Changing Taste

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Fair warning that today’s post is a little bit of nothing that has been nagging at my brain lately, but for those of you who are willing to indulge me a bit, I am considering a an odd morphing of taste that has occurred over the last eight months or so. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of my preferences ebb and flow on a regular basis and a fondness for monochrome black clothing can easily give way to a mad desire for wild prints for example. However, I think of some patterns and desires to be as much a part of me as my brown eyes and it never occurred to me that they would change. I am thinking in particular of my consumption of coffee and tea.

The first significant shift in my coffee drinking predilection started quite awhile ago when I started drinking it cold in the morning. It started with not wanting to waste coffee after making it I would refrigerate it and heat it up. (I am a percolating coffee maker which I know puts me in the minority these days – I meet people in their twenties who don’t even know that percolating coffee pots on stoves exist. Kim is an instant coffee drinker and that preference remains truly mysterious to me.)

While I always drank coffee cold in hot weather, I also started drinking it cold before working out in the morning – and I loved this! Nothing like a fully caffeine charged workout with coffee consumed quickly on the way out the door into the pre-dawn morning. When traveling on business I would buy a cup of coffee and stick it in the fridge for my pre-workout the next day. (That was when hotels had refrigerators – when did they disappear? Am I the only person who had use for them?)

Eventually I began drinking my coffee cold every morning. (To be accurate, I will report that I also have a hot cup I picked up on my way to work every day as well.) As strange as this was, something much odder happened. Our food delivery company, Fresh Direct, sent us a container of cold brew. Since it was there I stuck it in the fridge and added it to my coffee one morning. As someone who values coffee first and foremost as a caffeine delivery system, there is no surprise at all that I quickly became addicted to the high octane combination brew.

What does surprise me however was when about five months ago I noticed a vanilla infused cold brew and decided to try it. Please understand, I have actually actively disliked vanilla coffee for years. It is safe to say there was a time when I would have considered it an abomination of sorts.  And yet, I had an undeniable yen and yes, I now add vanilla cold brew to my cold coffee each morning. I sit here drinking it as I write this morning. I keep wondering if it is a desire that will eventually just pass.

The other predilection which surprised me is an interest in tea which until recently I only consumed when sick – typically then with honey. However, I was on my way to see my folks in New Jersey one chilly morning and I saw a man with a covered paper cup of tea and it suddenly I was seized with the idea that a hot cup of tea with brown sugar would be just the thing. As it happened, I didn’t have time to indulge this desire and it was a few weeks later when I found myself home with a cold that I made some tea and dumped some brown sugar in. Now almost every afternoon these days find me indulging in this beverage which in my mind is still associated with childhood and I now find unbelievably comforting.

tea and sugar

These two seismic shifts in routine have me stumped.

For those of you who are totting up how much caffeine I am consuming, you are right to raise an eyebrow. My cut off time each day is 3:00 if I don’t want to risk insomnia. Less surprising to me, I will admit that I am also unnaturally interested in the newly unveiled Vanilla Orange Coke Zero (sounds heavenly to me) at the moment and planned to snatch some up as soon as it arrives in my neck of the woods. In addition, I report that there is a bottle of Jack Daniels received as a parting gift at an event recently (along with a John Grisham novel which I am now reading) sitting in a bag by the television. I haven’t had Jack Daniels since college, but I am eyeing it and there may be a future preference post in those beverage choices as well.

 

Coffee

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.

Felix mug