Jul 17, 2011

my personal history of coffee drinking

What?! Coffee?!

Well, first of all, maybe coffee counts as some sort of "herbal" "tea"? :-D

Secondly, I do like coffee. And it's something quite unique that I've adopted in my adult life. I can't recall my early history of tea drinking, since it was too much of daily life and all memories were blurred. I can't recall my early history of alcohol drinking either, because, as you may know, Chinese kids can start drinking alcohol from whatever age. Up till today, I've never been a frequent alcohol drinker. But my first glass of wine was too early to remember :-p So for me to review some personal history of beverage, what's left is coffee.

My earliest coffee experience was at the age of 10 or so. Back then, coffee was not commonly seen in China. One day, we got an "expensive and fancy gift" - instant coffee by Nestle Cafe :-D On a Sunday afternoon, during our usual tea time, we made some instant coffee. Nobody managed to finish the third sip and everybody was deeply puzzled how come this dark brown, bitter and sour thing was said to be a very popular drink in the Western Hemisphere :-p  So we put away the coffee and barely had it again. Later, probably in another gift set that we received, we "discovered" coffee mate, and found coffee more "bearable" with coffee mate added. For a few times, we received ground coffee as gifts. We thought of it as more complicated to handle and less "bearable" than instant coffee.

In the old days in China, milk usually arrived (or was purchased) every morning, and was immediately boiled and taken as part of the breakfast. There was almost never cold milk stored in the fridge. So it was only years later that I "discovered" milk for coffee.

By the time we made coffee more "bearable" with coffee mate, all of us basically lost interest for coffee and thought it could only be enjoyed by some people for mysterious reasons. So we seldom had coffee again, and re-gifted all our coffee to other people. Back then, coffee was a trendy gift. But I suspect some friends who received our re-gifted coffee didn't enjoy it more than we did :-p

In 2000, the second year I got my driver's license, I took a road trip to the southwest and drove for more than 3000 miles in 10 days, all by myself. That was when I felt a need for caffeine and found some coffee didn't taste bad at all (I mean those cups of coffee I had in rural restaurants...) So when I came back home, I started drinking coffee in the morning, Nestle or Maxwell instant coffee...

All those years I had been in the States, I didn't pay much attention to Starbucks, not even curious about it, as I was not yet a coffee drinker. Then, in the summer of 2001, I "discovered" Starbucks, in Beijing - because, back then, all cool kids in Beijing were supposed to have Starbucks experience. So I found out Starbucks ice Mocha was my favorite, huh, desert beverage! Back in the States, I did notice ice Mocha here is a lot sweeter, too sweet for me to handle. But I enjoyed my Starbucks experience and stopped by from time to time.

At about the same time, I lived with a nice couple who shared with me their coffee made from a filter drip coffee maker. They had very high quality coffee and rotated flavors from time to time. Soon I happily found that I lost tolerance of instant coffee. Meantime, I started to realize Starbucks seemed quite expensive, considering the cost and quality of home brewed coffee.

In 2003, I had another roommate who kindly shared with me her coffee made from a stove-up Moka pot. That just blew me away! From then one, I became a loyal fan of Moka pot. Then I got a coffee grinder and started buying coffee beans. In 2006, after I moved to an area within the territory of Trader Joe's, I started buying organic, fair trade beans from them. I appreciate it very much that they offer such a broad range of coffee. In recent years, I buy most of my coffee beans from a Guatemala plantation. It's not certified organic. My husband once spotted the plantation on his bicycle and decided to take a tour in it. According to him, the environment and operation of the plantation are quite convincing, so whether or not it's certified organic doesn't make a big difference. Also it's not Fair Trade certified, but for us, it's direct trade anyway. 

This is my personal history of coffee drinking. I am glad I "discovered" coffee and fell in love with it. I am also very glad that I wasn't eternally cast away from coffee after my first few painful tastings. Finally I am glad I didn't stop at instant coffee. Overall I am just an ordinary coffee drinker, not an "aficionada". I don't actively look for new types of coffee, and feel satisfied with my simple coffee ware. Till now I still feel lucky that I formed a bond with Moka pots, as none of my Moka pots ever costs more than $20. Even the one on my wishlist is under $50. So to me, coffee drinking is a lot less expensive than tea drinking :-D

What beverage do you like other than tea? Any other coffee+tea lovers out there?


Lew Perin said...

I love coffee too but I try to drink it only when I expect to really enjoy it. No coffee from the drip pot at work. No coffee from the deli whose roasted vegetables I think about when I'm out of town. For me it doesn't really make sense to make it at home because most of a half pound will be stale before I get to it.

So my aim with coffee is to drink it at places that e.g. go through the whole Japanese coffee nerd protocol for “pour-over“—let’s hear it for WTF Coffee in Ft. Greene!—or rely on the kindness of friends who are coffee fanatics.

I will admit that I relax my standards when traveling. When the coffee looks decent and the only tea possible is a generic bag in a paper cup…

Gingko said...

Exacly what I feel! Coffee, alcohol, chocolate, ice-cream... I would like to have them when they are really of high quality. Otherwise I can skip them and save myself the side effects. And even when they are of very high quality, I usually don't have a lot in one day. (well, there are chocolate or ice-cream outbreaks occasionally...)

I have no such cautiouosness for tea :D

Jesse said...

I too enjoy good coffee!

In Helsinki, Finland I have a really nice café nearby which is owned and operated by coffee connoisseur couple, I like to stop for a cup as often as I can. I like them especially as they have small batches of something interesting available frequently.
I don't bother making coffee at home, however. I like coffee, but it's just not worth the trouble when having all the tea around. If I like something of quality and I'm not in a mood for tea, I'm usually in a mood for scotch. No I have been tasting some dan congs, and there seems to be something very similar in natures of scotch and dancong...

Gingko said...

Jesse, interesting thought comparing Dan Cong to Scotch. I can't handle Scotch at all. But I have very similar feeling as yours about dan cong and some other strong oolong! I started as a green tea drinker, heard of all kinds of zen stories about tea and thought they described exactly how tea feels. Later when I started drinking oolong, especially the strong ones, I thought, now I am sure this is NOT the tea zen students drank in ancient time! :-p

Rich said...

Cool story! Funny that you mentioned an early, fancy gift being Nestle coffee. My "aunt" in Beijing specifically requests Nescafe instant coffee whenever we go to visit her.


Gingko said...

Yeah Nescafe used to be a big deal in China. I guess it still is now. Also interestingly, it's making tea specifically for Chinese market now. A friend of mine mentioned a restaurant tea he had recently is a Nescafe black plum flavored puerh. His comment is, sanitary and tasty!