Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Great Cuppa Joe

If I stop and think about how much coffee I have probably consumed in my life, astronomical figures start racking up in my head. Not that I can think about it and say "This one particular cup of coffee on this day was the best I have ever had"; my recall is good, but not that good. Generally speaking though, I always have a sense for when and where I have had good coffee. So many great cups of coffee at just the right temperature, with just the right flavor. Not a single one of them has ever come from Starbucks, Peet's, or any other corporate chain.
My favorite coffee comes in a blue and white cup with Corinthian columns and gold lettering thanking me for my patronage and asking me to please call again... and let me tell you, that cup is a magic cup. I’m almost sure that it’s impossible to serve a bad cup of coffee in one of those cups. These magic cups can be found in most diners, corner deli’s, and nearly all of those beautiful silver coffee carts that can be found on almost any corner of My Fair City.
The people in these carts spend most of the year braving one extreme weather condition or another: in the winter, they freeze and in the summer, they bake. The thing that remains constant is the fantastic coffee. No need to ask them to “leave some room”, either. Unlike those high priced cups of Corporate Coffee, these purveyors of caffeinated goodness will actually prepare your coffee for you. Why fool around with trying to judge just how much milk and sugar to put in? Their bargain rate buys the services of an expert, someone who makes hundreds of cups of coffee everyday. Sorta how Mom always knew just the right way to make your sang-wich.
And you won't need a pocket translator to order, either. You have your basic sizes of small and large. You have decaf and regular. Skim or regular milk. You can ask for your coffee by depth of color, too:light, half-and half (for those mornings you want to treat yourself), regular, dark, or black. And you can ask for your sugar by the count, making for easy combos- regular with one sugar, for example. In short, you can order your coffee (note I said coffee, not coffee flavored drink) any way you want it. And I was always happy to be able to retain my dignity and masculinity by not having to resort to some ridiculous made up name to ask for a good old cuppa joe.
I still remember going to my "coffee guy" on the corner of New St. and Exchange Pl... after the first two or three days, he had my "usual" down- large coffee, milk, half a sugar, and a buttered roll. The tab? A whopping $1.50. Can you believe it? And the coffee actually came with the milk and sugar put in it! The coffee was hot and delicious, not burned; the roll was fresh, topped with poppy seeds and had likely been baked in the “Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (ahh, Frank), not delivered by some refrigerator truck from headquarters, wrapped in plastic with a nutrition label slapped on the back and an ingredients list a mile long. Of course, just to keep it interesting, I would have to throw the occasional curveball. Large regular with two buttered rolls (regular in the City means milk, but across the River in Jersey, ask for regular and you are likely to get some sugar in there too). Or I might opt for a danish. But that great coffee was a constant. And always in those special cups.
Around here, I can’t find a decent cup of coffee for a reasonable price (sometimes even for a not-so-reasonable price), not to mention the requisite buttered roll to pair off with it. The chains have convinced the masses that it is ok to spend $3 on a cup of coffee. So, these days, I mainly drink my own brew. My brother sends me the coffee from the same store my grandmother used to go to in the Bronx and I use an old percolator espresso pot on top of the stove. Sometimes, if you want something done right… But when I go Home, I always make sure I get over to have breakfast on my old corner, eating and drinking some of the best food on Earth.
Hey, if you are lucky enough to be in the City at breakfast time, whether you are just getting up or just getting in, make sure you stop and grab a great cuppa joe in that beautiful blue and white cup. It’s the only way to go. ‘Cause Johnny Tomatoes says so!!

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