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I’ve Got the Jitters

Today was the day. After a failed attempt at My First Coffee at Abraço in New York’s East Village (they were out of town when I was in town), I decided that I could no longer put off my first foray into coffee. As a longtime tea drinker and someone who has no desire to get hooked on caffeine at age 30, never have I seen the need to get serious about coffee. But what kind of beverage snob can I be if I were to ignore such a rich area of exploration?

So my colleague Rob and I took a 10-minute coffee break — my first ever coffee break in literal terms — and headed down to Lab Cafe where they serve up Intelligentsia coffees. After missing out in New York, I figured my first sampling would be of locally made Great Lakes Coffee with roastmaster and friend James Cadariu, but today just seemed right, and Intelligentsia had come with James’ blessing.

Off we went, and here’s the rest of the story:

2:20pm – I walk into the store with some lingering doubts. Maybe I should stick with a sweet, caloric, filling chai latte. Old faithful. Can’t miss.

2:21pm – Screw that. Let’s do this.

2:22pm – I glance over the list of single origin options. I have no idea what I’m doing here. None at all. But since I’m losing my coffee cherry, I select a Nicaraguan product that allegedly has notes of cherry. (The sophistication of my logic knows no bounds. I can only hope that my palate and caffeine tolerance will match my impressively juvenile wit.)

2:25pm – The barista clearly doesn’t want to interrupt but also clearly wants to help. He chimes in and notes which coffees on the list are missing and mentions some other single origin item. I stay focused and place my order, sticking with a small cup for my first foray into this beverage.

2:33pm – The coffee is just about done. The young man applied a pour over method to my drink, which had previously been articulated to me in a New York Times “T Magazine” article courtesy of James from Great Lakes..

2:40pm – Back at the office. I’ve only had two sips on the way back. I had to get the drink to go, and I wanted to have a chance to really dig my nose into it, which is hard to do while walking. Safely at my desk, I can pull back the lid and really smell this liquid sitting before me.

2:54pm – I’ve decided to quickly catalogue everything that’s happening here. If any HR professionals at my place of employment are reading this, worry not: I haven’t spent more than 4 minutes on this so far. That’s probably pretty obvious to anyone who reads at an 8th grade level.

2:55pm – So that’s what caffeine feels like. It takes dramatically over-brewed tea and a totally empty stomach for me to feel this sort of impact. Still a few sips left. Just what I needed — another beverage in my life that throws my body chemistry out of whack.

By the end of this little experiment here, it’s clear I have a long way to go. Beyond the crazy jitters I’m experiencing, my palate can’t distinguish a lot of the nuance here just yet. I definitely was able to find the cherry fruit in this drink, and the bitterness isn’t any sort of appalling, blackened flavor. It’s more woody and tannic, but I suspect that’s a general flavor that I need to learn to taste through. With deliberation for a moment, I see what Intelligentsia is describing when they say the acidity has a tart, plum quality to it. There’s definitely that sort of hint that one might find in some Belgian beers — a much rounder, less acidic flavor than something more acetic or citric or lactic. Beyond these broad, vague strokes, I’m just getting “coffee.” I can tell it’s good coffee, but I can tell that it’s going to be a long, long while before I really understand things like regional differences and before I have a solid vocabulary from which to forge descriptions of my experiences.

More experimentation is required. Thanks for reading about this entirely self-indulgent adventure. We obviously post cocktail, beer, wine, and tea tasting notes here from time to time, and I suspect that I’ll post more coffee notes as I get a handle on what it is I’m drinking.

Posted on 2010.07.12 by Evan Hansen at 6:49 pm
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3 Responses to I’ve Got the Jitters

noëlle says:

I'm surprised you had that strong of a reaction to the caffeine, being a regular tea drinker.

If you believe the science journals, there are some benefits to coffee- they say coffee consumed within 20 minutes of being brewed has a bunch of antioxidants. Another study just came out which showed a link between coffee and reduced rates of Alzheimer's.

(And yes, I am totally justifying my addiction!) :)

2010.07.12 at 9:21 pm |

John S. says:

The hardest part that I have is that coffee varies so much from cup to cup, even at the same place with the same beans and process. 5 degrees water temperature matters, as does a small change in the grind or the quantity used. It makes it continually interesting, but much tougher than wine to nail down.

And as a veritable caffeine addict, tea gives me a slow mellow buzz, while coffee is much more of a concentrated punch.

2010.07.12 at 10:09 pm |

Evan Hansen says:

Yeah, the jitters surprised me too. But there's no reason that I can't keep the portion sizes small and keep playing with it.

Justify away, Noelle. I spend the better part of my week doing the same. ;-)

2010.07.12 at 10:59 pm |

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