guest post: Heidi’s Coffee Journey

My friend and high school classmate Heidi is one of the most interesting people I know. Former professional athlete, brilliant academic, successful entrepreneur, and someone who makes a real difference in her community. She’s also opinionated and not shy about it, which makes her a perfect candidate for a guest post. I’m happy to give over this space for Heidi to share her story of how she came to love coffee, and how she’s still exploring new coffee boundaries.

When I began to think about what to write in my guest coffee blog post, I realized that the thing I love most about coffee is that I most associate it with rare, reflective “me time.”  When I wake, it is the first thing on my mind – the smell, the taste, the quiet time to start my day.

My name is Heidi, and I am a coffee lover. I drink it black and I drink it strong. That can go bad fast when you end up with a cup of gas station gunk.

I first acquired the taste overseas. I never drank coffee in high school or college. I had my first cup of coffee at the age of 22, when I went off to France to play professional volleyball in 1988. There, coffee, cheese, and wine were a way of life.

My first coffee experience was a demitasse of beautiful, dark, creamy coffee that came out of this ornate espresso machine, an experience in and of itself. In hindsight, I guess my first cup of coffee was an espresso. I quickly acquired the taste, as my teammates and I practiced 5 days a week and traveled to matches across the country on the weekends.

My friend from Yugoslavia who was coaching the men’s volleyball team made coffee by throwing grounds into a pot with a little bit of water and then just pouring the black syrupy substance into my cup. In hindsight, this was probably Turkish coffee. Wow, I thought, that is really easy and doesn’t require any special apparatus. Pure coffee. It did however, leave you with grinds in your teeth. I quickly bought my first French Press, and began making coffee every morning.

When I came back to the US in 1990, which was pre-Starbucks on every corner and with zero boutique coffee shops around, I was appalled to learn that Americans had been drinking crappy coffee for years. It was a rude awakening for me to discover that the coffee at home in the US was nothing more than brown water coming out of an industrial glass coffee pot. Geez, how could we be so far behind?

A refined palate is a dangerous thing. Where was I going to find good coffee, fresh baguettes, blue cheese so stinky it would make your dirty socks smell fresh, and table wine that was cheaper than water? I began my enculturation by searching for whole roasted beans, grinding my own (then with a herb grinder), and using a French Press or a Melitta pour-over cone.

Heidi’s current Melitta

Fast-forward 20 years, where good coffee is the norm in any urban US city. I live in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. It is a foody city, full of great independent roasters and brewers. I don’t drink Starbucks, I’ll echo the millions who say “it tastes burnt and over-roasted.”

Oh my. Bless you, child – Ed.

Since I drink my coffee black, I am very sensitive to a good roast and a pure, non-acidic flavor. A few months back, a graduate student gave me a gift, a pound of Death Wish Coffee. I had seen it on Facebook, heard about it, and read that it was actually from Round Lake, NY, 1 hr and 15 minutes from my hometown. Cool, I thought, I need to try it.

Death Wish’s claim to fame is “The World’s Strongest Coffee.” On any normal day, I can drink 3-4 cups of good strong coffee, so I was wondering if the Death Wish could deliver on flavor and caffeine-related ambition and productivity. To my delight, Death Wish is Fair Trade and UDSA Organic. Double cool! To make things even better, it purports to allow me to tap into my inner super powers. Man, how can this coffee be all it is cracked up to be?

So on March 24th, a cold, Mid-Atlantic winter day, I woke, prepped my Melitta, ground the Death Wish beans, poured, and waited. I put the Death Wish into a thermos, as I was off to sit in a freezing cold hockey rink for the morning. Note that I am using a well-researched thermos that holds my coffee scalding hot for up to 8 hours. Oh, that’s the other thing. I like my coffee HOT, as in, burn-the-roof-of-my-mouth hot.

As we entered the rink, I was looking ahead to settling in on the bleachers and popping open the Death Wish and letting my mind go wherever it wanted. Finally, the time had come.

I leaned back, popped the top and took my first sip. Mmmm, very nice, great flavor. Not acidic, full-bodied, no bitter aftertaste. Not spectacular, but certainly of high quality for my taste buds. Now to wait for the caffeinated punch. I drank the whole thermos, about the equivalent of 2.5 cups of coffee.

Whoa, flashback to pulling an all-nighter in college with the help of Jolt Cola (tag line: twice the sugar, twice the caffeine). Not good times! – Ed.

After a half hour, I noticed that sense of clarity and ambition creeping in. Not an uncomfortable caffeine buzz, but a smooth sense of heightened awareness. Yep, I’m a fan!

It ain’t cheap, but $20/lb is not crazy expensive given that I pay $14-$20/lb for a decent pound of coffee at my various local Philadelphia roasters. And it’s hella cheaper than my recent experience with 100% pure Kona coffee, which I paid $50/lb for and quite frankly is NOT all it’s cracked up to be. But then I guess there is no accounting for taste. I like a French Roast, and I like it black and caffeinated.

I highly recommend Death Wish when you need an extra pep in your step. For context, my every-day table coffee is Peet’s French Roast  – and I’m not getting paid to say that. Enjoy!!

Thanks, Heidi! I really enjoyed your story. Looking forward to getting a coffee the next time I’m in Philly….. though I may pass on the Death Wish.
– Matty

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