Tag Archive | coffee

Jingle-janglin’ all the way, with coffee!

I have purchased a lot of Holiday coffee blends, yet again!

Many years ago I started a tradition with my late first husband, Ray. I was fond of Starbuck’s Christmas blend coffee, while he disliked most Starbuck’s beans. He preferred two holiday coffees: Peet’s Holiday Blend, and a regional grocery chain’s store brand called Jingle Java. So every year when I noticed that any of those three coffees were on sale, I would pick them up. Often, Ray would also pick up a bag of the Peet’s and/or the Jingle Java, but that wasn’t a problem, because between the two of us we could easily go through that many bags of coffee beans in about a month.

I don’t remember much about the first Christmas season after Ray died (because he died less than two weeks before Thanksgiving and I was a complete wreck emotionally and mentally for the next few months), but I do remember commenting to friends about the fact that the Christmas coffees lasted well into January that year since I was only making coffee on the days I wasn’t at the office, whereas when Ray had been alive he made coffee every single day of the week.

The next year was the first Christmas season that Michael and I were living together, but since Michael doesn’t drink coffee, again it took me longer than a month to use up all the coffee. A year or two later, I couldn’t find Jingle Java at the local grocery store (and not long after that many grocery stores cut back on how many types of whole bean coffee were offered for sale), and I wound up scouring stores looking for a substitute. Because I’d mentioned it, Michael picked up a second bag of Peet’s for me when he saw it. I found another coffee company’s Christmas blend as well, and again, it took me well into January before I had used up all the Christmas Coffee.

I think it was the next year when, not having been able to find a third brand of Christmas coffee by the second weekend in December, I found a bag of the newly introduced Starbuck’s Thanksgiving Blend, so I grabbed that and it became part of the rotation.

In the years since, I’ve gotten better at looking in stores at the brands I don’t usually buy to find Holiday blends in November and December. I find so many different holiday blends that, since I don’t usually let myself start using them until the week of (U.S.) Thanksgiving, I often don’t finish off all of the Christmas blends until about Valentine’s Day.

The first time that happened, I asked Michael if maybe I was being a big crazy about the Christmas blends. He asked if I thought I’d gather so many that I didn’t get them used up before the following Christmas season, and I said I was pretty sure that wasn’t a problem. He smiled, shrugged, and said, “Seems like a pretty harmless kind of crazy. You shouldn’t worry about it.”

So I don’t.

Mostly.

I have to admit, when I pulled all the bags of Holiday Blends out of the pantry a few weeks ago, I was a bit surprised that there were eight different blends. I honestly thought I’d only gotten five or maybe six.

And I work from home more days each week than I did just a year ago, which means I go through coffee faster—because I still only make coffee at home on those days that I don’t go into the office. So I probably will finish all of these off by some point in February, again.

Assuming I don’t find any new blends for sale somewhere and give into temptation to pick up just one more…

Confessions of a Coffee Maniac

“Behind every successful person is a substantial amount of coffee.”

(click to embiggen)

I’ve written before about how growing up I thought of cans of Folgers ground coffee as high quality, and then the little cans of instant with pre-mixed flavored creamer that was sold under the name General Foods International Coffee were gourmet coffee. A coffee grinder was an antique appliance with a big hand crank on top that you would see from time to time, and the adults would explain that in the Old Days™ you had to grind your coffee yourself—and no one described it as if it were a good thing.

So I was a little surprised in my late teens when a couple of friends took me with them up to Seattle one weekend to go to a comic book shop there, and one of the other shops we went by was a place where they sold whole coffee beans, or if you wanted to buy a cup there, they would grind some beans and use what to me was a very weird looking machine to make you a single cup.

Advertisements like this convinced a lot of people to buy small tins of pre-mixed sugar, flavored non-dairy creamer, and instant coffee.

Advertisements like this convinced a lot of people to buy small tins of pre-mixed sugar, flavored non-dairy creamer, and instant coffee in the 70s.

It would be some years later, after I came to Seattle to attend university, that I would start seeing whole bean coffees on sale regularly in supermarkets, and it wasn’t until I got my second full time job after college, in an office building in downtown Seattle, that I would learn that the odd shop my friends had shown me was the oldest continuously running Starbucks in the world (not exactly the original, because that had been a few blocks away, but they had had to relocated when the building they were originally in was renovated).

The upshot is, that it wasn’t until my late twenties that I owned my own (electric) coffee grinder and started buying whole bean coffees of various varieties and blends. And soon I had opinions about which blends (and which companies that sold blends of roasted beans) were the best.

One type of coffee I became fond of were various Kona mixes. The Hawaiian islands are the only place within the U.S. where coffee can be grown, and the Kona district of the Big Island contains a large number of small farms most of which are still owned by individual families. The climate in that district produces coffee beans with a distinctive flavor. Because the area where it grows is restricted, the annual production is low, in comparison to coffees from other parts of the world, so there are laws defining when one can put the work Kona on a coffee blend.

Starbucks isn’t the only company to sell blends that consist of a small percentage of Kona beans mixed with other beans (usually Brazilian) that have been determined to compliment the flavor well. Pure, 100% Kona coffee is always sold at a premium price.

For years I was perfectly happy to purchase these Kona blends. Until one day, while shopping at Ballard Market (a store only two blocks from my home at the time) I saw bags of coffee called Wings of the Morning, pure Kona Coffee. And the canvas bag further indicated that the beans were grown on the Wings of the Morning Farm which was still owned and run by a family that had been growing coffee there for many generations. It was about $22 bucks for a bag, which was a bit steep (other whole bean coffee was often on sale for $7.99 per pound, as I recall) but I’d never had pure Kona before. So I bought it.

And I became quickly addicted. Because it was more expensive than my usual coffees, I tended to ration it. The $22 bag at the time contained only 14 ounces of coffee, not a full pound, which meant that it was even more expensive than I had originally realized, but it was so, so good!

As I said, I rationed it. I would only make a pot at most once a week. The rest of the time I used other coffees. Sometimes, yes, much cheaper Kona blends, though I’ve always liked switching between light roast coffees (Kona beans are usually lightly roasted) and very dark roast coffees. Over the next couple years I watched the price creep up, eventually reaching $29 for the 14 oz bag. I kept buying it, but continued to ration it.

Then the coffee vanished from the store. For several months there was no Wings of the Morning on the shelf. When I asked about it, I was told that some years the supply of coffee from an individual Kona farm will run out before the next year’s crop comes in. Then, one day I’m in the store by the coffee and I looked up and there it was! And it was back down to $22 for a bag! Yay!

It wasn’t until I was unpacking groceries at home that I noticed that the bag now said it only contained 12 ozs of beans. But it was still really good. And I had been without it so long, that I let myself make the coffee a little more often, because, it’s all right to treat yourself kindly, right?

Over the next couple years, the price crept up a bit faster than before, and I was feeling a little bit guilty. I had about half a bag at the house, and I almost bought a new bag, but the ghosts of my penny-pinching ancestors all seemed to be scolding me for unnecessary expenses. So I bought a pound of cheaper Kona blend instead. And the cheaper Kona blend was a perfectly fine coffee. I liked the coffee it produced. It wasn’t bad, it was good. It just wasn’t as remarkable as the Wings of the Morning.

It was as I was heading home with my purchases that I got an idea. The Kona blends usually contain about 10% Kona beans, while the rest of the blend is some other kind of coffee. What would happen if I mixed in a little bit more of Kona beans in the blend? Would it taste better than merely perfectly fine?

When I got home, I carefully cleaned out the coffee grinder. I measured out equal parts of the cheap Kona blend and the more expensive Wings of the Morning—just enough for one pot as an experiment, right?

I made the coffee, then sat down to try it.

It was not merely a perfectly fine cup of coffee, it was superb. Not as stupendous as pure Wings of the Morning, but definitely much better than the cheap Kona blend alone.

I took some of the cheap Kona blend and carefully mixed it with the remainder of my Wings of the Morning. I put the new mix in a bag that I labeled so I would know it was my blend. When that bag was about half empty, I bought a new bag of Wings of the Morning, I made myself one pot of pure Wings of the Morning (which produces a damn fine cup of coffee, let me assure you!), and then I blended the rest of the Wings of the Morning with my blend. Then, when I used about half of that up, I bought some other Kona blend to mix in. And from there on I started alternating.

When I get a new bag of the Wings of the Morning, I make myself one pot’s worth of coffee with it, then blend it. The last couple of years instead of really cheap Kona blend, I’ve been mixing it with Lowry’s Dark Roast Hawaiian, which isn’t really a very dark roast at all, but I find superior to the really cheap Kona blends.

The other thing this adventure has taught me is that many coffees can be improved with a bit of blending. A few years ago I picked up a new Starbucks blend and roast that was… um… well, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t very good. It was definitely worse than mediocre, to my taste buds. But it hadn’t been cheap, and those penny-pinching ancestors turn into a cacophony in my head if I even think of throwing out something like that just because it doesn’t taste great. And it occurred to me that it might be improved by blending with some cheap Kona. So I tried a single pot and darn, if the less than mediocre coffee didn’t turn into perfectly fine coffee once blended.

Earlier this year my husband (who doesn’t drink coffee at all, and usually only buys me coffee if he sees that one of the Christmas blends he knows I like has popped up in the store before I’ve bought any) picked up a two-pound bag of some coffee I had never heard of before at Costco. It wasn’t their Kirkland brand. I tried it, and well…

Okay, if you are a coffee drinker, I am sure you have experienced the phenomenon where a good cup of coffee turns into something icky tasting when it cools to room temperature? Remember that taste. That’s what this stuff tastes like when it is piping hot. And it just gets worse as it cools off. I even tried turning it into an iced coffee, but no, that was really really bad. If I added some creamer it was tolerable, but only just. And it it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried mixing it with a cheap Kona blend yet. Once again, something that wasn’t good was transformed into a perfectly fine cup of coffee, simply by blending in some Kona blend beans.

So I was able to use up the rest of that really big bag of coffee and actually enjoy drinking it. But, now that I’ve used it that up, well, I’ve indulged myself with Wings of the Morning two days in a row. I’ll blend it with some Dark Hawaiian for the rest of the bag, but every now and then, you need to reward yourself, you know?

The unending struggle against thermal equilibrium, or, trying to get my coffee just right

© 2014 Gene Breshears

Coffee always helps.

I have a favorite coffee mug. It’s purple and holds a large amount of coffee. It’s a nice, solid mug that isn’t top heavy (a feature that a previous favorite mug did not share, which resulted in a lot of spilled coffee and swearing). You know those markings on the side of most automatic drip coffee carafes that tell you how many cups are in the pot? If my favorite mug is completely empty and I fill it from such a pot, the numbers on the side indicate that I’ve poured out a bit more than four cups from the pot. A standard-ish modern coffee mug usually holds about two cups. So when I said this one is large I meant it.

I like the mug a lot.

There really is only one problem, which I have been dealing with for several years, ever since we bought our current microwave.

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along... © 2019 Gene Breshears

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along…

For various reasons, most mornings when I go to get myself my first cup of coffee at home, there is usually enough cold coffee leftover from the previous day to fill my favorite mug. So I fill the mug and stick it in the microwave and immediately face a dilemma. If I press the 1 minute button on the microwave, by the time it is done, the coffee in the mug will be only barely warmer than tepid. If I select, say, 1 minute and 30 seconds, when I reach for the mug I will find that handle is scalding hot, while the body of the mug is only slightly warm, and the coffee is also only slightly warm. If I select a full two minutes, the coffee itself will be a very nice temperature, but not only with the handle of the mug be too hot to hold, but the body of the mug will also be a warmer than is pleasant to hold.

Exactly why the mug itself heats up more than the coffee in this microwave doesn’t really matter. The thing is, according to the Laws of Thermodynamics, once the mug has reached a point where it is warmer than the coffee, one should need only to wait for a bit, and the mug will cool down while the coffee absorbs some of that heat the mug is losing and warm up. So you would think that the ideal option would be to select the one and a half minute cycle, carefully carry the mug grasping the body and not the too-hot-to-touch handle over to my desk or whatever, and in let’s say five minutes time everything would be perfect.

But it doesn’t work. Most of the mug handle’s heat, instead of going into the rest of the mug and eventually the coffee, seems to mostly go into the air around it. The upshot is that by the time the mug’s handle is cool enough to comfortably grip it, the coffee has cooled down closer to room temperature than the warmth it had before.

Once a fresh pot is made, I have an easier time managing the temperature. Usually the coffee is cold by the time I’ve drank half the mug, so I can top it off from the bot and it reaches a nice warm—not too hot, not tepid. And if can do a little 30 second zap if the coffee is a bit cooler than I like. So long as I don’t let it get back down to room temperature, anyway.

I’m sure there’s some sort of life lesson I should be able to derive from this. It’s like the tiniest annoyance in my life. It’s been on my mind more lately because between one or the other of us being sick and all the weird weather, I’m been working from home a lot more often. And this will surprise some people since I seem to by such a coffee addict, but I almost never make coffee at home on days I go into the office. My first caffeine of the day on those days happens is the free stuff they have in the kitchenette down the hall from my desk.

Ah, well, I’ll just have to soldier on!

Living in a chemical world, plus dream sequences

Cat with head deep in coffee mug “iz not addicted to caffeine, i juz need it to function”

(click to embiggen)

Every time I have my annual wellness exam, my doctor gets a little carried away on the prescription renewals so that when I show up at the pharmacy to pick up the meds I expect, there is often extra things like the codeine cough syrup he’s prescribed when I last had bronchitis, or the inhaler he prescribed one time when I got bronchitis and it didn’t respond to the first antibiotic, or the corticosteroid nasal spray he keeps recommending for my allergies or when I get a sinus infection. So I wind up telling them I don’t actually need several of them, but I have kept one unopened bottle of the nasal spray, just in case. I don’t like using it because when I have done so in the past I got very vivid and disturbing dreams for several days after. And by disturbing I don’t mean that they are bloody or horrific (usually) it’s just that they are so vivid that it takes many minutes after waking up in a panic before I can convince myself they aren’t real.

So the other night, when I conked out after dinner unexpectedly, I woke up to find the apartment full of smoke and my Mom was standing at the door, calling to me to come help her open it because and we needed to get out and where is Michael? And I jumped up from the recliner, stumbled over a filebox on the floor trying to get to my mom and the door and just as I’m opening my mouth to yell for Michael the smoke had vanished. Also, Mom (who hasn’t visited us in over 20 years because travel is difficult for her for various health reasons) had vanished. There was no smoke. There was no fire. There had been no Mom.

And the dream was so vivid that I went to the bathroom and dug out the box with the unopened bottle of the nasal spray just to confirm that I hadn’t opened it and used it when the sinus headache had been real bad the night before. I didn’t remember using it, but the dream really felt like one of those, so I thought maybe in the middle of the night, when I was half asleep and had been tossing and turning because of the headache I had given in and added the spray to the mix of allergy pills and over the counter cold medications I’d already taken.

And that was only the first day of the fever.

I haven’t used the spray, but I keep having the weird dreams. The next morning my alarm watch went off a few hours after my husband left for work (he leaves much earlier than I even want to wake up). I often wake up briefly while he is getting ready for work. I may mumble, “I love you” or “Good morning” to him as I stumble to the bathroom and then back to bed. Sometimes I just try to wake up enough to say something to him and don’t succeed. Also I often wake up briefly once or twice before my alarm goes off, note that I still have more time to sleep, and roll over. But back to the alarm: The alarm was ringing and Michael is calling from the next room that I should turn off the alarm and asking if I’m going to try to go into the office or call in sick. And I get up and stumble out to the room where my Apple watch is on its charger to turn it off and I ask Michael, “What are you doing here? Did you get to work, decide you were too sick, and come back home?”

And Michael didn’t answer. But now that I’d spoken aloud, that was enough to completely wake me up, and I’m standing in front of the watch in its charger. Its face is lit up showing me that there are still two minutes until the alarm will actually go off.

There have also been two dreams where I was somewhere in the city trying to remember where I had parked the car because I either needed to pick up Michael somewhere or I was trying to get away from someone who was trying to hurt us. And both of those ended with me awake, standing in front of the phone charger, trying to find the app on the phone that will help me find the car. One of the mornings I wasn’t actually holding my phone, I was holding the TV remote (which is normally on the shelf above the phone charger), but I swear a few seconds before it had been my phone. And yes, it was as if I watched it morph from phone to remote as I finished waking up.

The fact that when I’m having a nightmare I will get up, walk around, talk (sometimes yell), and so forth is one of the reasons that normally I don’t watch scary movies, by the way.

So I still haven’t actually used the spray. I’m of two minds: since I seem to already be having the side effect I least like, maybe I should go ahead. On the other hand, the spray might just make the weird dreams even worse.

And this gets me to two reasons why I shy away from writing dream sequences in my fiction. When I have tried to write them like the dreams I remember, the reaction from readers (at least the ones I hear from) is that the dream was more confusing than enlightening. When I tried to write them to have a bit more narrative flow, readers say they went on too long. Having had these reactions, I am not enthused when someone suggests that a dream sequence would better explain a particular mystical thing happening in one of my stories.

Besides trying to get work done while juggling regular meds, symptoms of this cold thing, extra meds, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remember to keep hydrated and get enough caffeine in me so that I don’t wind up with a caffeine-deprivation headache on top of everything else. You would think that coffee, of all things, would be something I didn’t have to remind myself to drink, but you would be wrong.

I hope I’m well sooner rather than later.

Coffee, coffee, everywhere — and why half of what you know about it is wrong

“There is no such thing as strong coffee, only weak people...”

“There is no such thing as strong coffee, only weak people…”

I have been drinking coffee since I was 12 or 13 years old—in other words, for 45 years! During that time the amount and types of coffee I drink has varied. Growing up in a working class family in the central Rockies, meant that for many years the kind of coffee I drank would be sneered at by a lot of coffee afictionadoes. Cheap, canned ground coffee for the percolator, instant coffee for when you don’t have the time to make a full pot. My father and both grandfathers had the kinds of jobs where they took a lunch box and a big thermos full of coffee with them each day they went to work.

So for more than 45 years I’ve been around coffee and coffee lovers, as well as consuming a lot of coffee myself. And I have spent a good portion of those 45 years having to debunk commonly held beliefs about coffee’s affect on one’s body. I thought I had heard everything, but a couple of years ago when the topic of coffee came up in an online discussion, someone made a joke about coffee making you poop. Or, I should say, I thought they were making a joke. But I encountered it a few times again over the next few months, and then it seemed that everyone on the planet knew as an absolute certainty that coffee is a natural laxative of such power that if forces you to run to the bathroom a few minutes after finishing the cup.

This puzzled me in part because 1) I had never experienced this effect, and 2) while some of the men who drank a lot of coffee around me when I was a kid would occasionally make crude comments about how many times they had to take a piss because of the coffee (and that they didn’t want a third cup because they didn’t want to take another piss soon), no one had ever mentioned needing to take a dump. And I guarantee you that a couple of my uncles would have had some very colorful jokes based on it if they had ever observed a correlation between drinking coffee and needing to poop.

So, I did some research, and while it is easy to find a lot of web pages that promote the idea, if you restrict your reading to pages that cite medical studies, you find out that, yeah, it’s a myth. There was one study in the 1990 that seemed to show an increase in the muscle movements of the colon a few minutes after drinking coffee—but only in about 28% of the subjects. And, most medical people who commented on the study were quick to point out that the study didn’t demonstrate that this increase in activity was enough to create a laxative effect. Another study a few years later couldn’t reproduce the results with coffee alone—they only measured the increase if the person drank the coffee (either regular or decaf) along with a meal of at least 1000 calories. That would seem to indicate that maybe it isn’t the coffee that’s the issue, it’s filling up the stomach and kicking the digestive system into full gear that causes the movement further down.

Lots of people insist that drinking coffee makes them need to go. Among the many critiques raised by other researchers concerning these studies and the anecdotal evidence is people are overlooking the possibilities of both a pavlovian effect and habits. If you generally drink coffee shortly after waking up most days (because you set up the automatic coffee maker on a timer each night, for instance), and you usually eat dinner at roughly the same time each night, your body may just be ready to go by morning. The coffee is a coincidence.

As the article I linked to above also mentions, the oft repeated notion that drinking coffee, tea, and other beverages containing caffeine actually dehydrates you is also a myth. Coffee, it turns out, is not a diuretic.

I want to pause here and point out that I’ve heard the admonition against drinking coffee because it supposedly dehydrates you from nurses and other medical personnel ten times more often I hear it from anyone else. This is the reason that anytime someone starts telling me that one should eat or do this, or refrain from eating or doing that because their doctor told them that I have to fight not to roll my eyes before urging them to do some of their own research.

My favorite is that people still cite studies from the 1950s that showed a correlation between coffee drinking and heart disease (among other things). Because those original studies made two errors that created a false correlation: they didn’t control for tobacco use, and they didn’t separate data by the gender of the subject.

Turns out that back when smoking was much more prevalent than it is today, there was a high correlation between coffee use and smoking. In other words, people who drank a lot of coffee were more likely to also be heavy smokers. Once you think about the neurological properties of caffeine and nicotine, that makes sense, both substances are mood regulators. Anyway, turns out that most of the statistic correlation vanished once you accounted for the smoking.

A tiny bit of statistical correlation remained, but if you then separated the data and compared only coffee drinking men to non-coffee drinking men, and similarly only comparing coffee drinking women to non-coffee drinking women, the correlation completely vanished. Why? Well, coffee drinking men on average drink between 10-20 percent more coffee today than the average woman. Given that on average men outweigh women by a bit more than 10 percent, and the amount of caffeine one must consume to produce a given result varies by body mass, it makes sense that coffee drinking men will consume at least 10% more coffee than women. Completely separate from any lifestyle questions, it is a biological fact that merely being male increases one’s chances of developing heart disease or high blood pressure.

This is a great reminder that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.

There have been many more recent studies that have shown there is no link between coffee consumption and coronary artery disease or stroke. That is, no link between regular coffee and those diseases. Oddly enough, people who drink a lot of decaf seem to have a slightly increased risk of certain types of coronary disease, though at this time no one knows why.

Anything that people indulge in—if it isn’t perceived as a necessity for survival—comes under a lot of scrutiny from others. There are always people who thinking you shouldn’t indulge in the activity at all, or that you shouldn’t do it more than they do, and so on. So that’s one reason coffee accumulates these misperceptions and why people repeat them indefinitely. More generally, people place a lot more weight on their own perceptions and anecdotal evidence of people who agree with them than they do to logic, statistics, and reproducability.

The science indicates that coffee doesn’t have most of the negative effects most people associate with it. So you can enjoy it guilt free. And if you’re one of those people who don’t enjoy or use it or all, that’s absolutely fine. Just stop ragging on other people for doing it. None of us are giving you grief for your oxygen habit, are we?

“Coffee: a warm, delicious alternative to hating everybody every morning forever.”

“Coffee: a warm, delicious alternative to hating everybody every morning forever.”

Weather shifts, linguistic relativity, and the search for the perfect writing beverage

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe coffee is addicted to me?”

According to the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” a particular ethnic group had over 50 words for snow. Though I’ve also heard people misquote the same pseudo-factoid as 180 words for snow. You can follow the link to get some information on the faulty reasoning that led to the initial viral spread of the misunderstanding of an anthropologist’s book in the 1940s, but I always thought that if the myth were true, that the dialect of English spoken by inhabitants of Seattle would have developed at least 180 synonyms for drizzle. Not rain, drizzle.

Despite Seattle’s reputation for rain, we don’t get a lot of the heavy rainstorms that people who live in other parts of the world are used to. We don’t actually get that many rainy days at all. What we have are lots of overcast days. Many, many days of cool, damp weather that may include a little drizzle or mist here and there. Yeah, during some months (November, for instance) we get some deluges. This year we had literally the wettest winter since we started keeping records here 122 years ago, and last year was the second-wettest ever, so the pattern may be changing. We’ll see. In any case, much of our reputation for rain comes from all those cool, damp overcast days where it feels as if it must have just rained a bit ago, even though it may not have for several days.

Another reasons we have such a reputation is the sneaky prank Mother Nature likes to play on newcomers every spring. Every year, at some point in the month of May, we get a week or two of weather that seems like summer. It usually only gets into the low or middle seventies (Farenheit), but the thing is that after months of overcast days, drizzly days, and occasional rainstorms, a week or two of sunny weather with no rain at all and warm temperatures in the daytime fools people who think that summer is here. Never mind that most of those nights the temperatures drop back down to the 50s or 40s, in the middle of the day it was warm and sunny and dry, so summer must be here.

And then the June Gloom hits.

An upper atmosphere trough settles in causing almost constant on-shore flow. Cool, moist air from the ocean keeps coming inland. So every night we get overcast/foggy cool weather, and the clouds and fog may or may not burn off at all during the day time. And we get drizzles and light showers. Temperatures may get up into the low 70s for a little bit each day, but between the lack of sun, the damp, and the rain, it doesn’t feel that warm. Statistically, we have mostly June Gloom instead of summer until about July 12. And particularly in contrast to those couple of weeks of what seemed like summer, that long cool period breaks the spirit of people who aren’t from around here.

This last weekend was the end of our faux summer. And it was a lot warmer than our usual May foray into warmth. The temperatures got up into the 80s. But then the drizzle and rain came back. I happen to love the rain and the cooler days, but it this time it was a bit of a shock even to me. I couldn’t figure out last night—after I got home from work and ran my two errands, then peeled off my office drag and switched to shorts—why I was so cold! I actually had to pull a pair of sweat pants out of the drawer!

I’ve also heard a theory that the reason people who don’t live here long think it rains a lot is precisely because common English doesn’t have a single word that means “cool, overcast, with the impending feeling of rain.” Since the categories we sort things into are at least someone dictated by the language(s) we speak, the argument goes, people actually mentally perceive those days without rain as rainy. A friend once told me about the time she admonished her husband and son to go outside and get some activity in while the sun was out… it was late winter/early spring and the sun was not out at all, the sky was very overcast. But it wasn’t raining and it had been the day before. She said, “You live enough years in Seattle, and you start seeing any time when it isn’t raining and it isn’t so dark you need artificial light as sunny!”

We’d had enough warm days that I was starting to think that making a pot of ice tea might be a good idea. Of course, we tossed out a lot of redundant dishes and such during the packing, and when I looked in the cupboards, I couldn’t find a proper pitcher. We haven’t completely unpacked, yet, so I may well have something that would work in one of the boxes. So I didn’t want to run out and buy a pitcher. The other problem is that Michael will only drink tea if it is so saturated with sugar that you can’t get more to dissolve in. Ordinary sweet tea like my grandma’s used to make (where you dissolve several cups of sugar into the tea when the water is still boiling, because once you’ve iced it you can’t get them much sugar to dissolve into it) isn’t quite sweet enough for him. Meanwhile, I can’t drink that much sugar anymore, so I drink all my tea (hot or cold) or coffee without any sweetener.

If we had had one more day of hot weather, I would have broken down, made a mug of hot unsweetened tea with my electric kettle, then poured it into a big glass full of ice cubes. Which isn’t quite as good as having a whole pitcher of tea you can refill from, but tastes good. And now we’re going to cool weather for a while. So I’ve pulled my collection of tea bags out of the pantry. The tea bags had been out of sight since sometimes early in the move, so I haven’t been making tea at night. On days that I’m home all day, I wind up making a second pot of coffee and drinking coffee into the evening. Which is fine, except I think that tea in the afternoon and evening changes the way my brain works.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get back into the writing zone. Or maybe I’m just too tired from all the packing and unpacking. And it isn’t as if there isn’t still a lot of unpacking to do!

Maybe I should have a nice cup of tea before I tackle the next box.

Freaks — caffeinated or not

“You know how you just wake up some mornings and you feel so refreshed and cheerful, you’re like ‘I don’t even need coffee’? Me, either. And I don’t trust anyone who says they do. Uncaffeinated freaks.”—Nanea Hoffman, SweatpantsAndCoffee.com

“You know how you just wake up some mornings and you feel so refreshed and cheerful, you’re like ‘I don’t even need coffee’? Me, either. And I don’t trust anyone who says they do. Uncaffeinated freaks.” — Nanea Hoffman, SweatpantsAndCoffee.com

One time my husband and I were discussing sleep schedules, and specifically how I much I regret it if I stay up too late on weekends, because it is so difficult to get up and going on time come Monday morning. He didn’t quite understand what I was getting at, and made a comment along the lines of, “Maybe since you don’t drink coffee during the work week, you shouldn’t drink coffee in the weekends.”

I stared at him open-mouth for a moment then asked, “What make you think I don’t drink coffee during the work week?”

“I’ve never heard you say you’re going on a coffee break.”

So I had to explain to him that in the software industry (at least the places I’ve worked) people don’t take official coffee breaks. You get to the office, you hang up your jacket and so forth, boot up your workstation, grab your coffee mug and head to the kitchen. You then bring your full coffee cup back to your desk and sip it while you work. And you go back to the kitchen and refill your coffee cup whenever the heck you want to, and bring it back to your desk.

Yeah, sometimes you wind up hanging in the kitchen chatting with co-workers. And some folks prefer to have a specific time they leave their desks for a break, but most of us take a lot of mini-breaks throughout the day. And, of course, folks whose jobs involve answering the phone (tech support, customer service, sales) don’t have the flexibility to get up and go refill coffee whenever. But for the rest of us, particularly since most of us aren’t hourly and wind up putting in more than 40 hours a week anyway, don’t really worry about rigid break times.

I do block off lunch time. I used to not do that, and work while eating at my desk like a lot of my co-workers. But some years ago I had a boss who really believed that one of your responsibilities is to take care of yourself so you can do a good job. I still eat at my desk, but my work computer is logged out, and I spend the time writing on my iPad or catching up on the news.

At the time we had this conversation, I was drinking on a typical workday at least six mugs of coffee a day.

The other reason he thought I didn’t drink coffee during the week is that I seldom made pots of coffee at home during the week. I’m a cheapskate, son of cheapskate, grandson of penny-pinchers, et cetera. Of course I’m not going to make extra coffee for myself if I can get it free at work! Which proves that I’m nowhere near the caffeine fiend that I sometimes talk like, because I can muddle through the morning get ready for work routine without several cups of coffee.

Note, however, that I didn’t say without caffeine. See, on a typical Monday morning, for instance, there is coffee in the pot left over from Sunday. And yes, I will stick a mug of that in the microwave and heat it up on Mondays. And other days, well, before I had the fancy electric teakettle thing, I would fill a mug with water, drop a teabag in it, and stick it in the microwave. Just a little caffeine to start the day, right?

On a typical work day, then, I have a mug of some caffeinated beverage early in the morning, then a couple of mugs of office coffee once I get to the office, and then four or so cups of tea in the afternoon. I betray my cheapskate heritage on that, because the office tea selection is often pretty boring, so I have a few of my favorites (double bergamot earl grey, aged earl grey, jasmine green, lavender earl grey, blackberry oolong, green & black earl grey… that sort of thing) in a drawer at the office.

So, yes, I need my caffeine. It gets me through the day. And some of it is in the form of coffee. And I sometimes make disparaging remarks about people who don’t indulge. And I know that I shouldn’t. Some folks have medical reasons to avoid caffeine. Some people have religious objections. And some people just don’t like coffee or tea. I am boggled at the last, but try to remind myself that lots of people are completely baffled at just how much I hate the taste of raisins.

So I try to live in peace with the decaffeinated freaks around me, even the ones who actually like the satanic fruit in muffins or cookies or whatever new kind of food someone has decided to ruin with raisins. And I hope that they will be equally accepting of what a weird caffeinated freak I am. Because on the whole, all people are strange. If there’s someone who doesn’t appear to be weird in some way, that just means you don’t know them well enough.


It’s December, and that means I’m trying to write yet another original Christmas Ghost Story to read at our annual holiday get together. But as is often the case, I have too many plots and can’t quite settle on which one to write.

Which is where you can help!

If you haven’t already, go to Which Christmas Ghost should I write? and take the poll. Seeing which things interests people does help. I may not wind up finishing the story more people vote for this time around, but just seeing people voting gives me at least a bit more motivation.

Thanks!

Red cups, manufactured outrage, and twisted meanings

Two of several designs of holiday cups at Starbucks this year, and my annual bag of Christmas Blend coffee.

Two of several designs of holiday cups at Starbucks this year, and my annual bag of Christmas Blend coffee. Photo © Gene Breshears (Click to embiggen)

The annual wails of outrage and anger at Starbucks over the “War on Christmas” began a few weeks ago, before a bunch of Trumpkins took it into their heads to punish Starbucks by going to various Starbucks stores, buying fancy coffees, telling the barista their name was Trump, and then get all upset if anything untoward happened. Or something. I really still don’t understand how buying stuff from a company punishes it.

Anyway, I saw some blog posts a couple of weeks ago claiming that this year’s Starbucks holiday cup was, once again, an assault on traditional american values because it didn’t say Christmas on it. The blog posts were in reference to a green cup that Starbucks unveiled a week or so before election day. They called it a Unity cup, and the featured artwork was many different people drawn with one continuous line, to symbolize how everyone is connected, humanity is one big family, et cetera. And the usual War on Christmas nuts started making angry posts about it.

Here, in a picture I swiped for the Starbucks corporate website, are this year's actual holiday cups, which all look very Christmasy to me!

Here, in a picture I swiped for the Starbucks corporate website, are this year’s actual holiday cups, which all look very Christmasy to me!

There are a couple of problems with this outrage. First, the cups weren’t the Starbucks holiday cups: No, Those Green Cups Aren’t The Starbucks Holiday Cup. Second, in what way can any Christian be legitimately offended by a message of community and connectedness of all mankind? Especially at Christmas?

I mean, in Luke 2:14 after the angel tells the shepherds that the savior has been born, a multitude of the heavenly host appears in the sky beside the first angel and sings, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Right?

Well, that’s one of the problems. The King James Version, which was the English language translation of the Bible preferred by most protestants for a couple hundred years (and was the one I first read cover-to-cover, the one read and quoted from the pulpit at all the churches I attended, and the one from which I memorized the Christmas story as told in Luke chapter 2 and Matthew chapter 1 as a child), states the angels’ song the way I quote it. God’s message is good will toward all mankind in that translation.

But evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have spurned the King James Version and a couple of similar translations, in part because they weren’t homophobic enough. Seriously, in 1946 the Revised Standard Version added the words homosexual or homosexuality to several passages. The fact that it was unclear in the original languages what some of those were passages talking about, and in other cases were references to particular types of prostitution (and a weird legalistic argument some people were apparently making that if they hired a male prostitute pretending to be a woman they weren’t really cheating on their wife) was completely glossed over with these changes. (You can read a lot more about it here: Homophobia and the Politics of Biblical Translation.)

The god of the King James Version was pretty judgmental, but not judgmental and condemning enough, apparently. And the new translations many of the evangelicals and fundamentalists favor render that verse a bit differently: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Clearly implying that God does not offer universal love and forgiveness to everyone.

Make no mistake, the King James Version’s translation has all sorts problems. And the original texts from which the modern Bible is derived have other problematic issues. There are so many passages that praise slavery, for instance. There’s the bit in the old testament where men are instructed, if they suspect their wife might have been unfaithful, to take said wife to the temple for an involuntary abortion. There are also twenty-five separate and unequivocal passages stating that left-handed people are abominations and will not get into heaven. These are just some of the reasons that I no longer consider myself a member of the religion in which I was raised.

But I still keep, rather foolishly, expecting that more people who call themselves Christian will actually conduct themselves according to the actual teachings of the man who said: “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Do good to those that hate you. He didn’t say to make laws that punish those who disagree with you. He didn’t say to deny marriage licenses to those who believe differently than you. He didn’t say deport those who worship differently than you. He didn’t say to build walls to keep out people who look and speak differently than you. He didn’t say to tell all those people you are persecuting that you love them even while you’re doing all these hurtful and hateful things to them.

He said to do good to everyone, including those who hurt you. That’s how you love your neighbor. But it’s apparently a lot easier to change the words of their sacred book than it is to change their own hearts.

A red coffee cup with snowflakes on it, or Christmas ornaments, or snow covered evergreen trees, or a fanciful reindeer do not constitute a “War on Christmas.” It’s manufactured outrage, not an actual war. But people who call themselves Christian and support the persecution and demonization of people based on race, sexual orientation, immigration status, or religion? That is an actual war on the teachings of Christ.

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup… boy!

"Now, where in the heck did I leave my glasses?" This is a frightening accurate representation of the author.

“Now, where in the heck did I leave my glasses?” This is a frightening accurate representation of the author.

Absent-mindedness manifests in many ways. For instance, my coffee cup. When I was younger, I would often lose track of my current cup. I would spend time looking for it, and then conclude that maybe I was simply mis-remembering having poured a cup at all. I’d grab a mug from the cabinet, fill it up, head back to whatever I was working on. About a third of the time I’d sit down with the cup and hear a clink as I tried to set the second on top of the first mug, which I was absolutely certain hadn’t been in that spot on the desk just five minutes before. But there is was, half full.

Other times I would work for a while, then get up to retrieve a book from another room, or run to the bathroom, or something similar, and I’d find the first mug, sitting in an odd location, half full and gone completely cold. Some days I’d wind up with three or more mugs scattered around the house.

I was only able to reduce the occurrence of that problem by adopting the practice of using only my favorite mug for coffee. If I couldn’t find the coffee near me where I expected it, I’d keep searching until I found that mug.

Of course, it isn’t always coffee. I currently have a second favorite mug, and I use it for tea. If I decide to make tea, I go find my Queen of Everything mug, pick out a tea bag from my rather frightening collection, turn of the electric kettle portion of my coffee maker, and then make a cup.

Sometimes I get in the mood for tea and forget that I still have a half a cup of coffee sitting around somewhere. I usually find it a bit later, and half the time I don’t even realize it until I pick up the mug, take a sip expecting tea, and I get room temperature coffee instead. Never mind that my favorite coffee mug is mug bigger, is a different shape, and a completely different color from the tea mug. When I’m in the middle of something, I don’t notice any of that.

But that isn’t the end of it. Some afternoons or evenings, I’ll have a craving for some soda. So I’ll grab a can of La Croix, or a bottle of Dry Soda, or some other low- or no-sugar sparkling drink, open it, and drink half of it before I realize that I already have a half-finished mug of tea or coffee… and sometimes half a mug of each.

And then there are the evenings I decide to make myself a cocktail, or have a glass of wine. Yes, some times I have had the embarrassing moment when I reach for my beverage, and realize that within reach of me there is a half-full cocktail glass, a half can of soda, a half bottle of iced tea, a half mug of coffee, and a half mug of tea. Not often, but some nights…

“The Java Jive” (Ink Spots, 1940):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

A cup, a cup, and a cup…

My favorite coffee mug in it's natural habitat: a bookshelf within reach of my favorite chair.

My favorite coffee mug in it’s natural habitat: a bookshelf within reach of my favorite chair.

So I drink a lot of coffee. And when I’m at home on a work-from-home day or a weekend, I typically make a pot in the morning, fill up my mug, drink only some of it before I decide it needs a warmup, so I top it off. How many cups of coffee do I drink, then? Is it one long cup, or is it twelve? Except my cup is rather large, so how do we count by the cup or by the cup?

It has long amused me that coffee pots still measure the amount of coffee in the carafe by a measuring cup. One cup of liquid equals half a pint, which means 1/16th of a gallon. But at no time when I have own a coffee maker, have I ever drank coffee from a drinking cup that holds just one measuring cup’s worth of coffee. Most people drink from a coffee mug that holds nearly two measuring cup’s worth of coffee in a single serving.

l to r: A coffee mug of the size most people seem to use, a classic teacup, and then my favorite coffee mug.

l to r: A coffee mug of the size most people seem to use, a classic teacup, and then my favorite coffee mug. (Click to embiggen)

My current favorite home mug is bigger still. It’s the purple one in this picture. The little teacup in the middle is the kind of cup that the coffee pot manufacturers seem to think that people still use for drinking coffee. The mug on the left is one of my old favorites. At one time it was my office mug. I brought it home because a co-worker was weirded out that a man liked to drink coffee from a mug that said “The Queen of Everything.” Never mind that I was an openly gay man, it still freaked at least one person out. So it was a mug I often drank coffee or tea from at home for years after that. Until I found the large purple one.

The coffee pot right after making a full put. Not that the liquid goes up the the 12 mark.

The coffee pot right after making a full put. Not that the liquid goes up the the 12 mark.

My current coffee maker includes a carafe which claims to hold 12 cups of liquid. And it certainly looks like a huge amount of coffee when I first make a pot in the morning. Twelve measuring cups is three quarts, and three quarts of coffee seems like a lot. Right?

You would expect that anyone who would drink 12 cups of coffee in a single day would be vibrating, I suppose. Maybe even vibrate so fast that I open a portal to an alternate universe and pass right through. All that caffeine in one person is bound to make one at least a bit manic. I remember a historian once mentioning that one of the prominent figures of the Enlightenment recorded in his journals (in which among other things he kept careful account of his household expenditures) of some weeks drinking 40 cups of tea a day. The historian said, “No wonder all those guys wrote so much and discovered so much. You try drinking 40 cups of tea and see whether you’re up all night having all sorts of exiting ideas bouncing around your head!”

I filled up my favorite mug exactly once, and look how the coffee level has dropped!

I filled up my favorite mug exactly once, and look how the coffee level has dropped!

However, when I pour coffee out of the carafe to fill my favorite mug, note that the coffee level has dropped down to just below the 9 mark. So my favorite coffee cup holds three cups of coffee. Which means that if I drink the whole pot, while one could say that I drank 12 measuring cups of coffee, it’s only actually four refills of my coffee mug. So, do I drink 12 or 4 cups in a single day?

Well, there’s at least one more complication I haven’t told you. Periodically over the course of the day, whenever I notice that the carafe is less than half full, I pour about three cups of water (using an aluminum pitcher I keep nearby for reasons) into the reservoir and kick-off a new percolation cycle, letting the machine top off the pot. I confess that when I do this, I don’t grind fresh coffee beans, I just let the new hot water go through the grounds that I put in in the morning. This probably makes me a freak or a loon in the opinions of some hard-care coffee fanatics. I usually only do this twice in a day.

So, that would indicate that I actually drink about 18 measuring cup’s worth of coffee a day, right?

Well… the truth is, I usually stop in the early evening, and there is usually still coffee in the pot at least up to the 4 cup line when I do. So let’s call it 14 measuring cups again. That’s enough to completely fill my bit mug four times, and nearly a fifth afterward.

I’ve left out one more wrinkle that applies to work-from-home days. When I first get up on a work-from-home day, I do my meds and some of the other morning routines quickly, including making coffee, so I can drive my husband in to his place of work. As a treat for myself, I grab a small can of coffee drink, either a Starbucks Double-shot Lite, or there’s another brand that has a Salted Caramel flavored coffee drink in a small aluminum can. Both types claim to have the equivalent of two shots of espresso in the drink.

I pour one of these cans into a travel mug, which fills it a bit over half full, then top it off with coffee from the pot. That’s my “latte” for the drive in. I usually drink about half of it in the trip. When I get back home, I pour the remainder into my big purple mug, and top it off with hot coffee. The Starbucks’ can holds 6.5 ounces. The other brand’s can holds 7 ounces. Let’s just call it one more cup. Except it’s supposed to be two shots of espresso, so should we call it two cups?

Just how much coffee do I actually drink?


P.S. Please don’t chime it to say that coffee isn’t good for your health. The studies that most people think showed that were all conducted over 50 years ago, and newer studies show no correlation between coffee drinking and any of the health effects people attribute to them. None. Deeper analysis of the raw data from the earlier studies has revealed that the researchers completely failed to notice that there was an extremely strong correlation between being a heavy coffee drinker and being a heavy smoker. There was also a very strong statistical tendency for men to drink more coffee per day than women. And oddly enough, all the health issues that people now blame on coffee because of these badly quoted studies are also illnesses that one is more likely to have if one is either male or a smoker.

When the data from the old studies is re-analyzed to compare only smokers to smokers, non-smokers to non-smokers, men to men, and women to women, all statistical correlation between the amount of coffee someone drinks and any negative health effects vanished.

It ain’t the coffee that you need to be worrying about.

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