Tag Archive | coffee

There is only coffee time and cocktail time…

Quarantine: there is no longer AM and PM. There is only "coffee time" and "wine time."Last week I wrote about the fact that I had only just that Monday finished off the last of the many bags of Christmas/Holiday Blend coffee beans I bought in November and December. Later that week there was another transition related to coffee in my house. To explain, I have to take you back to September of 2014, just over six years ago, when the coffee maker I’d been using for some years died. We went out and bought a new one. One of the things I really liked about the new one was that it used carbon water filters between the water reservoir and the carafe which were the same filters that the previous two machines we’d owned had used. A lot of coffee machines by many different manufacturers have settled on that filter, so it wasn’t super difficult to find one.

I’ve been using that one ever since. Sometime last spring, during the couple of months that my husband was furloughed from his job and we were both home full time, he pointed out that the hot plate that the carafe rests on was getting rusty. I took a look and saw a little bit of rust, and noted that the black enamel that coated the plate was flaking off, but otherwise figured it was a minor problem.

My usual routine is to rinse out the carafe and the filter basket every day before I make new coffee, and to run the carafe, filter basket, and the gold filter through the dishwasher about once a week. I don’t usually clean the hot plate because, well, the coffee that I drink never touches it directly, and I’m lazy.

Some months after Michael had pointed out the rust, while the carafe and other bits were in the dishwasher, I decided to do a thorough cleaning of the rest of the coffee maker. The hat plate, once scrubbed, looked a lot worse. Essentially, every time I pull the carafe out or put it back in place, a little bit of coffee spills out and lands of the hot plate. Trapped between the hot plate and the carafe, the coffee boils away and burns and coats the hot plate with a layer of black burnt coffee. There was way more burnt coffee than enamel left on the warming plate, and a whole lot more rust than I had realized (because most of it was hidden beneath the burnt coffee).

The hot plate has a heating element attached to the underside, which means an electrical current runs through it. Depending on how bad the rusting gets, this might eventually pose an electrical hazard. Still, looking at it, I figured we were a long way away from in being a problem. Which was not really a wise thought, I know. But nothing continued to go wrong and slowly the issue faded away into the back of my mind.

Then, on Christmas Eve, while we were online with a bunch of friends, wishing each other Happy Holidays and occasionally opening presents, my husband carried over from behind our tree a large box that had been sitting there for some weeks with a tag identifying it as a present from him to me, and told me I had to open it in front of our friends.

Inside the box was not just a coffeemaker, but the exact same model as we currently owned… even though the manufacturer had stopped making it about a year ago. Several places on line still had unopened boxes, so he’d ordered it. I wound up telling the story above to our friends. And since it was Christmas Eve, I didn’t want to drop everything to go take the old maker down and open the new one.

The problem is… I left the new one in its box through Christmas, New Year’s… and Valentine’s Day… and it was still sitting in its unopened box last Monday when I made a pot of coffee using the very last of the Christmas Blend coffee beans. After posting that blog post, I realized what I needed to do next. So, that evening, I unplugged the old coffee maker, disassembled various bits, and set the water filters (I didn’t mention that this unit uses two: one for the coffee reservoir, and the other for the separate hot tea maker) in water to soak overnight.

The next day I made the first pot of post-holiday coffee with the new coffee maker. And everything works find. The coffee is good. It is, after all, identical to the old one just brand new. Let’s hope it’s another six years at least before I need to replace it.

It was anti-climatic. But then, I should have just unboxed the coffee maker a couple months ago, right?

While normally I would chalk it up to procrastination, I’m going to also throw a little bit of blame at the quarantine and how time has become a fog the longer I’m working from home, never going outside without a mask, limiting my shopping trips generally to once a week, and so on.

Speaking of, I didn’t think of commemorating my own quarantine anniversary until about a week afterward. So, this week is the 57th week of working from home, for me.

That’s right, just a little more than a month before our governor issued the first Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, I developed a severe cough overnight. So on the morning of February 19, 2020, I sent my boss an email saying I would be working from home until the cough went away. It was exactly one month after the first COVID-19 case had been identified in our state, in a man who lived only a few miles from our place. The cough (along with body aches) persisted for a bit more than two weeks. I never developed a fever, and never experienced the shortness of breath and deep lung pains that two friends who were later confirmed to have come down with COVID in the following month.

During the course of those two weeks, the corporate overlords at work had issues a series of all-employees emails, first announcing we were canceling our company’s participation in a big international tech conference we usually exhibited at (the conference itself was canceled eventually); then saying that any employee who needed to work from home could start doing so without going through the usual approval process; then encouraging people to work from home if they could, especially if they are anyone in their household was exhibiting symptoms.

It wasn’t long after that before the corporate line shifted to not just encouraging, but putting everyone, including those who could not work from home (people maintaining our data centers, for instance( on a schedule where only half of the employees can be in the office at a time.

And yeah, I’m making cocktails for myself more often than I used to. Because there is a lot of anxiety in my life. Even though I was very introverted, not being able to spend time face to face with friends has been stressful. I come from a long line of professional worriers, so I’m always fretting about people I know getting sick.

It’s a feeling that virtually everyone is sharing. And it isn’t fun.

But, it’s better than the alternatives.

Socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning

“I just love the smell of socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning.”

“I just love the smell of socially acceptable chemical dependence in the morning.”

Today I am drinking coffee made from the very last beans out of the last bag of the many types of Holiday Blend/Christmas Blend I purchased during this last holiday season. I opened the first bag of holiday blend coffee a day or two before Thanksgiving, and I have been working my way through them—without making coffee from any of the bags of non-holiday blend beans in my pantry—ever sense. I am not certain, but I think this year might be the latest I have gone into the year still trying to use up those Jingle Janglin’ Java Beans. I know I usually make it into at least mid-February.

One thing that is different this year is that I have adopted the habit of placing the coffee carafe and all other machine-washable bits of the coffee maker into the dishwasher on Sunday. Then make a couple of pots of tea for my caffeine intake that day. Also, Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) fell close to the last day of Thanksgiving that it can, so I had one less week than I do most years to get through the bulk of the holiday blend coffee. Therefore, I shouldn’t be surprised that it took several extra weeks to use up the holiday coffee this year.

But that isn’t my only coffee problem.

I have so, so many bags of non-holiday coffee beans. Partway through the holiday season I finally realized that there were at least three times as many bags of the non-holiday blends hiding on the shelf behind the holiday blends than I thought. And it really confused me for a moment. Then I realized what happened.

My favorite coffee, bar none, is Wings of the Morning Kona Coffee from Ka `Io Farms. Which is usually carried by Central Market (and which I originally discovered at Ballard Market back when we lived only four blocks away from that store). But the availability is kind of seasonal. It seems every year (but not at the same time of year), the bags of Wings of the Morning vanish from the store shelf for about three or four months. And the last time I found some on the shelf was in either late August or early September.

It’s a more expensive coffee than most of those I drink, so I save it as kind of a special treat. I have also often stretched the Wings of the Morning supply by mixing the beans with Lowry’s Dark Hawaiian Blend, which still tastes really good, but makes me feel less guilty about the cost per cup of the coffee.

Anyway, the reason I have so much extra coffee in the pantry is that every time I went to Central Market hoping to find Wings of the Morning, but found that spot empty, I would buy one or two bags of some of the other coffees they sell there. Of the stores I regularly shop at, Central Market has the widest selection of coffees from different roasting companies. And once in that some period Ballinger Thriftway had the Lowry’s coffees on sale really discounted, so I bought two bags that week.

Which all adds up to a whole lot of coffee beans in my pantry.

When I noticed, mid-December, just how much more coffee there was in the pantry than I thought, I added a new item to the Shopping List on my phone: “DO NOT BUY COFFEE.” So, unless, by chance, Wings of the Morning suddenly appears in the store in the next few months, I’m not going to be buying any new coffee. Because it will clearly take that long to make a significant dent in the coffee in the pantry.

And before anyone suggests that I used that as an excuse to drink extra: I drink, on average, one and a half pots of coffee per day all by myself. I really don’t think I need to increase my intake.

Otherwise, I might vibrate myself into another dimension.

Coffee vs reality – and silly habits

“May your coffee kick in before reality does.”

“May your coffee kick in before reality does.”

Way, way, way back before my first husband died in 1997, every holiday season we would pick up some bags of Holiday Blend coffee beans. It so happened that my late-husband didn’t like Starbucks’ Christmas Blend, so that wasn’t one of the blends we would pick up each year. He died in November of ’97, a couple weeks before what I usually think of as the beginning of the holiday season, so I felt a particularly irrational need to make sure I picked up his two favorite blends… which meant that I was on the lookout for the holiday coffees. And I wound up, I believe, with his two favorites plus Starbucks and one other that I hadn’t heard of before. And thus began my new tradition of picking up as many Holiday/Christmas Blend coffees as I could each year—which I have blogged about many times before.

As of this morning, these are the blends I have completely finished off…

I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that there are so many of these blends available that I will be drinking Christmas Blend coffee well into February. One reason being that I am the only coffee drinker in the household. Michael, unlike my first husband, doesn’t like coffee. At all. Which I usually think of as simply meaning more for me, but it does mean that this particular tradition is mostly just a me thing.

These are the blends I have yet to finish off.

I have been picking up Starbucks Thanksgiving Blend as part of this for a few years. I usually start drinking the Thanksgiving Blend some number of days before Thanksgiving, and usually finish it off fairly early in December. Since U.S. Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November, sometimes that means there as many as 8 days of November before December starts. So I’m used to finishing off the Thanksgiving blend by early December at the latest. Therefore I was feeling a little weird when I realized I was almost two weeks into December and hadn’t quite finished off the Thanksgiving Blend. Part of that issue was that there were only four days of November left after Thanksgiving. But also, in the last year I’ve gotten into the habit of not making coffee on Sundays. I make a pot or two of tea and use the opportunity of not making coffee for a day to run the carafe and other parts of the coffee maker through the dishwasher.

I was also feeling as if the coffee wasn’t tasting right. With the current pandemic, any times things don’t taste as you expect there is a fear that you’ve caught the virus, but it wasn’t all food—just coffee. I finally remembered that last summer the coffee was tasting too strong, so I had turned the dial on my fancy grinder that determines how much coffee is ground up on a single push of the button a few notches. Which means I was using few beans per pot. But it had tasted right then.

There are (marketing) studies out there that people want stronger, darker coffee during cold weather than during warm weather. Which is why many of the coffee roasting companies use darker roasts in their holiday blends, for instance. But that doesn’t effect the strength of the coffee. So I turned the dial up a couple of notches for the next pot of coffee. It was better, but still not right. Then I turned it up a few more notches, and I’ve been liking how the coffee tastes since.

If it takes me two more months to finish off all the Holiday Blends, I guess I’ll just have to live with it!

Spoons, coping mechanisms, and coffee

“been making coffee at home instead of getting starbucks for two months which according to economists should’ve made me a billionaire by now so what is happening” —@MattBellassai

Click to embiggen

For quite some time now I’ve been, of necessity, thinking an awful lot about coping mechanisms. Because we’re living in high anxiety times, there is a lot of uncertainty about everyone’s health, livelihoods, and so forth. Many more people than usual are facing an existential threat directly caused by certain politicians and their base supporters. Many of us have been facing existential threats at the ballot box our entire lives, but no matter who long we’ve been doing that, it still adds to the load of anxieties and worries one has to keep track of.

Even though I am an introvert, this current situation has made me acutely aware of just how much regular contact with friends has, in the past, contributed to my ability to cope. We’ve been able to mitigate that in a couple of ways. Every month we have continued to have Writers’ Night, for instance, we’ve just been doing it virtually in a voice chat on my Discord server. Even those months when no one has anything new to read (and it is difficult being creative when you’re dealing with all this very justified anxiety), just getting to hear familiar voice and chat has been a blessing.

My gaming group had been meeting on Discord for much longer (some of the players live about an hour and a half drive north of my place, one lives nearly a five hour drive south) than the pandemic. Previously once or twice a year some of us would make a road trip out of game day, so we could play in person, but we’d been pulling it off online fairly well. Again, it’s a time I get to chat and laugh and otherwise spend time with some dear friends, and I’m really appreciating it.

I’ve been quarantining since mid-February (before the first identified case in the U.S., but while the threat was in the news, I woke up one morning with a cough — by the time the cough went away just a bit over two weeks later, the corporate overlords had issued the directive that everyone who could work from home should do so as much as possible), but there are still aspects of it that surprise me.

For instance, how fast I go through a bag of coffee beans.

Before the quarantine I only made coffee at home on the weekends and on work-from-home days. I was only scheduled to work from home twice a week, so that meant at least three days a week that I was exclusively drinking the company coffee. In theory, that should mean that I’m using up coffee beans almost twice as fast as before, right?

Nope.

I was going through coffee almost three times as fast. When i mentioned that to an acquaintance online a few months ago, they pointed out that (at that time) my husband was also at home full time, and I wasn’t taking that into account.

I hadn’t laughed so hard in months. Seriously.

My husband doesn’t just not drink coffee. My husband positively loathes coffee. (Which doesn’t stop him from buying me big lattes to deliver to me if we’re at a convention together and I’m staffing a table or something, but that’s another topic).

I wound up in a discussion about coffee with a group of coworkers about two months ago and thats when I actually thought about it and realized something that I should have noticed but just hadn’t. When I’m in the office I drink at minimum one mug of coffee or one mug of tea every hour (and there are a couple of hours in most day where I’d slip an extra mug in for reasons). Typical mug holds 8 ounces of coffee, that’s 64-80 ounces of caffinated beverage per office day.

But at home I would usually make one pot of coffee, and that was it. That’s only 60 ounces of coffee on those days. Similarly, I usually only made a single pot per day on weekends.

I think part of the reason I was able to get by on only 60 ounces a day on work-from-home days is because they were usually less stressful. Even on infuriating days, the fact that I could step away from my desk and step outside on my veranda made the stress easier to manage.

Now what I typically do is make a pot on the morning of the first day of work, then some point in the afternoon I make a second pot, and drink as much as half of it. One the second work day of the week, I first reheat and drink the leftover from the second pot (a notion I know makes a lot of people shudder, sorry), then I make a fresh pot and finish it off.

And I think the reason is that being able to step out on the veranda or whatever is no longer a novel or special thing. So the stresses of work (more than some of which have gotten worse during the pandemic) just pile up exactly the same way as they used to only do when I was stuck in the office.

And if I’m feeling frazzled on the weekend and reach the end of the coffee pot early in the afternoon? Guess what? I make a second pot on those days, too.

So, before the pandemic, working from home two days a week and then making coffee at home on the weekend, I was usually making four pots of coffee a week. Now I’m making at least 9 pots a week.

I’m trying to mitigate this is some ways. Some months back I stopped making coffee on Sundays at all, switching to making tea in my infuser pot (this also gave me a regular opportunity to run the coffee carafe and other washable parts of the coffee maker through the dishwasher instead of only doing just a perfunctory rinse each day). Tea is still a caffinated drink, but it’s generally lower in caffeine, so that helps me back off the weekly total a bit. I’ve also sometimes stopped myself from making a second pot and instead turned on the electric kettle to switch to single cups of tea made from bags.

I can’t cut it out completely, because I’m sure you’ve seen the memes that say that coffee is a warm, delicious alternative to hating everyone in the morning? Well, sometimes, “hating” is a euphemism for “murder” — so, don’t even think of suggesting that I give up the coffee altogether… because I know how to hide a body.

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.

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