Pam’s Pictorama: This weekend I am waiting for the US Post Office to catch up with my photo acquisitions, and so today I am heading down one of those personal tributaries. Earlier this week I had a number of reasons to contemplate my deep attachment to coffee. The first occurred when I accidentally left my morning coffee at the deli, several blocks from my new midtown, high-rise office perch. It was one of those (many) chilly wet days we had early this week and the idea of retracing my steps was dispiriting – but so was the loss of treasured coffee. I resentfully made due with a cup from the dreaded Keurig (don’t mind it for a strong cup of tea, but not a fan for coffee) and slunk, sadly back to my office.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center offices are equipped a large kitchen right off the reception area. It has two refrigerators, toaster ovens, microwave, coffee machines, soda and snack machines and – most surprising of all – a dishwasher which they run nightly. Really, I could cook a full dinner for a family with what they have as a staff kitchen. (And, not surprisingly, jazz music plays in the public space all day which means you sometimes find yourself passing on the way to a meeting and stopping to listen to an especially fine Louis Armstrong moment as happened the other day, making me late for a meeting. However it is the kind of place where people are willing to accept that.) An office manager makes coffee for two large carafes daily, but my timing is always off and it goes fast. I arrive too early and therefore with outside coffee in hand. On this particular day the wait seemed too long.
Meanwhile, I read several articles about cold brew this week – perhaps not coincidental as we are heading into hot weather and the ever-calculating media is ready to turn our attention to purchasing cold drinks. I considered cold brew briefly a month or so ago when Fresh Direct accidentally delivered a couple of cans of cold brew coffee to us and I liked them enough to consider adding some to our order – until I saw the price (ouch!!!) and decided I would stick with my cheaper methods of coffee consumption.
I have experimented with several methods of making coffee over time – electric perculators and machines, French presses, expresso devices and paper filters – tried ’em all. In the end I returned to the method I grew up with and which now seems to be pretty much sneered at, the old fashioned perculating stovetop pot of my childhood. (I had a young colleague at the Met who found the concept downright exotic in a steam punk sort of way which made me feel very old.) Frankly, it fills me with great pleasure to smell and hear a pot of coffee perking on the stove in the morning. My parents have long switched to a complicated machine (which I do battle with each time I spend the night at their house), but it brings me back to early mornings in childhood and evokes a sense of comfort and pleasure that few things do.
I remember when I started drinking coffee in high school. I was rehearsing late for a school play and someone brought me a cup with milk and sugar and I was immediately hooked. Oh nectar of the gods, where have you been? I did away with the sugar pretty quickly and stuck with the milk ever since. Shortly after, when I began drinking it at home my father would say, ever single morning, “You’re too young to drink coffee.” (He continued to say it well into my twenties.) And I have a dim memory of my grandmother said that it would give you black knees when I was kid – a statement that in retrospect mystifies me even more now. (She also would say that chewing gum was made of giraffe hooves – even odder.) My sister Loren was less partial to coffee and I have no memory of this exchange or a similar one between her and my father.
During my brief stint of cooking professionally one of the older chefs who did a lot of catering explained why much coffee produced in those giant catering urns is so awful. It seems that if you don’t unscrew it entirely and take the urn fully apart to clean it, which is an arduous procedure, over time the build up creates an unacceptably acid taste in the coffee. Most people are lazy and just wash out what is easily visible. I never worked enough catering to test this explanation, but I have had a lot of bad urn-made coffee which makes me consider it anew each time.
I recognize that I am both less effective and less pleasant when under-caffeinated in the morning (although equally less fun when over-caffeinated later in the day – it is a balancing act many of us know) and therefore these days I do not generally risk leaving the house without initial coffee consumption. It is made with the above method and there is generally some in heavy glass carafes in the fridge for cold consumption as well. Therefore, my work cup of coffee tends to sort of be the icing on the cake and the reward for having gotten to work.
The new job required figuring out where my all important morning coffee would be acquired. Several places that were adequate for food acquisition were immediately eliminated for sub-par coffee. The issue with the purveyor of current favor is a tendency to set the purchased coffee down in an odd spot, away from the food I am buying, in a spot where I am likely to forget it. (I will add that I was fascinated to discover that the man who makes the coffee at this establishment has such a lovely singing voice that he is periodically pulled away from coffee making to sing a rather memorable Happy Birthday to seated clients on request. Clearly not a coincidence that he works with Carnegie Hall beckoning across the street.)
At home my preference is to drink my coffee from one of two substantial Starbucks labeled mugs that were given to me by a software vendor I worked with at the Met – or another wonderful, enormous Felix mug given to me a year ago by Mary Allen and Morgan Bakerman, my much missed colleagues at the Met. I was deeply fond of an equally large mug that Nickelodeon mag had given Kim years ago which sadly got broken. It is mostly about quantity for me – I prefer fewer trips to the pot. However, I also favor the mug shown here above was given to me many years ago by another former colleague, Bernie McCormack, many years ago, when returning from a work junket to Buffalo. Clearly those work with me understand my deep love of the stuff.