Coffee Pot Blues

In the past four years, I’ve come to love coffee. It all started at UVA. In college, I got some of my best work done at an independent coffee shop down the street from my apartment. The upstairs section of the shop had rickety, mismatched chairs and the floors vibrated a little when a train went by on the tracks next door. But it was quiet and I had designated it as my “productive” space. Armed with a strong cup of coffee, I could get any paper written or book read. Good coffee equated getting work done, and that mindset seems to have stuck throughout the years.

Stop by Para Coffee if you're in Charlottesville. Get an iced coffee and enjoy the creaky floorboards.

Stop by Para Coffee if you’re in Charlottesville. Get an iced coffee and enjoy the creaky floorboards.

Moving to Dalian, I was a little concerned about my growing coffee habit. China is known as a land of tea drinkers, and “real” coffee was expensive and hard to come by. While I love the earthiness of a cleansing hot tea after a meal, it isn’t my go-to drink in the morning. The caffeine punch just isn’t there! I was forced to resort to lots and lots of Nescafe. Soon I started to crave the milky sweetness of instant coffee! But I think Margaret and I found an old French press in the cupboard of our apartment and gave it a whirl a few times. We were too cheap to buy real coffee, so the French press coffee was usually for special occasions or consumed in small quantities.

My students saw me come to class almost every day with a travel mug. Most of them had plastic bottles that they refilled with scalding hot water throughout the day (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall!). Sometimes the clear bottles had a few tea leaves or some herbal remedies inside, but usually they just drank water. I allowed myself one mug of Nescafe in the morning, and after that I just refilled my mug with water.

As a parting gift at the end of the year, one of my students met me with a special gift. He gave me a set of bookmarks with pictures from the university, but also a heavier package that had two glass bottles inside. “I know that you like coffee, and my friend told me that this is the best kind,” he said excitedly, “And this can make it taste better,” he added while pointing to the creamer. Ta-da: Instant Nescafe granules and powdered creamer. It was such a thoughtful gift!

One of the sweetest gifts I ever got from a student.

One of the sweetest gifts I ever got from a student.

When traveling to Kunming for a job scouting mission, I found out that coffee beans are grown in Yunnan province, so I would be able to get (relatively) local coffee at a much more affordable price. Yippee! On the street near the university there were tons of cafes and restaurants serving “Yunnan Coffee” for US$2 a cup. Not a bad price for China.

Coffee (and a bonus cookie!) from a cafe around the corner from my house in Kunming

Coffee (and a bonus cookie!) from a cafe around the corner from my house in Kunming

While living in Kunming, I had a trusty, lime green colored French Press that I used daily. It only made enough for one large cup of coffee, but every morning when I woke up for work at 6 am, I would boil some water and scoop in a few tablespoons of freshly ground Yunnan coffee. Let it sit for about five minutes, pour it in my travel mug and I had a little bit of black gold to get my day going and pep me up for my first class. It was an essential part of my morning routine.

My favorite place to sit, grade, drink coffee, and enjoy the sunshine.

My favorite place to sit, grade, drink coffee, and enjoy the sunshine.

Then I traveled to Laos and Vietnam and got a taste of STRONG coffee, served with syrupy condensed milk at the bottom. I wouldn’t have been able to bike for a week in karst-ridden northern Vietnam without it!

Drip, drop, drip, drop. Then swirl with the gooey condensed milk at the bottom and drink slowly.

Drip, drop, drip, drop. Then swirl with the gooey condensed milk at the bottom and drink slowly.

On trips to visit my parents in Bangkok, I loved using my dad’s fancy coffee machine to brew a fresh cup of strong coffee for myself in the morning. Or he would brew us each a travel mug and we would take a morning walk around the neighborhood. It always managed to put me in such a good mood.

Ideal breakfast- carrot cake, papaya, pineapple, cold water and freshly brewed coffee!

Ideal breakfast- carrot cake, papaya, pineapple, cold water and freshly brewed coffee!

Fast forward to life in Pocono Pines, PA this summer. I arrive to find a moldy coffee maker. Apparently it was a Christmas gift for my dad, but somebody forgot to take the grounds out after they used it, and nobody had been at the house for a few months! Ew. A few vinegar runs didn’t do much to solve the problem, and the machine was difficult to take apart and clean. The machine whirred like an airplane taking off when it ground the beans, and it gurgled while the water dripped down. Sometimes it overflowed for inexplicable reasons. Plus, the coffee just didn’t taste right, and I didn’t know what to do.

Mmmm, coffee

Mmmm, coffee

The other day, while shopping at Target, I decided to spend $20 and buy a French Press. I brought it home and couldn’t wait to get back to my old routine. Boil water, scoop coffee, wait five minutes, then enjoy. The coffee tasted SO GOOD. Just what I had been missing 🙂 And now that I have solved this big mystery, I can focus and get back to the important things in life… like finding a job!

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