London Wake-Up

Good morning from Costa Coffee in King’s Cross.

The imposing Victorian edifice across the street is the train station housing Platform 9-3/4 . (For you muggle/nomaj types, that’s the London terminus of the Hogwarts Express.)

The coffee in the foreground is an iced Americano. After a wholesome breakfast of oats, almond butter, and whey protein, my stomach is returning to normal.

S. Patrick’s Revenge

The sun retreats behind the bricks of Fort Mason, but I barely notice the change in the room. The wood panels, the yellowed clippings, the dark oak tables glow under the lamps, and at the center of my vision sits a drink that almost defies me with its noxious smell.

It is an Irish Coffee.

Scratch that.

This is no ordinary Irish Coffee. This, as legend has it, is THE Irish Coffee, the original Columbio-Celtic concoction delivered as and where it was introduced to these shores sixty-odd years ago, thence to become a late-night mainstay of bars around America in a range of bastardized forms. I have had “Irish Coffee” a few times before and have even tried my own hand at making them, but after swilling consistently Gawd-awful concoctions of bar coffee and Bailey’s Irish Cream, I had developed a gag-reflex at the very mention of the drink.

And yet, here I am, at The Buena Vista. The salad and fish & chips are in my belly. All that is left is for me to sample the cocktail for which this pub is famous.

The drink is before me, alternately tempting and repulsive.

I gird myself, and take a sip.

The first taste is ridiculously smooth.

I cock my head. A fluke, surely. And sip again.

And it is even better.

My body and mind transform, turn inside out. I suddenly love whiskey and corned beef. My inhibitions leave me like they’re late for a train.

Another, longer sip. Well, okay, a slurp.

I check. All communications with my toes have been lost, and the lines are falling throughout my lower body. Somebody call the SFPD and the Coast Guard: there is an emergency here.

The hotel is two blocks away. I’m not sure I’ll make it. But at least I won’e feel cold.

I shake myself a bit, reluctantly discarding the temptation to have another while I still have a sense of direction. You know, like which way is up.

It’s 7:30pm, and I just barely retain the common sense to dread the dawn.

Now I know why people shouldn’t drink alone, and why we go into bars. With a drink like this, much less two, one cannot afford to be unsupervised at any time.

I pick up my notebook and rise slowly from the table. With great deliberation, I push my chair back in, straighten up, and walk carefully out the door and down the steps, and turn toward Hyde. I’m not walking, but floating on a mist of whiskey, cream and coffee.

Coffee Mug of the Month: Steeley-Eyed Missile-Man Go-Juice

Perhaps it is a consequence of being a (late) Baby Boomer, but I will always have a very soft spot in my heart for NASA. The agency has had its troubles, and the initiative for space seems to have been taken from NASA by a nation that seems to have lost its appetite for space exploration. But Mars looms, and I reckon that the agency has one more blockbuster mission left in it.

The Encomplication of the K-Cup

The intrepid entrepreneurs of Green Mountain invented – and continue to perfect – the Keurig coffee maker with the idea that simplifying the process of making coffee is a service to mankind.

That they have simplified the process is indisputable. That they make it possible for a household to enjoy many types of coffee and hot drinks with a much-lessened fear of wastage is certain. But they cannot put an end to the perverse delight we humans seem to take in complicating simple processes, or our conceit that in doing so we somehow make it better.

To my great embarrassment, I must add myself to the list of those thus conceited.

My wife prefers her coffee from our Keurig*. Now, let go on the record and say that while the two of us used to pride ourselves on being fairly low-maintenance, as we enjoy the aging process we find ourselves becoming rather more obsessive-compulsive and rather less easygoing about things in our lives.

My wife has developed some rather exacting standards about her coffee.

On the mornings when I am home, I make her coffee, and in order to ensure her complete satisfaction I have developed the following process.

  1. Start by turning on the machine and letting it pre-heat. The machine must be ready when steps 2-6 are completed, or it screws up the entire process.
  2. Pick cup. This sounds prosaic: I assure you it is not. I need a cup that is totally clean, that is large enough to fit 16 ounces of fluid, and has enough capacity to keep from spilling over the edge during step 10. And it must be one of “her” cups. There are about six of these, and sometimes she’ll use two in a day, one for coffee and one for tea. You can see how a busy week may find me staring at a cupboard with no options.
  3. Rinse cup. Yes, the cup is clean, but what I do is run hot water over the cup for about 15 seconds so that the cup does not act to chill the coffee.
  4. Dry cup. Extra moisture on the inside dilutes the coffee, and on the outside makes it harder to hold. These are big mugs, and she has small hands.
  5. Add four ounces of milk or, on special occasions, half-and-half. Four ounces is just the right amount for the cup size and to give her the balance of milk and coffee that she needs.
  6. Microwave milk for 38 seconds. This ensures that the milk is at about the same temperature as the coffee coming out of the machine, so the coffee does not cool.
  7. Insert pod into machine, close. I put the pod in first in case grounds are dislodged in the process and fall out of the spout. Nothing worse than floating rogue coffee grounds – they look disturbingly like formerly-living contaminants.
  8. Set cup onto machine and brew 8 oz coffee. Again, to get the right mix and to leave me enough room for the next step, I stop at 8 ounces. Could she drink more? Sure. But by the time she gets to the bottom of 12 ounces of brew, the concoction has cooled and she doesn’t drink it.
  9. Whip coffee at three separate settings for 30 seconds total. This gets a real froth going and ensures that the coffee and the milk have thoroughly mixed.
  10. Microwave brew for 28 seconds. She likes her coffee hotter than it comes out of the Keurig machine, and the mixture has lost some heat in the whipping process. For some reason this also gives off some more froth, so all to the good.
  11. Serve hot. I’ve got about a minute before the coffee starts cooling noticeably, so I time the whole process in order to serve the coffee directly from the above step when she is ready to drink, i.e., when she is done fixing our son’s breakfast and sitting at the table, or when she is at her desk watching the markets.

If one step is missed, I can assure you that she will notice, and while my wife without her morning coffee is a trial for the both of us, my wife served her morning coffee with any of the above steps skipped is a sight from a Wes Craven film.

So my hat is off to the inventors of the Keurig machine: they have rendered a genuine service to legions of the time-limited caffeine addicted who wanted something better than instant coffee in their own homes. For me, sadly, their best intentions have set me on quest for the perfect in-home morning cup, and I think we all know where that leads.




*NB – so did I when we first got it. Lest you think that she is the only one in this household with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I have of late, and wherefore I know not, also become OCD about my morning joe. For me, it had best be fresh ground coffee out of a press, a habit that I carry on even when camping or traveling. But that’s another story of obsessive compulsion that I will save for later.

Coffee Mug of the Month: The Cherry of Seattle

Not far from Pioneer Square in Seattle is the Cherry Street Coffee House, a hidden oasis of superb coffee and healthy eats.

Sure, there are plenty of little joints scattered around Seattle, but I keep finding myself going back to this one. Cherry Street also boasts one of those bohemian dining areas that beg you to sit down, pull out your laptop or your Moleskine, and start creating.

That it’s a block from my company’s Seattle office, a block from my preferred hotel, and a block from the LINK light rail line to Sea-Tac make it one of the best-located writer’s nooks on my list anywhere.

I think it’s time to cook up a reason for a deductible junket…