Sunday, March 04, 2007


It’s Sunday morning, time to watch “Meet the Press” - or, perhaps, to Press the Meat.

In my case, it meant getting up and heading out for morning Minyan.

This being Purim, the service lasted an exceptionally long time: a full 90 minutes, thanks to the Megillah reading. We read the entire Book of Esther, the reading being punctuated - as dictated by tradition - by various noisemakings whenever the name of Haman, the story’s villain, was pronounced.

Afterward, we descended upon the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, only to find it packed to the rafters. Owing to the length of our morning service, we had arrived after the local churches had finished their first shift. So it was off to La Madeleine, where there was no problem finding a place to sit and enjoy a Cuppa Joe.

Ahhh, coffee. While there have been times in my life that I would start the day with a cup of tea, I inevitably gravitate back to my first love: coffee.

I grew up in a house of Evil-Tasting Coffee. For this I can blame my mother, who was a product of her times. Brewed coffee - reserved for special occasions - was prepared in a percolator, thus ensuring an overcooked, harsh brew. Everyday coffee consisted of a spoonful of Nescafé instant coffee granules dumped into a cup of hot water.

As I grew older, I discovered drip coffee and espresso. There was no going back.

So, what kind of coffee does Elisson drink these days?

At home, I use Gevalia beans, which I purchase by mail order. I grind those bastids just before brewing ’em in my drip coffeepot. Excellent coffee every time.

Starbucks? Give them credit where it’s due. They almost single-handedly managed to popularize upscale coffee, helping make “latte” a household word. [Hmmm. Maybe that’s not such a good thing.] They have convinced millions of otherwise sane Americans that it’s acceptable to part with over $4 for a fancy-ass cup of java - and not especially good java at that, for Starbucks tends to roast the crap out of their beans. For my money, I’d rather get my coffee at Seattle’s Best (agh! now owned by the Evil Mermaid) or even at Caribou.

Dunkin’ Donuts has excellent coffee, albeit a bit mild for my taste. But it’s always fresh, a perfect complement to those yummy Fried Toroids o’ Death that they sell. I’ll take DD over Krispy Kreme any day for the donuts alone - but with the coffee, it’s not even a contest.

La Madeleine and Panera, a couple of chain operations that are represented locally, both make credible coffee. It’s nothing special...but it meets the need more than adequately. This distinguishes them from the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, where the coffee quality ranges from adequate to atrocious. (We go there for the fish and bagels, OK?)

I’ve had cafezinhos in Brazil that left me completely unimpressed, and yet I’ve had café con leche in Costa Rica that was good enough to make a grown man weep with pleasure. I’ve gulped endless cups of strong brewed coffee, jacked up with hot cocoa mix to help keep me conscious during Thesis Completion Crunch-Time back in college. In New Orleans, I’ve sat in the quiet courtyard of the Soniat House and at a table in the bustling Café du Monde, sipping steaming cups of French-roast coffee laced with chicory.

But there’s nothing that compares with that first cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Especially if it’s a cold, nasty winter day and I’m enjoying it at home, the Sunday paper strewn on the table.

What’s your idea of the best Cuppa Joe?

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