I’m the chief cook and bottle-washer at my house since I’m retired and my wife isn’t.
The other evening, company was coming to dinner and I downloaded a pork recipe off the Internet. Didn’t read the fine print first.
It called for, among other things, three cups of leftover brewed coffee.
I had the coffee, all right. It had been sitting in the percolator since dawn, eating through the ceramic carafe. Could I bring myself to serve that to the guests and run the risk of being convicted of negligent homicide?
Just then the doorbell rang. It was way too late for second thoughts, so the cold coffee — slimy film on the surface and sludge at the bottom — went into the cooking pot.
Our guests survived, but it got me to thinking: Is there such a thing as a decent cup of coffee anymore?
Yeah, I know Starbucks is a $6 billion business, but it serves mostly coffee-flavored milk and foam. I’m talking about the hard stuff here.
When was the last time your cup o’ joe really was good to the last drop?
1969? Sounds about right. That was the year Juan Valdez retired.
Valdez, portrayed by actor Jose Duval, was the Madison Avenue-generated symbol of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. In countless print and television ads, Juan and his coffee bean sack-laden mule Conchita extolled the virtues of “mountain-grown” coffee.
Valdez — and Conchita — had faces you could trust. So many of us came of age uncorking 3-pound cans of Yuban, just as happy as if we had good sense.
The coffee may have been good — or it might not. The point is, we believed it was.
Forty-two years later, Colombia, the proud realm of the arabica coffee bean, has slipped to third among coffee-producing nations, behind Vietnam and Brazil. Vietnam is the dominion of the robusta bean — the cheap red wine of coffee beans.
Sashay down your supermarket’s coffee aisle and grab any 3-pound can at random: Chances are very good it’s brimming with robusta.
Then, too, in 1969 decaf coffee was relegated to the Sanka shelf. Now it’s ubiquitous. One out of every eight cups of coffee sold in the United States contains no caffeine, and thus has no reason whatever to exist.
Decaf tastes awful, contributing to the lamentable trend of gulping your morning java and grimacing.
When I was in college, some friends and I took a day trip to San Francisco’s North Beach district. Back then, it was an Italian neighborhood and we walked in a little coffee shop where Joe Dimaggio’s autographed photo hung on the wall (he grew up next door). I asked the old man behind the counter if we could get a quick cup of coffee.
“A quick cup,” he gasped. “Not in my house!”
So we ordered a slow cup. I can still taste it to this day.
Maybe that’s because after four decades of drinking robusta, I can’t taste much of anything else.
Steve Crump is a retired former Times-News editor who lives in Boise. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.