in the morning.
    Haven’t yet roasted myself, but the closest to bliss is batch of fresh, still-warm beans from AK Coffee Roasters, ground by hand back at the cabin and French-pressed.

  2. PhictionandPhilosophy

    DAMN fine coffee!

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