Sometimes, just living in a place will make you privy to certain kinds of information. If you live in the desert, for example, you are going to accumulate knowledge about how to deal with extreme heat. If you live in a rural or semi-rural area, you might learn about what to do if a raccoon family moves in under your front porch or deer start munching the plants in your backyard. If you live in Columbus, Ohio, on the other hand, you’ll no doubt some to know something about Ohio State football, almost by osmosis.
The Post article reported on a New York City reddit thread started by a Manhattan apartment dweller who described smelling a foul odor in his building and then learned that it came from a dead body in another unit. He asked for advice on how to get rid of the smell, and fellow New York City residents came through with a surprising amount of very specific odor-beating advice–suggesting that dealing with a dead body smell is more common than you might think. One respondent, for example, advised buying cheap pre-ground coffee and cooking it in a pan on medium-high heat, because “the smell of coffee drives out the smell of corpse.”
Coffee–is there anything it can’t do?
In case you’re interested, or living in Manhattan, other aroma-removal tips involved using baking soda and vinegar, pulverized limestone, and an ozone generator, as well as wearing a mask smeared with Vicks Vap-o-rub.
Hopefully, this is information that most of us outside the Big Apple never have to use.
Every morning, I make a pot of medium-strong coffee to start the day. But making the coffee is only the first step in the coffee consumption process. Next, I must choose a coffee cup to hold that precious, energizing black gold. That means I have to really get my sleep-addled brain working and make considered, deliberate choices from an array of distinct options that are available.
Our smallest cup, at the right above, is a narrow, somewhat dainty cup that probably holds about half as much coffee as you would get if you filled the lobster cup on the other end of the line. Its smaller exposed surface area means your coffee will stay fractionally warmer if you are taking your time with your morning joe. Not surprisingly, I never choose this one.
Lately I’ve been going with the cup that is next in line. It’s thicker than the white one, which means it has a good heft as you lift it to your lips, it has a cool bicycle drawing on the front, and it was a gift from my mentees. It has more exposed surface area and is a bit larger, but still doesn’t deliver an overwhelming amount of coffee. I can slug down all of the coffee in this cup when it is still hot and head back for more–which I always do.
From there we move to the Harbor Cafe cup, which (as the name indicates) is your standard restaurant coffee cup, slightly larger than the preceding cups and with still more surface area. This is a good cup to choose if you want to drink a fulsome amount of coffee quickly and feel the heat of the coffee radiating through the thin sides of the cup.
From there, we really move from cup to mug territory, with choices that provide increasingly colossal amounts of coffee and surface areas that are approximately birdbath sized. The lobster mug at the end is enormous, and the coffee it holds cools off quickly. The lobster mug is the right choice when you are going to have a busy day and you need to gulp down a lot of hot, black, highly caffeinated liquid into your system as quickly as possible. It’s not a cup for those who dawdle over their java, because they are going to end up with a cup of unsatisfyingly cold coffee, No, the lobster mug sends your brain a message: sleep has ended, a busy day has begun, and you’d better pick up the pace in all things.
These days I’m back at 44 North–literally and figuratively. Literally, because Stonington is located on the 44 North latitude, and figuratively, because being back in Stonington means I’m once again drinking the excellent coffee roasted by 44 North Coffee. And drinking 44 North coffee is a feast both for the taste buds and for the imagination.
Consider the Peru roast that we are drinking today. The tasting notes on the bag–which I faithfully read and try to experience with every slug–say this roast has a “big body with notes of roasted pralines and a heavy finish.” Having never tasted a roasted praline, I can’t assess whether the referenced “notes” exist. As for the “big body” and the “heavy finish,” it seems to this unschooled coffee drinker that the body and the heaviness will depend mightily on how how much coffee you put into the filter and how strong the corresponding pot of brewed coffee is. In any event, I definitely like the taste of the Peru blend, even if I can’t fully appreciate its nuances and subtleties.
I also like when the coffee shop identifies the origin of the coffee beans, so you can think about that while you are trying to detect the notes, the body, and the finish. When I think of Peru, I think of crisp air on the slopes of the Andes, rain forests, the Pacific Ocean in the distance, and of course Macchu Picchu, the city in the clouds. It’s not a bad mental image to accompany your morning cup of joe.
Several years ago, our office went from the old-fashioned Bunn coffee maker that made entire pots of coffee to Flavia coffee machines that make one cup of joe. The Flavia machines use little packets of coffee, like those pictured above, that you insert into the machine to get your brew. My coffee of choice is the Pike Place roast. It’s a medium roast coffee that Starbuck’s describes as follows: “A smooth, well-rounded blend of Latin American coffees with subtly rich notes of cocoa and toasted nuts, it’s perfect for every day.”
And I do, in fact, drink it every day when I’m in the office. Multiple times every day, in fact.
Yesterday we ran out of the Pike Place, which caused me to experience a momentary flutter of disquiet. Later in the day, the guy who fills our coffee stopped by to refill the supply of our Flavia coffee packets. I was relieved to see him and told him I was sorry I had guzzled so much of the Pike Place. He shook his head sadly and explained that there was no Pike Place to replenish the supply on our floor. He noted that our firm was totally out of the Pike Place, and when he called the warehouse to see why our order of Pike Place wasn’t delivered, he was told that the local warehouse was totally out of it, too. He then put up a hand-lettered sign above the coffee machine to explain the situation in hopes that it would prevent Pike Place drinkers from rioting in the hallways.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things a shortage in one particular coffee packet isn’t the end of the world; I can just shift to Cafe Verona or even (horrors!) decaf in a pinch. (There always seems to be a very ample supply of decaf, doesn’t there?) But the tale of Pike Place coffee packets in one office in one city shows just how precarious the supply chain can be.
I’m an old fuddy-duddy with respect to some things–like reasonable napkin size at restaurants, for example–butt I am willing to try something new now and then. And when I saw that this food truck offered “butter coffee,” which certainly sounds like a weird combination to me, I felt like I had to give it a taste.
Butter coffee is exactly what it sounds like: black, fresh roasted coffee blended with “grass fed unsalted butter” and “cold pressed organic MCT coconut oil.” The woman working in the truck noted that it is popular with the keto/low-carb diet crowd. And it tastes like what you would expect when butter is melted into coffee. It is buttery, for sure, but the combination of the butter and the coconut oil cuts against the bitterness and blackness of the coffee. It’s a pretty smooth drink that tastes somewhat like buttered popcorn, and I finished all of it.
It would not be a favorite of people who like sweets, for sure, but I could see getting it again.
We were on the great American highway a bit this weekend, traveling to and from a wedding in Pennsylvania. Here are some observations from the first big road trip we’ve taken this year.
• Lots of Americans are on the road this summer. Traffic was heavy on Friday, when we drove to the wedding, and Sunday, when we returned. It was even bumper-to-bumper in Maine. And the traffic wasn’t all semis or FedEx or Amazon delivery trucks, either: we saw lots of passenger vehicles, including many campers and RVs. (You tend to notice those big boys slowing down traffic on the hills.) That meant some long lines and frustrating stop-and-go traffic when we hit road work areas on Friday, so on Sunday we left early enough to breeze through those areas in light traffic. If you’re taking a road trip this weekend, see if you can identify highway work areas and time your travel accordingly.
•Gas prices are definitely up, but there is a lot of variance in prices. In case you hadn’t noticed, the price of gas has increased. In some places, the price of a gallon of regular unleaded was more than twice as much as it was last fall when we drove from Maine to Columbus. But there’s a big range in prices as you roll from one area to another, whether due to supply problems in some areas, local taxes, or price wars. If you pay attention and are willing to stop before your fuel indicator hits “E,” you can save a few bucks.
•Toll booths are an endangered species. Highways in the eastern U.S. used to be riddled with toll booths, and the long lines they caused. Now the toll booths are going the way of the dodo, and many of the toll booths we passed are in the process of being decommissioned and torn down. It’s not because states and highway administrations have given up on tolls, however: they’re just charging through EZ Pass and license plate photos followed by a mailed bills. Privacy advocates must hate this development, because it means detailed photographic records of American travel are being compiled and stored, somewhere. I’m not quite sure how the photo-and-bill approach makes economic sense, given the cost of postage, but I’m sure the tolls have been adjusted to reflect that. And in the meantime, states have cut toll collector salaries and related costs from their payrolls.
•. Gas station coffee quality continues to improve. If, like us, you like to hit the road early, here’s some good news: the coffee quality at the random gas stations you find along the highway is vastly improved. In the past, gas station coffee was either swill that tasted like it was dredged from the local muddy river or a thick, black, metallic-tasting sludge that had boiled down at the bottom of a pot that was kept on the burner too long. Now you can actually get a quality cup of coffee pretty much wherever you go, and all kinds of food and snacks, besides. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a service station with actual service bays—they’ve all been glassed in and converted to roadside convenience stores. You won’t be able to get your tire fixed or your radiator checked by a guy named Hank wearing a grease-stained shirt, but you can enjoy multiple coffee options and hazelnut- or french vanilla-flavored creamer.
We’ve had a bit of a coffee quandary in our household recently. The nagging question was about the size of our coffee pot.
We admit it: we like coffee and drinks quarts, if not gallons, of it each week. But that reality doesn’t really address the optimal pot size issue.
We had a small Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, shown above at right. The pot indicates it makes four cups of coffee, if you fill the pot to the brim, but that’s pretty misleading. Coffee pot “cups” are as arbitrarily undersized as the mysterious “servings” you see described on food packaging. This particular pot might hold four dainty cups that could be sipped by effete French elves, but it basically made enough for one steaming American mug of the black brew. It wasn’t wasteful, because we promptly drank every drop in the fresh pot, but we ended up making new pots constantly and walking around with partially filled cups so everyone could get their share of that precious caffeine. This clearly was not an ideal situation.
So we upped our game to the 12-cup Black and Decker model, which makes more than enough coffee to fill three cups—the kind with handles that you actually find in your cupboard—and more besides. We’re making fewer fresh pots of coffee, for sure, but estimating proper water intake to get the right pot size under the circumstances is more of a challenge. With the shrimpy model, you made a full pot every time, but the increased pot size requires careful consideration of your household’s likely coffee intake over the next hour or so. You’re aiming for the sweet spot that allows everyone to drink their fill of joe without leaving that remainder in the pot that boils down to an oil-like sludge that will curl your teeth if consumed. (Of course, on some days that oil-like sludge is precisely what you need to get that extra jolt.)
So, big honker, or elfin? All told, I’ll go for the bigger pot.
Every morning, my first task is to make a pot of fresh coffee. And on the vast majority of mornings, after I fill the pot with water from the faucet, as I am pouring the water from the pot into the coffee maker some water drips from the spout and runs down the side of the pot to the counter. There might be a rare day, once in a great while, when my combination of morning alertness and careful pouring technique prevents any spillage, but 99.9% of the time I’ll need a dish towel to mop up the water.
What causes this annoying event? Your sixth-grade science teacher would tell you it is the so-called “capillary effect” of water, which involves elements of cohesion, adhesion, and surface tension. Basically, water molecules like to stick together, and like to stick to almost anything — including the sides of coffee pots. Once the first water molecule decides to tumble over the spout of the coffee pot and stick to the side — rather than obediently falling into the coffee maker, like a good water molecule should — other water molecules will follow.
This is a common problem, and you’ll see all kinds of tips about how to address it. As for me, I think the best approach is to try to pour the water into the coffee maker very slowly, so there is no chance that the first rogue water molecule will make its break for freedom over the spout and down the side of the pot. But normally the urge to drink some hot coffee is too strong, the pour passes the tipping point, the first bad boy molecule leads the way, more inevitably follow, and it’s time to get the dish towel off the rack again.
So that’s the capillary effect for you — helping trees and Rosie, while adding an inevitable extra step to the morning coffee making process. The morning spill might be irritating, but if that’s the price to pay for flowers and green leaves, I’ll gladly pay it.
Stonington and Deer Isle are blessed with an excellent local coffee house, 44 North. (44 North is the latitude of Stonington and Deer Isle, in case you are interested.) The shop roasts its coffee right here, and its location in Stonington, at the edge of the downtown area, is a classic, comfortable place to sit and drink a cup of coffee and enjoy a cookie or a scone — in normal times when social distancing doesn’t require that you drink your joe outside, that is.
But here’s the problem: whenever I go into 44 North to get some of their fine, fresh ground coffee, I feel overwhelmed, like a junior high school algebra student sitting at a table listening to a bunch of college physics professors talking about the finer points of their lates calculus equations. I might get that they are chatting about math in some mysterious sense, but that’s about it.
It’s the same with 44 North’s terrific coffee. I love the smell, but when I taste it I just can’t appreciate the subtleties of the roasting and preparation process. I’m sorry to admit that, when it comes to coffee, my palate is not only not educated, it hasn’t even begun its schooling. Sad to say, I’ve got a dummy’s palate.
This week, for example, I bought two bags of coffee. One, the Colombia, is described in the “tasting notes” on the bag as having a “sweet and spicy aroma with a rich dark chocolate body.” The “tasting notes” on the other bag, the Sol Y Luna Blend, refer to “bright raspberry and dark chocolate.” But try as I might, even squinting in a physical effort to maximize the discernment of my taste buds, I cannot detect the raspberry — or for that matter the dark chocolate. I can enjoy the sweet and spicy aroma of the Colombia and when I take a slug I can recognize that it is a darker roast than the Sol Y Luna (at least, I think it is), but that’s about it. They both taste to my poor dummy’s palate like coffee — excellent coffee, to be sure, but still coffee.
Well, at least I can enjoy the smell of the coffee grounds when I open the bag.
When I was on the road recently, I got up very early, as usual, fixed myself a cup of coffee on the in-room coffee machine, and was immediately subjected to a little noticed form of discrimination: creamer bias.
Creamer bias afflicts those of us who like cream in our coffee. The hotel chains that have in-room coffee makers typically will provide little cellophane-wrapped packets of coffee-related items, with sugar, creamer, a coffee stir straw, and a tiny napkin. And that’s where the bias comes in.
The coffee service packets inevitably include plenty of sugar options. There are always at least two sugar packets, plus multiple faux sugar “sweetener” alternatives. The coffee packet at the New York City hotel I stayed at recently, pictured above, included no fewer than six sugar-related items: two “sugar in the raw,” two standard sugar, and two sweetener packets. That’s six packets to satisfy the coffee sweet tooth. Six! Really? You could bake a cake with that much sugar!
And yet, in studied contrast, the coffee packet included one measly pouch of artificial creamer. You can’t even get halfway to pleasant cafe au lait territory with that meager offering. That’s a 6-1 ratio in favor of the sugarholics over the creamer crowd.
And have you ever thought about what happens to all of the unused packets of coffee items when you tear open the cellophane and use whatever suits your taste? Unless you are using it all, there are bound to be multiple packs left over. What happens to them? Are they recycled somehow, or does the cleaning service just sweep them into the trash?
Hotels are changing what they are doing to be more environmentally sensitive, which I applaud. I think it is high time that the sensitivity process move beyond shampoo delivery systems to the in-room coffee service. I say it’s time to ditch the cellophane wrappers, can the stirrers that people can do without, eliminate the skimpy napkin, and offer creamer and sugar in packets that are kept in a decorative container next to the coffee maker. And while they’re at it, how about evening up the creamer and sugar offerings to finally address the rampant creamer bias — or at least dialing the bias back from a 6-1 to a 2-1 ratio?
A few days ago we went to buy groceries. In the coffee aisle I found a bag of ground coffee sold by a local company that was called the “Einstein Blend” and featured a drawing of Albert Einstein sipping a cup of coffee. The slogan under the drawing read: “An intelligent, medium roast blend of African and Costa Rican coffees.”
Albert Einstein, that unique, world-changing genius, probably the most famous scientist in history, on the cover of a coffee packet? What’s the world coming to?
The value, and price, of being famous is that your image has value. But at some point your image and likeness is no longer your own. When a notable person dies, the clock starts ticking, and ultimately the right to publicity expires and the famous person’s image and likeness slip into the public domain for anyone to use. That’s why it’s not unusual to see Abraham Lincoln, stovepipe hat and all, in TV ads for car insurance and other products of the modern world. In the case of the Discoverer of the Theory of Relativity, who died in 1955, a 2012 court ruling concluded that his post mortem publicity rights had expired. As a result, Albert Einstein’s grandfatherly likeness, with that familiar halo of hair and wise, kindly look in his eyes, is now fair game for advertisers.
We’ve got a nice water fountain on our floor at the office. I like to drink cold water and the fountain is only a few steps from my office, so I visit it regularly. The water bubbles out ice cold and really hits the spot.
Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the fountain water has fallen decidedly out of favor. One day I was enjoying a few hearty, quenching gulps when one of the people who work on the floor looked at me aghast, and asked how I could drink from the fountain. “It tastes good,” I responded as I wiped the water from my lips with the back of my hand. “It doesn’t taste as good as my water,” she replied.
And last week I got onto the elevator with one of our attorneys who was lugging an empty half-gallon jug. “What’s with the jug?” I asked. He responded that he is trying to drink a half-gallon of water every two days and goes to our kitchen to fill up on some special filtered water. When I asked about fountain water, he said: “I don’t drink that stuff. The kitchen water is vastly superior.”
I think water is the new coffee. No one (except me) wants to drink the office coffee; they’d rather go to Starbuck’s or Cafe Brioso and shell out a few bucks rather than drink the free stuff. Now they’re snobbishly turning their nose up at our free water, too.
I guess my “water palate” is just not sufficiently educated. It it’s cold and wet and doesn’t have a funny or metallic taste, that’s good enough for me.
On our drive up to Maine, Kish wanted to grab a cup of coffee, so we stopped at your basic 7-Eleven in a small town in western Massachusetts. It’s the first time I’ve been in a 7-Eleven in years.
It’s safe to say that the current 7-Eleven coffee station, even in your basic 7-Eleven in small town America, is . . . elaborate. In fact, incredibly elaborate would not be an exaggeration. Whereas there used to be one little area with a few coffee pots where you could pour yourself a generic regular coffee or decaf coffee and add your standard creamer, sugar, or non-sugar sweetener, now there is a long row of different coffee options, depending on your preference in strength and flavoring, and then an extensive choice of creamers and additives that apparently is offered to allow you get your 7-Eleven cup of coffee as close to what a high-end coffee house barista might serve you.
My mind reeled at some of the flavoring options. There’s hazelnut, of course, but cinnamon? Marshmallow? There had to be more than a dozen different creamer flavors, and that doesn’t even account for the dry materials you could add to your cup. The standard creamer bin was totally outnumbered by a host of sweetening alternatives.
Coffee is increasingly becoming less like coffee, and more like candy or ice cream or dessert. Americans apparently have such a sweet tooth that even the old cup of joe from a 7-Eleven store needs to be gussied up into some frothy, hyper-sweet concoction. Is it any wonder that we’ve got an obesity problem in this country?
Every morning, I get up bright and early, stumble downstairs, and brew myself a fresh pot of coffee. I then liberally coat the bottom of a coffee cup with powdery Coffeemate, so when I pour the coffee it automatically mixes with the Coffeemate and produces a hot, steaming concoction of caramel-colored goodness. It tastes pretty good, too.
Coffee with Coffeemate in the morning is a matter of standard routine. But today I thought — what’s in this powdery stuff, exactly?
The answer is written on the side of the container. There’s corn syrup solids, hydrogenated vegetable oil (which, according to the label, might include “coconut and/or palm kernel and/or soybean,” just to keep you guessing), sodium caseinate (which the label helpfully discloses is a “milk derivative”), dipotassium phosphate (but fortunately, the label points out, “less than 2%” of that stuff), mono- and diglycerides, sodium aluminosilicate, artificial flavor, and “annatto color.”
Hmmmm . . . “sodium aluminosilicate”? I suppose I at least should be happy that there is a “milk derivative,” and “corn syrup” and “vegetable oil” in there among the chemical compounds that Walter White probably lectured on in his high school chemistry class.
Is there value in these kinds of product labels? I think so, especially if you’ve got allergies to certain foodstuffs and want to find out whether a particular product might provoke a reaction. But labels that list a bunch of chemical compounds — a group which includes virtually every label these days — aren’t especially illuminating. I’m not going to research “dipotassium phosphate.” Instead, people tend to make judgments based on products they know. Mom had Coffeemate, in both its liquid and powdery forms, around the house in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and I doubt that the formula has changed much over the years, so it seems like a safe option to me.
And that dipotassium phosphate and sodium aluminosilicate really hits the spot!