Archive - May 2, 2012

A Brief Personal History of Familial Hot Beverages

Colin McEnroe is doing a show on the Keurig coffee machines, which got me thinking about this idea.

My parents were always tea drinkers and I didn't have coffee until I headed off to college. The only coffee in the house was usually a small bottle of Maxwell House instant coffee, held in reserve for guests. As a kid, the kitchen often sounded with the rattle of the tea kettle as the water heated up, followed by the shrill whistle reminding us that the water was boiling. At times, I would find tea cups with dark brown tea, the tea bag still steeping, sitting unforgotten on a counter.

At special times, such as birthdays, everyone would have tea. As kids, we added lots of milk and it was closer to watered down warm milk than it was to tea. Even in these cases, the tea would usually be made as single servings using tea bags, instead of in a tea pot, and the tea was always just plain tea. Liptons, or, when we could find and afford it, Red Rose tea. Red Rose tea always had little porcelain figurines in the boxes that we would fight over.

When I headed off to college, I discovered that there were other types of tea, but I still favored quick, simple to prepare single servings. Somewhere, I found a recipe for instant spiced tea. You took instant tea, mixed in Tang, and a cinnamon and a few other spices. It became my signature drink for a while. Even in college, coffee never became my hot beverage of choice.

After college, I moved to Brooklyn, not far from the Arabic shops on Atlantic Avenue. One of my roommates was Lebanese, and I learned to drink dark muddy Arabic coffee that was boiled in a small pot, with strange spiced, perhaps Cardamon. I started drinking coffee at work, often purchased, along with a cinnamon roll, from the stainless steel trucks or little trailers found on the side streets of Manhattan. Yet still, coffee rituals were few and far between.

Years after I moved out of Brooklyn, one of my old roommates and I would gather on Saturday mornings to make pancakes, drink coffee and listen to Pink Floyd. We used an old glass Pyrex percolator, and that is perhaps the first coffee making device that gained significance in my life. Later, I lived on a sailboat and used a French Press, or a metal coffee put where you put the coffee in the bottom, the grounds in the middle and boiling forced the coffee into the upper chamber. Somewhere, along the way, I went through various drip coffee machines based on the Mr. Coffee design. None of them really resonated for me.

Eventually, we got an expresso/cappuccino maker which also turned out to be a passing fad. As I aged, my blood pressure rose, and I was told to cut the coffee, or at least to switch to decaf. My wife still drinks coffee with caffeine, so we had issues of how best to make coffee. I would have a single cup of decaf, and she'd have a single cup of high-test, and so many of the coffee machines just weren't feasible for us. Using a single serving drip machine was about the closest we could get.

Someone got us a Keurig, which I initially rebelled against. The single plastic cups were expensive and environmentally unfriendly. A little searching online revealed the Keurig Coffee Filter basket. Now, we buy our coffee in bulk and I make my cup of decaf and later my wife makes a cup of high-test. It seems highly efficient, both economically and environmentally, and has been making great coffee for us, although some friends say that they cannot get their coffee strong enough this way. Their the ones who still use a 1960's vintage electric percolator.

I've found the Keurig coffee machines to be great at various places I visit. Often people will make a big pot of high-test, but if they have a Keurig around, there is still a chance I can get decaf. They're also great for place that want to provide coffee but not get into all the complexities, including, apparently, board of health issues, of having large coffee making machines.

Yeah, thirty years from now, people will look back at the Keurig as a historical remnant, the way I look at some of the coffee machines of my youth. There might be some talk about the role it played in a return to individualism as opposed to collectivism, but perhaps the Keurig is just riding that trend instead of contributing to it.

So, I'll eat my oatmeal, make my cup of decaf for the road, and see if I can find a moment to tune into Colin's show this afternoon.

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