There are so many great and interesting developments in the world of food and drink these days. But that’s for another column. Give me a moment, now, to talk about one of the worst.
I hate how coffee is going the way of beer, in becoming more and more like wine.
Here’s what happened the last time I visited a place not named Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks.
Scanning the printed sheet of ten coffees, each accompanied by long, detailed tasting notes identifying the provenance of the beans and the particular “profile” of the brew, I asked the guy behind the counter for a little help.
A tight-laced sort with a mien more suited to puzzling over Wittgenstein than pouring coffee, he replied that I should instead tell him what I like in a coffee.
What I like in a coffee: a coffee that tastes like coffee.
“Dark, round, mellow, intense,” I said.
He chewed his lip—clearly this was a conundrum—and recommended “the closest thing we have.”
I read the description on the sheet, stopping when I got to the phrase “notes of citrus and cherry.”
“No citrus,” I said, joking that I didn’t care to mix my morning coffee with my OJ.
No laugh or smile, but oh, my goodness—the frown! It was as intense as the coffee wasn’t.
Look, I love the idea of not giving my money to a corporate multinational like Starbucks. But that’s not to say I want what so many indie coffee shops—including DC’s Wydown and Slipstream and others—seem intent on providing.
As if to position themselves as far as possible from the mainstream java behemoth, they’re turning a cup of joe into something it never was—something esoteric and precious, which, in the foodie world these days, means something more deserving of our close scrutiny and, therefore, worth our extra money.
In the past month, I drank one cup that put me in mind of a Belgian sour beer, one that tasted like a chai dashed with lemon, and one—strangest of all—that was like a cross between a cup of tea with milk and a Beaujolais on the verge of turning.
I know I’m not alone in my simple needs.
I mean, right? In the morning, we want our caffeine and we want it now, and we really don’t care to ruminate on what we’re drinking. As long as it’s full-bodied and strong. And when we want something to lift us out of our post-lunch lethargy, yes, of course we want something delicious, but it’s just as much about taking the time out to warm the hands, breathe in the hot steam, and luxuriate in the comforting taste of something rich and mellow.
There’s a time and a place for “notes of citrus and cherry”—and that time and place is summer on the patio with a nice crisp glass of rosé while the steaks cook.
This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.