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Good to the last page

In our profession, Coffee—note the capital C—is lifeblood. There’s a reason for that. And it isn’t just flavor.

So this morning, my wife came up while I was getting ready. “Deep thought,” she said as she sipped. “If you don’t use enough beans, you’re just wasting it.”

Deep thought, indeed. Why go to the effort of making it if you aren’t going to make it great? What’s the point of almost good? Why not work to create the perfect cup?

Of course, this slippery definition of “good” has been well-hashed, here and elsewhere. It leads exactly two places: nowhere and not far. No different with coffee. And like I said, it’s not always just about flavor. So some people like it weak. They may not be able to handle the stronger acid or caffeine. Maybe it doesn’t agree with them.

Not everyone is going to agree with your definition of the perfect cup.

But then there are those who just believe they know what they prefer. Maybe all they’ve ever had is Sanka. Or MJB.

Good is the enemy of great.

Or so we’ve heard. Fact is, none of us know what The Perfect Cup is. There’s always someone who makes it better. No one’s been everywhere.

Let’s extend the metaphor. Exercise. If you don’t get enough, there’s little point. Or food. If you don’t eat enough, you waste away.

The opposite is true if you’re starving. Go without too long and scarfing rich food could kill you. You can definitely overdo it on exercise. And coffee for that matter. Moderation is still a good rule.

But even if you like your coffee a little weaker, and you don’t need a lot of food and exercise, you don’t get to decide how others take their coffee. There’s a “right” way to make it, sure. And that’s according to each person’s particular tastes. And it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way if someone else makes it differently.

But if they’re making it for you, on your dime, do you just take it and smile? Keep polite? Mouth shut? They’re your tastes, right? You may offend someone.

But I guess that’s life. Different needs and desires. Different opinions. It’s what makes it fun. I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of trying to tell people what they should like, but I’m done with that. People can drink any old coffee any way they want. Heck, they can even drink Sanka.

(My impassioned pleas for stronger joe won’t stop entirely until there’s more of it in general. I’m still looking for that perfect cup. But I’m really hoping the evidence of it helps me quit judging the old stuff. I think it’s just time to refocus.)

But when I’m drinking it, I’m still gonna use enough beans.

14 Responses to “Good to the last page”

  1. mmmm…
    does anyone remember life before Starbucks?
    I remember living in New York, sitting outside on cool fall nights holding a warm mug of Folgers and thinking I was the queen of the world.
    now for some reason I’m not happy unless it’s in a disposable paper cup (recycled of course) and I can taste the plastic along with my white lid…
    still trying to figure out if I’ve evolved or somehow regressed…maybe both.

  2. monica says:

    De-lurking here.
    I get it.
    I love coffee, my husband and I devoted to Starbucks whole beans for a long time. Then we discovered how easy it is to roast beans at home, experimenting with dark and light roasts, using a French press. Coffee heaven right in my kitchen. True, I can’t drink the stuff they call coffee at church or other places now (those sad people), but it’s okay, because I know I can go home and drink the really good joe, the best joe.
    I’d still be drinking ‘bucks if it wasn’t for trying something new. And at first I thought my husband was a little wacky for suggesting buying green coffee beans. Who does that, right?? Now I’m like this coffee missionary, spreading the word on how easy it is to have the freshest, most flavorful coffee. Taste and see, people.
    Okay, going back into lurker-mode now.

  3. Suzan says:

    It’s true, different tastes/opinions is what freedom is all about. So when I hear, “Write like this, or do it this way and you’ll get published,” I tend to cover my ears.
    BTW, I just had a near perfect cup of coffee: Intelligentsia brand “Bolivia Anjilanaka Microlot Angelita,” made in my new French press. I’m spoiled for life. It’s like after you’ve read some great novels. It’s hard to read a mediocre novel, and you’re not satisfied with mediocre in your own writing, either.

  4. Great analogy, Mick. And I love the way you served it–not too hot or cold, a flourish of steamed milk, and a winsome hint sweetness.

  5. “of” sweetness, that is.

  6. And then you have the people who prefer tea, and just blow the whole thing to smithereens.

  7. Merrie says:

    Great metaphor. I hope you keep searching for the perfect cup. In fact, I hope you find a plantation where a crop of new plants are growing, each one different and unique, each one satisfying in a fresh way.
    And I don’t even drink coffee.

  8. I think refocusing is good. Helpful even. Sometimes we drink the same flavor/brand of coffee so long, we actually forget that we’re looking for the best coffee to be had, and we end up with the coffee we’re used to.
    (BTW, Kenyan coffee is the best–unless Guatemalan is).

  9. Rebecca says:

    Good, Great, Good Enough. We’re in the middle of home renovations and hired a neighbor to paint the exterior. Not a pro (and not charging pro rates). We didn’t expect Great. We didn’t pay for Great and didn’t want to pay for Great. But, is the paint job good? Um, no. No it’s not. Not by my standards, anyway. Not if I were doing it myself. But for our purpose and for the price, it’s Good Enough.
    There are moments where a cup of my in-laws half-Folgers, half-Folgers-Decaf has to be Good Enough. And there are times my husband and I sneak out and buy a cup of McDs, because it’s just a little bit closer to Good Enough than the out-laws’. Truth is, they make it the way they like it and they don’t mind a bit when we come tiptoeing in with extra OJ and McMuffins for them. In that case, my Good Enough is someone else’s Great.

  10. How disappointing would life be after finding the perfect cup, though? You can never have it back, and all your life, you would be consumed with nostalgia. Nothing could compare. I don’t want to find the perfect cup until it comes bottomless. I wonder how Adam and Eve felt after leaving Eden?
    Of course, since the perfect cup exists as well as the great american novel, I’m not too concerned. I’ll “settle” with all the greats still floating around in my tastebuds.

  11. Tina says:

    Mmmm, I’m still savoring the Coffee with the capital C.
    What? Oh yes, I was going to leave a comment.
    You point out a fascinating intersection of ideas, Mick. Balancing the quest for the perfect cup with the understanding that for everyone that cup is slightly different. We challenge artists, authors and thinkers to pursue excellence and we critique them when they don’t…yet we are doing it on the basis of our own definition of excellence. Not that we shouldn’t pursue or promote or challenge for great art, writing or coffee, but as you point out, maybe the application is to do it with a little more grace.

  12. Heather wrote: “How disappointing would life be after finding the perfect cup, though?”
    Now there’s a thought that opens a whole new can of Folgers…er…worms. I suspect Adam and Eve spent the rest of their lives longing for Eden. Don’t we still? And what if we do find a “perfect” anything? Would a taste of Eden trump no taste of it? Hmm…that sounds suspiciously like that impossible question: “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”

  13. Ted Chaffee says:

    My sister likes her Coffee weak so when she comes over I take a few beans out of the grinder before I start brewing. When I go over there I notice she throws in a few extra beans and comments, “Oh yeah, you like it strong.” Of course, that means that when together neither Bobbie nor I get the cup of Coffee we both deeply desire. But it also means that we each get one good enough to allow us two to talk without gagging on the joe.
    It’s easier with Coffee than with writing, isn’t it? How many beans can I take out to gain a reader without compromising my vision and voice? How many can I add for the reader of sterner constitution and still not sound strident or posed?
    Ah, the writer’s life: seeking, seeking, seeking to find just enough of me to be authentic and just enough of you to allow us two to talk.

  14. Jen Mc. says:

    So right, there’s this $5 a day love affair, and it is stronger than other things and wonderful to drink, very experiential. But there are tradeoffs, and this can be frightening.
    I love coffee. I don’t love that my teeth are no longer white. I don’t need any more stains. I’m afraid if I keep in step with the strong stuff, I’ll be jealous of the folks with the fake pearlies.
    My teeth could have been so white…why did I give in?
    But that’s just it, right? Oswald Chambers says we care more about our own whiteness than redemption, that the primary work of a saint is to share the good news of Christ with others.
    Some of us coffee drinkers will be doing that through some stains, but we can shrug our shoulders, right? A catalyst is a catalyst.
    Only one way to keep from coveting the whitest of the white: Mind off the java and onto the java Maker, Heb. 12.

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