Jul 102013
jumping coffee beans

According to vicious rumor, I can make coffee nervous.

What is it about that mystery brew I consume every morning?

Honore de Balzac, who’s been known to consume mass quantities, describes the mental energy that can only be attributed to coffee:

“This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.”

 Good description. Of what, I’m not sure.

That first cup does get a whole bunch of stuff galloping, but let’s get real. Balzac’s account may also be attributed to several other things. Catch his racing thoughts? The chaos seeking some semblance of order in his brain? They tell me there’s therapy for stuff like that.

Creative types swear by the powers of this amazing brew. Guys like Voltaire and — yes, Balzac — drank at least 30 cups of it a day. Balzac’s caffeine consumption was so legendary that a Web search shows a number of coffee shops that bear his name. Now, that’s a reputation.

Yeah, I mentioned Voltaire. Someone told him coffee was a slow poison, and he said it must be. He’d been drinking it for 50 years and wasn’t dead yet.

Myself, I’m a relative novice at this caffeine thing. I’ve only been drinking it for 40 years. Figure it out. I’m 55 now, and started grabbing that last (strong) cup from Mom’s and Dad’s percolator at 15. OK, I was a wuss. Two spoons of sugar and a blast of milk made it drinkable.

By the time I was 20, I began leaving out the milk and sugar. Maybe it was partly a financial move, but the straight stuff tastes so much better.

Now my blend of choice is Cafe Bustelo, a relatively inexpensive espresso blend. It’s finely ground, and it does the job. While running around with a friend I had a pot of that blend in a Thermos, and soon after he had a cup he said he needed to take something to bring him back down.

What a lightweight!

Caveat: With a finely-ground espresso blend, making campfire coffee gets problematic. I use a tea strainer when out in the wild, and all the grounds leach out. What I end up with is a cup of sludge. Best. Coffee. Ever.

I got into a recent discussion with some fellow writers (at Starbucks, of course) about coffee snobs. Now, that’s a term you never heard until a couple of years ago. But now you have folks who eschew anything you get from a supermarket and only get their brew from someplace like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts; that’s the working definition of a coffee snob.

I had to ask: “If I only drank coffee that tastes like someone dropped a cigar butt in it, does that make me a coffee snob?”

No, my friends assured me. That just makes me a junkie. Somehow that sounds better.


Caffeine confessional

One of the realities of my usual range of moods is that coffee does a number on my equilibrium. Just about every mental health professional I know offers the same advice: Cut down. Or cut it out.

Uh, not so fast. I’ll swallow my meds, get good rest and do my level best to avoid too much stress. When you start talking about eliminating coffee, them’s fightin’ words.

coffee beans in a cup

Now, that’s how to drink it. Really.

I have, however, cut down. Somewhat. It was kind of enforced. I had this big beautiful 12-cup coffee maker in my kitchen. Yeah man, a 12-cupper and I live alone. You can figure that one out. Anyway, this 12-cupper (with a built-in grinder) bit the dust on me — overuse perhaps? — and I needed a fast replacement.

So I moved my desktop coffee maker to the kitchen, where it became the primary machine. Rather than 12 cups, this one makes four.

Four small cups, that is. Four teeny-tiny cups; the kind you’d find with a child’s tea set, that is. It fills my jumbo coffee mug twice. But that’s my morning ration.

OK, I’ll cheat a little bit. A couple of days a week I’ll go over to Starbucks for some heavy writing/uploading, and of course I’m gonna buy something from them for letting me use a table and wireless signal. It’s a courtesy. For me that’s a big (they call it “vente”) cup of their strongest, hold the cream, hold the sugar, all the caffeine I can stand. Add a blueberry muffin and that’s all the fuel I’ll need.

Starbucks makes a good work area and I get a lot done, but I try to tune out any conversations coming from the counter. The last thing I need to hear is people asking to adulterate their coffee. Somehow, when you add the chocolate sprinkes, whipped cream and a triple shot of something or other it ceases to be coffee.


Optimum levels

OK, here’s what I found out. I have an optimum blood-caffeine level. Anything more than that and I’m all over the map. Forget creativity at this point. Ideas may come, but execution is a whole different matter. I get sloppy. Anything that involves surgical precision — such as fixing this Web site after I blew up the coding like I did a few days ago — is impossible. Shoot, even reading the instructions on how to fix this Web site becomes a chore.

For me, two jumbo mugs in the morning — about what my four-cupper makes — is my optimum. Maybe a maintenance dose at Starbucks in the afternoon. Maybe a cup or two with friends in the evening, but that’s like social drinking.

OK, let’s assume I need to cut down or eliminate the caffeine. Just the thought frightens me. OK, so how about decaf?

Forget it. Now if I was into one of those weirdo latte drinks it might work. I mean, by then you won’t be able to tell if there’s coffee in there anyway. But if you take it straight, you’ll know right away.

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