Returning home from a restaurant where my wife, as expected, had consumed a disappointing cup of coffee to end our dinner, I uttered those words to her for the first time, about eight years ago. Myself, I had eschewed restaurant coffee some years before, having learned that most restaurants serve a timid brew. My wife, though, remained the always hopeful coffee seeker, and still is. I added, not particularly facetiously, that the above quote would be an appropriate inscription, as good as any, on my tombstone. It would give viewers of my grave something to think about, probably along the lines of “Huh? What was that guy all about?”
Coffee is a constant in the lives of half the planet’s population. Mine included. But I became a coffee person only when I reached my early 30s. Growing up, my parents didn’t offer coffee to me, even as I entered my teens, and I didn’t naturally gravitate to the dark brew. It’s not that coffee was absent from our house; my father drank it fairly regularly. My mother stuck to tea. I liked coffee, though, on the one occasion I can recall having it during my youth. That was in 1965 or ’66 in a Brazilian food pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. I was 17 or 18 at the time. I must have felt adventurous ordering a cup there, and I recall thinking that it was delicious. Yet, that fine cup didn’t jumpstart my desire or need for coffee. The habit began years later, when I started ordering a morning java from a food truck that parked outside the office building where I worked, in Philadelphia’s Germantown section.
Fast forward a couple of decades. My wife and I are vacationing in Paris in 1995. Our small hotel serves a modest but pretty perfect breakfast. Good rolls, pastries and fruit, and coffee that stuns us with its vitality. We’d never had coffee like this before. We realized that the coffee we drank in the States, both in and outside our house, was a very poor cousin of this French version. The American coffee revolution, with Starbucks leading the charge, had begun by this time but was in its early stages, and my wife and I were unaware of it. But, soon after returning to the USA, we began brewing strong coffee at home. Since then, we like it no other way.
These days, needless to say, rich coffee is easily found in much of our country. Starbucks outlets are almost everywhere, and independent coffee cafes are aplenty too. But regular restaurants leave me shaking my head, and that’s why I uttered the words that might decorate my tombstone. For accuracy’s sake, though, what I really should have said was: “If you want a good cup of coffee, go to Starbucks or the like, or stay home and brew it yourself. Forget about ordering joe in restaurants.”
But why do so few restaurants, from diners to pricey joints, choose to serve up a robust cup? Why has the coffee revolution bypassed most of them? Wish I knew. Brewing flavorful coffee isn’t too hard. The problem, I’ve come to realize, is simply that not enough ground coffee is used in proportion to water. The result is a weakish drink, even with the finest of beans. Duh, indeed. Hey, restaurateurs — up the bean count!
Dislikers of strong coffee should pay no attention to what I’ve written.