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A Strong Case for Good Coffee

October 12, 1987|ROZ ASHLEY

SAN DIEGO — King Arthur and his knights searched for years for the Holy Grail. And I have searched for a good cup of decaffeinated coffee.

My husband, Chuck, says, "How can you decide what's a good cup of coffee? Everyone likes it a different way. You like your coffee twice as strong as the rest of the world."

He's probably right. But since "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," a good cup of coffee for me is determined in my taste buds.

It isn't as though I haven't tried. I've ordered cup after cup in many different, unlikely places. It's very seldom that I've found a 5 on my scale of 1-10. You'd think that I would have learned by now to stop ordering it, but I guess I'm an optimist. I keep hoping that the great cup will be served in the next place I try. It's something like the surfers' quest for that perfect wave.

Place to Place

So, I've kept searching.

For example, I had always heard that doughnut shops were known for their good coffee, so I had high hopes when I went in to one. They were dashed.

I then tried many coffee shops, but each one was a disappointment. Their decaf was either bitter or too weak.

I was a little bit "over-coffeed" by then, so I ended my unscientific little personal survey of coffee shops. The main reasons were lack of internal space, fear of heartburn and fear of diminishing returns in objectivity.

I went into a shop that is part of a chain that sells coffee beans and freshly ground coffee in many different flavors. Their clerks were very proud of all of their coffee. One clerk said, "The decaf is good. I play tricks on my mother all the time. I don't write 'decaf' on the bag."

I must tell you about the coffee that we use at home. We buy 100% Colombian Swiss Process decaffeinated whole bean coffee. The can says that the beans were first shipped to Switzerland, where they were decaffeinated by a famous secret Swiss water process, which used no chemicals or additives. We grind the coffee at home as we use it. If I could give it a 20, I would. (Or a 25.)

Restaurant Brew

But the problem still remains of finding a good cup of strong coffee when I go out to a restaurant. Where will I go? What will I do?

I must say that the worst coffee I've had has been at a fast-food chain. I found it similar to slightly flavored water, and the flavor wasn't good. (Rating: 0).

Some restaurants make a strong coffee that still tastes bad. I'd compare it to the flavor of Postum. I would say it was because the coffee was reheating all day, but how could it taste like that at 8 a.m.?

In my opinion, the best-flavored coffee is brewed in a percolator, so the many drip pots used in the homes of most of my friends cannot give the strong taste I yearn for.

Another method of making coffee is by forcing steam through powdered coffee in an espresso machine. That's too strong for me.

I've never been able to stand instant coffee of most kinds. As for the regular, calorie-free instant coffee, when I'm in the same room with anyone who's mixing it or drinking it, the chemical odors from it sicken me.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the freshly brewed Sanka is not much better in flavor than the instant, but there is at least the anticipation of seeing something that looks like coffee being poured in your cup.

Need to Take Pride

In all of my searching I've come to a conclusion. The few restaurants that have very good coffee seem to be the ones that grind it fresh and sell the coffee by the pound. I think that their coffee is better because they take pride in it and provide more flavorful coffee; it's not just because it's freshly ground.

Restaurants that want to improve their income should seriously think about what they're pouring as coffee. It might be good for their businesses to invest more in what they pour. This means buying a better quality coffee and using more of it for every cup. After all, coffee is usually the last thing that a patron consumes in a restaurant and is the last impression given. It should be the best that can be found and prepared.

I do understand that most people do not like coffee quite as strong as I do, but I have an extreme sensitivity to bad-tasting coffee. It offends me. From now on I'll carry a thermos.

You're probably thinking, "What a crab!" And you're right. The other day I served a cup of great coffee to a friend. I considered it a real 10. I asked her what she thought of it, and Chuck laughed out loud when she replied, "It's good, but it's a little strong."

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