I love coffee! Check out this rundown of five experiences, good and bad, that sum up my relationship with the beautiful bean...
5. Best - Coffee outdoors
Coffee on Curracloe Beach, Ireland 2008
Coffee on the Seine gazing at the Eiffel Tower, 2001
While the arrival of summer may make many people think of sport and adventure activities, I have to say sunshine - much like cold or wet weather - generally just makes me want to sit around! With the possible exception of beers in the open, there's no better way to do this than to grab a coffee and sit outside and watch the world go by. You can do this equally well with friends or by yourself with a iPod and something to read, and it's a pastime you can set up in seconds almost anywhere in the world (see no. 2).
4. Worst - The corporate Starbucks counter
I have nothing against Starbucks per se: in fact I find it quite tasty, especially Pike Place brewed coffee. Moreover, in some parts of the world it's the best coffee going (see no. 2). But some of their mini-counters within corporate buildings don't have any brew coffee - at least not in Ireland - and instead they just sell pretty insipid americanos, lattes, espressos etc. Needless to say, the effect of joining a lukewarm espresso shot with searingly hot water does not produce nice coffee. Plus in place of a nice coffee smell, the counter will probably stink of vanilla, yuck.
3. Best - Coffee at the cinema
Generally, most representations of the cinema involve people going to see a film in the evening. And that's great, but if you ask me the best time to go to the cinema is during the day, a weekday if you can. The theater will most likely be empty, so you can slouch into your seat in whichever way seems best to you and while away the afternoon in a complete daydream. Essential to this experience is a good strong coffee. One of the first times I moonlighted as a film critic in Dublin I was allowed to bring in my coffee - with china cup and saucer, no less - into the movie, which the IFI doesn't allow regular patrons to do. A great way to start the day!
2. Worst - Coffee in China
The worst thing about coffee in China is, well, there is no coffee in China. Picture a two-horse town where there's only bad, weak, lukewarm instant coffee for sale - if you can even find it - and then multiply that by like 100 million: that's China. Unlike in normal times when Starbucks is the fall-back option, if you are in a metropolitan center of China that has a foreign population large enough to sustain a coffee house, you jump at the chance to drink one - look how ridiculously happy I am in this photo!
We did have an Italian stove-top coffee pot in our apartment in remote east China (above), thanks only to my wife's foresight and my personal importation of same. If that place had burned, I would have left everything except my coffee pot! If that sounds a bit extreme, I once paid about $13 for a quite small cup of real-ish coffee in Hangzhou International Airport - and you know what, it was worth it!
1. Best - American brewed coffee
When it comes to stereotypes about coffee, most will probably picture an artsy cafe in France or Italy complete with fresh baguettes and outdoor seating. As nice as that does sound to me, it's not the best in the world: American coffee is. This is simply a question of method - the filter process just makes better coffee, period. I don't know why espresso-based coffees are considered gourmet and are served in fancy restaurants and hotels around the world when regular brewed coffee tastes way better.
And best of all, it comes in plentiful quantities - no frantic looking around to catch the waiter's eye in order to pay again for a second cup here! My favorites include Seattle's Best, Flying Star (a cafe chain unique to New Mexico) and Dunkin' Donuts, but almost anything that isn't Folgers will generate a delicious brew. In fact, until next time dear readers, I'm going to go make a fresh pot right now...