coffee into the grounds

My blog is called coffee cave woman for three reasons.

One, I hope is obvious. While Alex is an androgynous name and once in in high school I got assigned a locker in the boy’s locker room, for the most part, I hope it is evident that I am indeed a woman.  (I don’t count when small children ask me if I’m a boy or a girl.)

The word “cave” relates to the tour guide job I have worked on and off for almost six years now.  At Lost River Cave and Valley in the summer time, you can find me over emphasizing my southern accent and driving an aluminum electric boat full of tourists through a cave. When I first started the job, I was a college student, and I joked when I started every tour by saying “I’m a creative writing major, so I’ll be giving boat tours for the rest of my life.” As a college graduate, I still say the line, but each summer it becomes less funny and more depressing (though the tourists keep on laughing).  But I don’t just use the name “cave” because it is a job; it’s also simply because I love caves. In fact I love them so much that later I’m going to do a separate blog post about them and all the different caves I’ve been lucky enough to explore. But I don’t want to hog the bloglight here, because this blog post is about coffee. See my third cup of the day below. 

I never drank coffee growing up, but once I got to college, coffee chose me. I’d like to say thank you to my college roommate Chelsea Maier for showing me how to use the coffeemaker on the day before my first big exam freshman year. Thanks Chels. :) 
This is two large Melbourne cups of coffee and my college roommate Chelsea.

Side note: I am not completely sure exactly how much ground coffee to put into the drip-o-lator. I’d love for someone to help me out. What are the grounds to cups ratio? I’m pretty bad at measuring things, so I usually just pour straight from the bag. I usually fill the water up to make 5 to 6 cups.  If it’s really strong, I’ll simply use more milk to dilute it. (It’s worked out so far.)   

A friend from DC named Adam once gave me coffee advice I’ll never forget. He said, “when you make your morning coffee, take the last remaining coffee in yesterday’s pot and just pour it in with the new water.”

Adam said it made the coffee stronger. I try his method occasionally. I’m not completely convinced of its powers, but one thing I do know is as a lazy person who doesn’t wash out her coffee pot, combined with being an environmentalist/coffee fanatic who hates to see anything, especially coffee go to waste, this is a nice way to use all bits. Side note: if possible, composting your coffee grinds is an easy way to reduce your landfill wastes. (My good friend Mandy had composting worms, and one winter, all they got to eat were her coffee grinds.  Can you imagine?  I bet the little wrigglers didn’t sleep a wink all winter!)

Since I first learned to make coffee, the love affair/addiction was gradual. In college sometimes I drank more, sometimes I drank less. In our junior year, Chelsea got a French press, and I quickly learned to use that. Honestly, I hate to sell out the drip, but I think if I had to choose between that and the French press, I’d say see-ya-later to the drip-o-lator, because you don’t need coffee filters for the French press (less money/waste), and you can let your coffee steep for quite some time with the French press.


Above is my travel sized french press and best friend. (Actually I think it’s also known as a coffee plunger — lovely). This is me preparing my second cuppajoe for the morning, and after applying coffee grounds (preferably freshly ground if you have whole beans and grinder) you pour boiling water and let it set until you are ready to take the plunge. This little one makes a little over one large cup, so I prepare it a couple times a day. But I don’t mind making it a few times because I can take it with me wherever I want, something I definitely can’t do if I even had a dripolator mini.

There are other methods of making coffee that I am a little weak on. When I was a waitress in a cafe in North Melbourne, my boss tried to teach me how to make coffee espresso style. According to my bosses, I was always “not quite ready to make the coffees.” (I love how Aussies describe coffees in singular or plural “would you like to get a coffee, we are having some coffees.”) For Americans coffee is strictly coffee. Like crack.

Anyway, I was never quite ready to make the coffees particularly the coffees that came with milk. I know why. Melbourne coffee, and typically Aussie coffee in general is an art form. It aint no Waffle House waitress sayin “honey would ya like a coffee refill” that comes with prepackaged half and half creamers that actually contains NO Dairy and will probably be around long after humans become extinct. Coffee in Melbourne is serious business. You serve one bad coffee in a cafe in Melbourne, and you just might lose a customer for life, folks. Thus I only progressed up to making the espressos with sugar for my boss to drink (he was Italian might I add). He said I did that okay, but things got dangerous when I got near the milk wand. They say making the milk froth is all about timing, but I think it’s knowing how to do the cute design on top when your pour. If you can make a heart or flower, but not mess up the chocolate dusting on top, consider yourself coffee king. Below is one of the better strong soy caps (with flower design) I’ve had in Canberra, kudos to the Coffee Guru

I’m afraid the Australia coffee culture is actually kind of a lifestyle/class thing, so if this is the case, pass the organic Hors d’oeuvres, cause this coffee, while not available in buckets like the American kind is, as the Irish like to say “class.” aka swag. aka up there with craisins or a pretty sunset.

Above is a typical trio of Melbourne “coffees” with two soy caps and one latte.

The Irish don’t drink much coffee unfortunately. When I studied abroad in Northern Ireland, unless you went to a Starbucks, instant coffee was a standard thing. It’s the tea that they like to drink, with a biscuit meaning a cookie in American speak.

Black tea and milk is alright. But it lacks similar caffeine content that doth flow in coffee, plus tea is not the same. Coffee has the flavor. How many byproducts are out there with coffee flavor? Have you ever had a black tea flavored ice cream? Think about coffee cake or chocolate covered coffee beans? Hellooooo Tiramisu!

I lived with an Italian girl who made the most amazing Tiramisu, and whenever she made it, I probably ate more of than she would have liked (sneaking into the fridge late at night like a psycho culture/food hungry housemate). I met several amazing Italians actually while living in DC, and I was lucky enough to visit my wonderful friend Cristina later in her hometown (city) in Rome. There, we had a quick coffee in a cafe just off the busy Roman streets. We quickly slammed an espresso with some nice croissant-like bread called a “cornetto,” and that, Cristina told me was an “Italian Breakfast.” Then she sped off to work on her vespa! 

I digress like always. So because Australia is becoming incredibly expensive, (especially the cities) and also I’m pretty unemployed at least till May, the lavish $4.20 soy cappuccinos with an extra shot of espresso must be drunk only occasionally. When I do drink them, it is fabulous. I feel like I could write poetry or be a jazz musician.

Above is what my partner Patrick drinks (when he’s not drinking a proper tea of course). It’s called a flat white. It’s like a latte with slightly more milk. Not as much as a cappuccinos, and clearly no foam or chocolate dusting. It just fascinates me in general that in Australia there are so many coffee terms that just relate to plain old coffee in general. At Waffle House, you get black or with cream and sugar. Now Starbucks has got it’s own thing going universally, but I don’t deem their enormous industry worthy of seriously contemplating. I just want to know how they got me addicted to their caramel frappucino lights. 

One good thing Starbucks does for its consumers is provide organic and fairtrade coffee options.  This is pretty important. While I can’t buy everything organic or fairtrade, I do always try to buy organic fairtrade coffee for my own at-home consumption for both health and moral reasons. Organic coffee is pesticide free, along with various other environmental regulations incorporated, while fairtrade coffee has more of a political process, making sure that the growers in developing countries get more of the money from the production. I’m not completely educated on fairtrade, nor am I completely sold on its concept. But I will buy my coffee fair trade, because ultimately, what could it hurt?  I figure it is one product I consume in large enough quantities that over the course of  my lifetime, I could probably somehow make a positive effect on both the environment and say coffee producers in Guatemala.

When I was backpacking last year, I got lucky enough to see an organic coffee farm in Guatemala.

coffee plant

coffee beans freshly picked
coffee in various stages of being roasted

Above are three photos from an organic coffee farm I visited near Antigua Guatemala. The farm is called finca los nietos (farm of the grandchildren) and visiting it was a great reminder of what coffee (and its producers) have to go through from growing to roasting to getting to my coffee cup. I learned far more about the coffee pregrounds process than I ever knew before, and Patrick and I got a free cup of coffee at the end of the tour! Kudos to Finca Los Nietos for the photo! :)
So I learned that coffee is hard to make and especially hard when it is organic, and I also learned that while the local food movement is making envriros everywhere think that they spout butterflies out of their tail pipes when they drive extra miles to buy two heirloom tomatoes, I will buy my imported products proudly, because coffee growing is quite the skill. Maybe someday I can learn more about it and one day grow my own, maybe, while I’m dreaming, in South America. 
We saw lots of different coffee growers and also pretty red coffee beans in Guatemala, especially in San Pedro La Laguna.  My Spanish teacher Dehlia told me that the way Guatemalans drink their coffee is that they brew it really strongly, and then just pour themselves less than half a cup full and then add more hot water. They do this and it dilutes the caffeine, and even children can drink it.  (Brave parenting.) 
In Mexico, I drank a lot of coffee, but I began drinking it black because it’s not uncommon to get powdered milk in your coffee, and I just couldn’t warm up to the taste (hard life).
But that was nothing compared to how they drink coffee in Vietnam, where the way they mix their coffee gives me mixed feelings. In Vietnam, women in particular drink their small cup of coffee with sweetened condensed milk, which might be delightful if you were expecting a coffee that is sweet and syrupy. I can’t quite get used to this sugar surge in the morning, and I quickly learned to be a token tourist and request fresh milk with my coffee. Also, the Vietnamese have a very unique way of processing their coffee. They bring your cup out while the coffee is still brewing on top of it!  You can see a great blow by blow description of this at this cool website:

One day I’d like to say that I’ve sampled coffee from all 7 continents (although Antarctica may not be optional: I don’t want to encourage any more heat activity there than it is experiencing already). But that, like many of my non sequiturs, is for a different blog post.

But I do want to finish up this coffee blog that I have absolutely ground into its grounds by stating that while I love Melbourne coffees, and I’m intrigued by coffee processes all over the world, there aint no place in this whole wide world that quite has the same appeal as an American restaurant at breakfast time. It’s what Patrick calls “unpretentious, tasty, and generous.” (And that’s not just coffee, it’s breakfast in general.) At breakfast time I’m willing to forgive corporate America for its high-calorie, chain-restaurant, enormous-portion options. Be it Waffle House, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel or Bob Evans everything looks brighter in the morning. And, I do love a veggie omelet or multigrain pancakes or fruit and yogurt or all combined, and what truly completes this is several cups of unpretentious coffee.

But Americans need not enjoy coffee only in restaurants.  From houses, cars and workplaces, morning noon and night, glorious coffee brightens our lives. Even in the woods!

On a back country camping trip in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in 2010, a fellow camper  amazingly knew how to brew coffee in the wild. I don’t know how he or she did it, but I was happy to sample some. I’d even brought my coffee mug from work, just in case. Doesn’t get any better than this y’all!