It began in Wal-mart. It was early days for Holli and I: newly married, recently Sioux Fallsian, and considering our morning beverage options in Impulse Buyer Heaven. We stood amongst the coffee, and my stomach twisted with conflict.
I had grown up with CDs (coffee drinkers), and my mother’s habits in particular had made a lasting impression on me. She would fill a large travel thermos every morning before driving the ten miles to St. Lawrence School, where she taught. Inevitably, all those days and all that distance gave way to accidents, spillage, and stains.
In my young memory, I recall scores of school papers with faint, caramel blotches marring them. I remember tote bags splattered with caffeinated Rorschach shapes. I recollect carpet and mats in our van permanently discolored.
To break the cycle, I had vowed never to drink coffee. Yet decades later, I found myself on the precipice of my own pitch-colored obsession pondering a common question.
Coffee grounds: what’s up with that?
The general idea behind home-brewed coffee is that you fill a reservoir with water, scoop some coffee grounds (ground up coffee beans) into a paper bowl, place that in a plastic bowl, and push a button. The water gets heated and dripped into the paper bowl, and it seems to take FOR-EVER. The brown liquid you end up with is coffee.
Simple, right? I’m explaining this as if to a simpleton because coffee doesn’t actually make a lot of sense as a beverage. Let’s be honest: coffee is water poured through dirt. At some point in the past, someone realized pouring water through things gave you a different kind of water that people sometimes enjoy.
Coffee a multi-billion-dollar industry. I drink multiple cups of it a day. We devote an entire shelf to mugs whose names reference “coffee.” In a world where so many drinks dissolve sugar into fizzy water, coffee and tea remain these strange, ancient imbibements endowed with wisdom and mysticism. Tea is respected; coffee is feared.
The coffee grounds selection of any grocery store can feel overwhelming. There are many, often subtle, ways of altering a cup’s flavor along the way to the store: bean origin, methods of growing, methods of collection, methods of drying, methods of roasting, duration of roasting, whether or not a cat ate the deuced it out, etc. It’s hard to know which box of dirt is “coffee (lvl 1).”
Like wine, a connoisseur culture has grown up around coffee. My boss at Security Labs lives such a life. In the office, we grind the beans before brewing with a coffee maker whose first language is Swedish. Our household has graduated beyond that first machine. We now prepare our drinks single serve using the popular Keurig coffee maker. Rather than argue Folgers versus Maxwell House or “classic roast” against “french,” we can each build our own single-file armies of caffeinated compatriots.
I like to think that somewhere a young couple is considering their own foray into café. To that couple, wondering what is up with coffee grounds, I can offer three words culminating my half-dozen years of caffeination: ask Paul Rankin. This post was his stupid idea.
Do you remember your first coffee maker? What are your favorite grounds? What about your stint in coffee rehab? Leave a comment.