In the Beginning
I vividly remember my first dance with the black liquid gold, my first wide-eyed wonderment at the magic bean, my first caffeinated high at the “puts-hair-on-your-chest” concoction (for the record, it did).
It was the summer of 1996 and I was at an Assemblies of God church camp with my aunt and uncle, who was the pastor of the church. The night before we all stayed up late playing a game called “KGB,” a mix of capture the flag, kick the can, and hide and seek.
The following morning I sauntered in to the mess hall and found myself mindlessly wandering towards the “coffee station.”
Certain I would despise the taste, but deciding the possible energy kick would be worth it, I grab a Styrofoam cup and proceed to pour from this oversized, stinky, probably-been-here-since-1967 percolator. Mixing in some sugar packets (clearly this would help the taste, right?) I stirred and stared at this bubbling blackness, slightly cringing at the smell.
Rising the cup to my lips, tentative so as not to burn my mouth, I let the steaming tar flow towards my tongue.
And it tasted like shit.
(For the record, that might officially be the first time I dropped the word “shit” on my blog. But if that word doesn’t describe the taste perfectly, then I don’t know what would!)
Vowing to never drink the stuff again, I tossed the remainder of the cup in the trash.
Discovering Starchunks (aka: Starbucks)
Then in college, something else happened.
Sure, there were plenty of late nights that led to early morning classes, wherein SOME sort of energy kick was needed. But it wasn’t until I discovered the sugary-sweet-foamy world of lattes and mochas that I really started to understand the draw of coffee.
It turns out, it doesn’t HAVE to suck.
It doesn’t have to taste like a 1967 percolator from an Assemblies of God church camp.
Several friends in college worked at the local Starbucks and were more than willing to broaden my exposure to the world of coffee.
Now, mind you, I STILL wouldn’t drink it black. On the rare ocassion that I ordered just plain coffee I would always lighten it up with some half-n-half.
But my love for vanilla lattes and mocha frappuccinos grew. (even as my wallet shrunk)
And these would be my drinks of choice for years. Shots of espresso with steamed milk, in some shape or form. Iced when the day called for it. And generally sweetened in some for or another. Yummy to drink. Good for energy. And heck, the rest of the world was doing it, so now I fit in!
The Promise Land (aka: Cartel Coffee Lab)
In 2008, while working at The Grove in Chandler, AZ, one of my dear friends, the Pastor of Spiritual Formation Matt Stowell, started telling me about this coffee shop he found up in Tempe, by ASU. It was called Cartel Coffee Lab, and Matt began describing the vibe of the place. (Later, another friend would accuse it of being too full of “hipster shit heads.” Which was true. And now, I’ve dropped shit twice. <————- #awesomesentencealert
Matt talked about how, when you order a cup of coffee, you don’t dare order a “medium.” Small or large only.
And if you order a mocha, they’ll probably laugh at you.
And then after you order, they ask you what kind of coffee you want. As in, what type of beans. As in, from what region of the world would you like to drink today? None of this “blend” junk that most places serve. No, it’s all about single-origin coffee. Beans from one farm, from one region of the world. Capturing all the nuances of that area (soil type, elevation, weather, etc).
Once you pick your beans, they weigh out exactly the amount of grams needed for just one cup of coffee. They grind up the beans, and pull out this funky contraption that sits above your coffee cup and holds a single ceramic cone device.
This, my friends, is commonly referred to as the “pour over method” of brewing coffee.
And it is brilliant.
They pour the water in the filter in just such a way as to maximize the extraction of the flavors of the coffee. And all the love and attention is just for you. Just for your cup.
When I tried my first pour over coffee, I didn’t dare jack it up by adding anything silly (like sweetener or half n half). No, you gotta respect the bean, man. And upon that first drink, I knew that was it.
Goodbye sugary lattes.
Goodbye flavored creamers.
And hello, Coffee.
In Search for a San Diego Cup
About a year after discovering Cartel, our own church opened up a coffee shop on our campus, The Grove Coffee Co, and we actually served Cartel Coffee. Their baristas trained our baristas, and I had instant access to amazing coffee every day of the week. Just a 20 second walk away.
Life was good.
Then, after moving back to Oregon last November, the house we rented was right across the street from Broadway Coffee, arguably the cities premiere coffee-snobbery locale. They got their coffee from the geniuses up at Stumptown in Portland, and they also practiced the pour-over (as well as other fantastic brewing methods like the Chemex and the Aeropress.)
Again, I was spoiled by access to fantastic coffee, brewed just the way Jesus probably makes it every morning for the saints around the throne.
But once we moved to our new home, here in San Diego, I was bummed.
I could not find a coffee shop that would fulfill the full-fledged coffee snob in me.
Sure, there are great little shops like Santos Coffee, and Filter is nice. Cafe Calabria has pretty good coffee, too.
But it’s just not the same. Trust me.
Once you go black (from a pour-over), you never bo back.
Then, one Sunday morning during sound check, I overheard our guitar player, Dave, talking to someone about a new coffee shop his buddy just opened up. Right around the corner from the church. I kept one ear on the conversation, just out of curiosity.
And then… it happened.
I heard the magic words I’d been longing to hear.
Yes, Dave’s friend had just opened up Coffe & Tea Collective, right here on El Cajon Blvd, and they serve their coffe one cup at a time. Via the pour-over method.
Spreading my Snobbery
Since discovering Coffee & Tea Collective about a month ago I’ve already taken 5 people there to help expose them to the beauty of how coffee ought to be consumed. One of my missions in life is to elevate people BEYOND the world of Starchunks. To expose them to how coffee is supposed to taste.
To notice the high notes of the beans, not just the dark and murky low tones that are generally over extracted or even burned by roasters like Starchunks.
To enjoy it at the ideal temperature. Not super hot, because that masks the flavor profiles. Serve any beverage at extreme temperatures and you can cover a multitude of sins. Which is why Coors Light demands their beer be so friggin cold! Because, well, it tastes like crap. But if it’s cold enough, and the label will tell you, then drink up! You’ll never notice.
Same with places like Starchunks. Serve the coffee really hot and nobody can tell it tastes terrible.
So, if you live around San Diego, I would highly encourage you to go and check out Coffee & Tea Collective.
Here’s a great write up that UT San Diego just did on them.
Ask them what beans they have roasted that day (they roast right in their shop). Ask them what the differences are, and what to expect. And then watch them as they make a perfect cup JUST for you (and please, don’t muck it up with half n half or sugar. Just try it. Trust me.)
Daniel does free tastings on Saturdays at 9am. As he says,
“We’re going to go over the roasting process. It’s going to be super geeky. But I hope people can connect to the fine aspects of coffee. The dry fragrance or the wet aroma…”
I hope that you too, one day, will become a Coffee Snob.