Michael Perry: Just happy to have some
I would rank my coffee snobbery on a sliding scale somewhere between “Slightly Snooty” and “Just Happy To Have Some.” Of course I believe a ceramic cupful brewed at just the right temperature with fresh-ground, fresh-roasted beans and pure water that has never touched plastic tastes better than some supermarket grind from a can, and to say otherwise is to pretend there’s no difference between grades of motor oil, hand loads versus factory loads, or a drop forged wrench as opposed to cheap-o cast. That said, sometimes all’s you need is to crank down a bolt on the rototiller, and sometimes all’s you need is to get going in the morning, at which point any one of your tin-canned or truck-stop-distributed brews provides sufficient combustion and comfort. You check my personal coffee-making supplies situation right this minute and you’ll find a can of mass market grounds right alongside the artisanal beanery.
So. High-end grind or Regular Joe joe, I’m good to go. But on one principle I have long stood in unrepentant opposition: flavored coffee.
I still remember the first time I came across it. Early 1990s. A friend’s wife worked at a coffee shop in the mall, back when a coffee shop in a mall was still unusual. We stopped in, and I — a straight-up yellow-plastic-scooper Folgers boy at the time — was entranced by the aroma of snickerdoodle coffee, caramel toffee coffee, chocolate raspberry coffee, pecan pie coffee, butter rum coffee, and on and on. I chose a couple, took them home, and brewed them up.
You know how sometimes you think there’s one more step at the top of the stairs and you stick your hoof out and there’s nothing there? And you nearly fall on your face because you were expecting something a little more sturdy? And although you shoulda seen it coming, you feel like you’ve been snookered?
That’s how I feel about flavored coffee. Smells great, tastes … something short of that.
Preserve your outrage and evangelism: This is about me, not you. One of my prime mentors — a West Point graduate of character, rectitude and success — drinks flavored coffee constantly. Still I admire him. Go for it. But over time I have so grown to love the pure bean I find any syrupy fakery a personal affront. (The addition of sugar and creamers is another character issue altogether, and I will leave it alone; I can wage this battle on only so many fronts.)
Last week, her vision blurred by a red-hot deal, my wife inadvertently purchased two pounds of flavored beans. Jonesing, I ripped into them before checking the label, which read, “A rich and creamy blend of vanilla, caramel and coffee liqueur flavoring.”
I married for better or worse, with the ratio running lopsided to the prior. We wound up with those beans because my wife is overworked and frugal, and two cups a day, I am drinking that coffee until it is gone. The blend could be worse (were “mint” or “cobbler” or anything ending in “delight” involved, I’d have to tap out) although one wonders what sort of coffee bean requires the addition of “coffee liqueur flavoring.” Marriage and coffee require compromise. What we have here is a situation not of taste but of budget, and early on these window-frost mornings, I am Just Happy To Have Some.