A Story of Longevity, Love, and Community

Coffee Beans.

One of the many wonders of the world.

A prized commodity that can only be found between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

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I grew up in a household run by Folgers

My dad is 84. Pretty darn good for a man born into depression area conditions at the start of WWII. His earliest memories involve rationing of sugar and collecting scrap metal at school. The most amazing thing about my dad’s longevity is that he grew up literally in the midst of an oil refinery. My grandfather led chemical engineering projects for Shell Oil. Most of my father’s childhood meant a home literally on the grounds of the refinery. My father also inherited his love of coffee and legal pads (a story for another day) from his dad, my grandfather.

My father's antique Folgers coffee tins organize everything!

The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup!

Before the advent of local and small batch roasters, my dad drank Folgers. Since perhaps the beginning of time, Folgers packaged their coffee in a large red coffee tin (it’s now plastic). My dad, an artist by trade, loves to organize everything. Unlike many collectors, however, my dad’s artist aesthetic means that he organizes everything that he collects.

Folgers’ tins can thus be seen in his studio organizing everything from nails and screws by size and type, to old pencil stubs and erasers. Some of the Folgers’ cans are likely more than half a century old. At the least, they arrived on the scene before I did, in 1977!

A few years ago my father found himself in the hospital with heart problems. Not blockage or heart disease from an unhealthy heart, but simply a tired heart. He and my mom thought for sure that the doctors would scold him for his coffee consumption. Instead, his doc told him that his coffee habit might actually be a positive contributing factor to keeping him alive.

Not only is coffee packed with antioxidants, the stimulant in the caffeine may actually help keep his heart pumping. Today, my dad continues to start his day with a cup of coffee.

Coffee and Good Health

Despite its perceived bad rap (perhaps perpetuated by tea companies), coffee is genuinely known for its health benefits. Multiple ongoing studies, from respectable institutions, such as Harvard, continue to turn up results indicating that coffee may, in fact, protect against a variety of diseases. From Type II Diabetes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even cavities! In this article and video “How Coffee Loves Us Back,” Chopra a leading researcher into the benefits of coffee consumption at Harvard advocates drinking several cups per day!

Now, to be sure, other medical type folks, such as the Mayo Clinic, suggest that adults should not consume more than 400 mg of coffee per day (about 4 cups) and children should outright avoid coffee (and all forms of caffeine). They also acknowledge that different people react in different ways to caffeine. Some have a higher tolerance than others.

Coffee Loves Us and We Love Coffee!

Conditioned to love coffee through its inviting smell, the comforting sound of my dad’s Cuisinart coffee maker in the morning, it’s not a surprise that I am an avid coffee drinker. Almost everytime I drink coffee, I think of my dad. On the mornings when my husband rises before me and starts the coffee pot brewing, the sound and the smell of the brewing coffee is reason enough to get out of bed!

At an existential level, drinking coffee connects us to the community of coffee drinkers around the world. Coffee shops open early and close late, creating a welcoming space for travelers, students, those seeking solitude in a crowd, and everyone in between.

The Bean: An Introduction to Community Coffee

We only ordered hot drinks, but in spirit, we joined a community.

I had my first mocha at age 15 and my first latte a few weeks later. In the USA, teenagers have a terrible time getting into bars, but coffee is totally legal (especially in Boulder, CO). I don’t know exactly when the first dedicated coffee shop opened in Boulder, but I do remember the first time I ventured in.

Boulder is normally a sunny place, even in the winter, but this day mother nature delivered cold biting wind, rain, and a distinct lack of sun. The kind of weather that answers the question as to why Starbucks got a start in Seattle, not say, Rome. With her drivers’ license hot off the presses and an inherited pair of wheels, my friend Jeanne picked me up and introduced me to the coffee house culture.

Jeanne pulled into a parking spot and we ran to my first encounter with community coffee. Followed by a gust of the wind and cold rain, we tumbled in the door and found ourselves in the warm and funky comfort of THE BEAN. We ordered Mochas. We felt like adults, even if we ordered a coffee drink cut by chocolate (which seemed to be slightly less wild than ordering a latte). We only ordered hot drinks, but in spirit, we joined a community.

Do you want to get a coffee?

The Bean and the Boulder Bookstore Coffee Shop soon became regular hang-outs. We started with mochas, but soon we’d moved on to drinking lattes. Within a few years, I’d be starting my day with a cup of black coffee, just like my dad. Today, I still meet my girlfriends for a weekly coffee. And every once in a while, I like to “pay-it-forward” by buying a stranger a coffee.

After nearly 25 years of drinking coffee, I can’t count the number of coffee houses in my mental Rolodex. Of the more frequented locales, Boulder Book Store Coffee House probably earns the biggest part of my lifetime coffee investment, even more so than Starbucks. At one point, I even dated their manager…! Sadly, even that era came to a close when they shut their doors for good a few years ago, but the memories remain.

Singing Rooster small-holder coffee sustainable fair tradeWhat do Roosters and a Canadian have in Common?

At the age of 22, I fell totally in love with a tall handsome Canadian. Looking back, I think caffeine had to do a lot with my infatuation. The Canadian liked to return home early in the morning around 6 or 7 AM (think astronomer, not a party animal) and walk around the house waking up my roommates and me by clapping and singing. Sexy, right?

He’d, of course, made sure to brew a pot of fresh coffee before waking us up, which in my opinion made it all okay. That said, it seems unlikely that my housemates possessed a genetic predisposition to drinking coffee because out of the 10 of us (we lived in a Co-op), only a few of us appreciated the Astronomer’s early morning caffeine-fueled antics.

A Genetic Predisposition to Love Coffee

Evidently, my predisposition to drinking (and loving) coffee runs a little bit deeper than simply environmental conditioning. For Christmas this year my mom bought our immediate family DNA test kits. In the report from 23andMe, it turns out that my dad and I carry a gene that predisposes us to drink coffee. Go figure.

Finding Community in Coffee: Grandfathers and Grandmothers

The same grandfather who worked for Shell Oil, died a few years before my birth, so I never met him in person. My image of him comes purely from black and white photos and stories recounted by my dad, my aunt, and my grandmother. Supposedly on Sunday mornings, my Grandpa Lem liked to drink a cup of coffee and read the New York Times from cover to cover. He’d finish up by completing the crossword puzzle.

This “memory” connects me to my grandfather. I adore both crosswords and the New York Times. And, I firmly believe that both crosswords and newspapers should be enjoyed with a cup of steaming black coffee.

To this day, my favorite, my ideal Sunday morning is spent in exactly the same way. Unfortunately, living in France my New York Times and my Sunday Crossword only come in digital form, but with a hot cup of coffee in my hand, I can use my imagination.

Community & Coffee Growing

My husband grew up in Madagascar. When he shops here in France, he always buys “Grandmother’s Coffee” a brand of French coffee that reminds him of his first experience with coffee. As a boy, he and his siblings drank coffee when they visited their grandmother. His grandmother, a smallholder farmer, both grew and roasted her own coffee, which she then served to all visitors, regardless of age.

Today, many people in Madagascar still grow coffee for local consumption. Here is a picture of a recent harvest, much like I imagine my husband’s grandmother may have done!

Smallholder Coffee Beans

I love to buy and grind my own beans. I’d do it all the time if I could. In Colorado, I loved to buy my beans from local coffee shops. And even occasionally, direct from a roaster. Here in the Southwest of France, my only option is to buy from the Supermarket, but occasionally I will get a special delivery from the US.

Working in Haiti, I learned that the Haitian hills provided a perfect environment for smallholder farmers. Not only did my husband’s grandmother grow coffee in Madagascar, but so do many women around the world, including in Haiti. In this sense, drinking coffee can do a lot to support small business owners who are often women.

A Spoonful of Sugar

Normally I drink my coffee black, but when in Rome do as the Romans. In Haiti, morning coffee is strong and very, very fresh. And, although I don’t normally enjoy sugar in my coffee, there is something about the humidity and tropical climate in Haiti that makes fresh, strong Haitian coffee with a spoonful of sugar the perfect start to your day. Even better than Folgers in your cup. Actually, light-years better than Folgers.

What’s Better than a Singing Canadian? A Singing Rooster…

Not everyone loves a Singing Rooster, but when you visit rural Haiti, they become a part of your daily life. And trust me, a singing rooster is infinitely better than a singing goat!

Returning from my fresh coffee experience in Haiti, my all-time favorite roasted bean coffee comes from Singing Rooster, a nonprofit organization, started by an American couple. Singing Rooster works in a cooperative format supporting and providing a reliable market for smallholder Haitian coffee farmers. Singing Rooster sells Haitian coffee, a shade-grown Caribbean coffee, ideal for small crops grown on steep Haitian hills. Not only is their coffee amazing in flavor, but drinking it means that small female-run farms continue to grow and thrive.

A true win-win situation!

When I worked for the Colorado Haiti Project, we purchased Singing Rooster coffee at wholesale prices to sell as a fundraiser for both organizations.  If you consider the goals of sustainable development and fair trade, the collaboration between Singing Rooster, Haitian Farmers, and American nonprofits, is an amazing example of community. If only all businesses could be run this way!

Disclaimer: Although I am a former customer of Singing Rooster and I am a former employee of the Colorado Haiti Project, this post is not sponsored nor endorsed by either organization. All of these opinions are my own!

Fairtrade: A bean to fuel the world.

Coffee is both much loved and much maligned. Nearly every corner has a Starbucks or a local coffee roaster on it (some have both). And yet, I perpetually see and hear people talking about quitting coffee, giving up caffeine or doing a caffeine detox.

Sure, caffeine is an addictive stimulant, but as my example above with Singing Rooster shows, coffee can also keep the world going. As a crop, coffee likes shade and hills. This means that coffee is perfect for deforested regions and ideal for smallholder farms. Steep hills are not ideal for mechanization, so coffee remains a crop best harvested by hand.

Coffee needs people. People need coffee.

Don’t believe me? Look at this piece about the effects of deforestation on Haiti. And then read this piece about local economies and deforestation. Or this one summarizing the positive outcomes of working with FairTrade coffee farmers. In short, drinking Fair Trade or sustainably grown and harvested coffee with your friends and family is not just a pleasant thing to do, but an activity that has a positive effect on the world.

And, in 2017 I would be remiss to not acknowledge the online community around coffee. Not surprisingly, millions of people a day engage with their favorite coffee brands online. This report looking at the engagement of fans and the Top 10 US Coffee Brands on Facebook really drives this point home!

Afraid of coffee? Trying to quit…?

My response to people who fear coffee and caffeine: even good things must be consumed in moderation. Carrots are healthy, but if you eat a bushel, you may turn orange! And in my humble opinion coffee really is the perfect longevity beverage!

But there is so much more to coffee than it being a simple addiction or even a predisposition. I drink coffee because it brings me joy.  

Before I go to bed at night, I can often already taste and smell the earthy roasted flavor of my morning coffee. Sometimes, I am tempted to make a cup of coffee right before bed, which I don’t do…but my dad does!

If you are a social coffee drinker then you surely understand. With a cup of coffee in my hand and in your hand, we can find common ground (incidentally the name of another of my former coffee haunts). When I sit here with my steaming cup of Joe, I remember the happy moments and I dream of future adventures. I can imagine the roaster or the rooster.  Thinking about the coffee farmer, the coffee sorter, and other coffee drinkers, I know that I am part of something bigger.

I drink coffee because I like it.

Black Coffee

After years of drinking coffee and tasting coffees around the world. I confess that I am a bit of a coffee snob. More politely termed, a coffee connoisseur.

In my opinion, good coffee can and should be enjoyed black.

I only add sugar to weak or bitter coffee. Or, as mentioned above, if I am enjoying delicious, freshly harvested, and freshly roasted smallholder coffee somewhere in the Caribbean or Africa…

Good coffee is like a glass of good wine.

You can roll it on your tongue. You can inhale the roast. You can taste the terroir.

Some roasts and blends of coffee seem to be stronger than others. Every once in awhile, I will drink something that is delicious and that gives me a giddy buzz. Death Wish Coffee out of Saratoga New York is a prime example.

On a daily basis, I drink my coffee more for pleasure than for a buzz. This means that I am a fan of a medium roast Arabica bean. Despite Arabica originating in Ethiopia, I tend to prefer South American and Caribbean coffees. I like my coffee shade grown on the side of a mountain. Haitian or Dominican Blues, Colombian. Maybe it is also something in the soil.

Unfortunately, because I travel a lot, I can’t always find my favorite blends. Lavazza is an Italian company that sells in both Europe and the USA, so they are a consistent go-to brand for a respectable cup of medium roast Arabica coffee. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to do Fair Trade, but in a pinch, I know they will deliver for flavor!

On a more exciting note, even Singing Rooster can now be found on Amazon!

The Best Ways to Make Coffee: Grind and Brew

Most dedicated coffee drinkers can’t afford Starbucks or their favorite local coffee house for every cup. To fully satisfy my daily consumption requirements and to get a cup of coffee in before even brushing hair or my teeth, I require a live-in barista. Or at least a reliable method to grind and brew my own coffee.

In the ideal world, I think many coffee drinkers would love to have the time and the ability to grind their beans fresh every day or at least every week. In reality, we must often settle for pre-ground coffee.  I grew up using the classic steel blade coffee grinder made by Krups. After 40+ years of life and usage, the grinder that my mother received as a wedding present still works! Mine is in storage in the US and you will not find me springing for anything fancier.

If you do decide to grind your own coffee beans, be sure to store it in an airtight container and out of the sunlight. Room temperature is best, you don’t need to freeze or refrigerate beans to preserve flavor (that is all a myth). Indeed the only scientifically proven benefit of freezing beans appears to be that frozen beans have a more uniform grind. And thus, theoretically deliver a fuller and more consistent flavor when brewed.

Grind and Brew Coffee Maker

This is perhaps the lazy (wo)man’s dream. I have yet to try one. If you have one, I’d love to hear your thoughts. In an ideal world, I’d replace all the K-Cups, coffee pods and Nescafe’s with grind and brew coffee makers. The idea of single serve coffee is completely contrary to the community culture, the smallholder farmer culture, all the positives in drinking coffee go right out the door with single serve coffee pods.

I could rant and rant about my dislike, but suffice it to say they are a capitalist money-making invention. Whoever figured out that instead of selling 1 lb of coffee for $8 to $16 per bag, suddenly coffee makers could quadruple their profits and make a bunch of plastic trash in the process!

At the very least, if you insist on using a coffee pod or K-cup device, please, please invest in a few reusable pods or refillable cups and buy your own coffee!

French Press

I have friends who swear by the French Press, which is great if you live in an area where you can get custom ground beans (or you grind your own). The biggest challenge with the French Press is that it requires a coarser ground than your standard drip coffee grind.

If you try and use espresso ground or drip coffee in a French press, you may end up with a thick, grainy cup of coffee. The flavor will be good, but the texture a bit like sand.  For those that master the grind, a certain aesthetic satisfaction and meditative quality are experienced through the art of brewing a perfect cup of French Press Coffee. “French pressers” are definitely their very own coffee community!

For many years Bodum made the classic French Press; however, with modern design, dishwashers, portability and all that jazz some serious competitors now exist. I am personally fond of the Kona that is both stylish, stainless and dishwasher safe.

Cowboy Coffee

For those moments when one does not have access to a coffee pot, the ability to brew “Cowboy Coffee” is a must. When camping or hitting the road, some people pack their French Presses, but I actually kind of like drinking Cowboy Coffee. It reminds me of when my dad took me camping as a kid and brewed cowboy coffee.

The recipe is pretty simple. Find a pot, find a safe heat source, pour in water and coffee grounds, bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, set aside for a few minutes. As the grounds start to settle, pour your coffee directly into coffee cups. You may get a few grounds, but heck, that’ll make you tough, like a Cowboy!

And, if you really do not like grounds, you can always pack a small pour over coffee filter!

To be true “Cowboy authentic” I also like to drink my cowboy coffee from an enameled steel coffee cup and coffee pot. I prefer the blue, but green or red is also classic! I don’t know how long my father has had his set, but mine came mismatched between the local Army Surplus and REI.

Reliable Perfection: Automatic Drip Coffee Maker

For my daily coffee fix, I personally rely on a drip coffee maker. My all-time favorite is the Cuisinart Brew Central because it is PROGRAMMABLE.  I received my Cuisinart coffee maker, as a wedding gift in 2005 and at the time a programmable coffee pot made my day. As the manager of the Guest Services Department at a hotel, I often returned home at 11 PM only to be back at work by 7 AM.

I quickly fell in love with a coffee machine that I could program to start every morning at 6 AM. My dad also loves the programmable feature and bought himself a Cuisinart coffee maker a few years after I received mine. Ha!

When my alarm goes off, it is so much easier to roll out of bed to the sound of brewing coffee. I definitely think that my next pot will be a slight upgrade to a grind and brew coffee maker. Freshly ground and freshly brewed. All before I even lift my head off my pillow.

The Classic Percolator

Percolators are known for making weak coffee. Company break rooms, Coffee Hour after Church on Sunday. I can’t in good conscience recommend a percolator for your daily coffee habit. Although, as a logophile,  I do enjoy saying the word “PERCOLATOR.”

All judgments aside, there is a comfort to be found on a rainy day in a church rec room with a percolating pot of coffee. And when it comes to serving up coffee to groups of 20 or more, well, sometimes you just have to go with a percolator. Fortunately, your church or local caterer probably already own one, so you can stick to the details of brewing the perfect cup of joe at home!

Community Coffee: Side Effects

Let me apologize if you came here to answer the question: “Should I quit coffee?” As you can probably guess by now, my answer is “no, you should not!” And, if you came here to find out if you can drink coffee on a diet, generally the answer is yes. After all, there are only 4 calories in a cup of black coffee.  Adding sugar and milk by the gallon or drinking Frappuccinos, on the other hand, is generally not diet friendly.

Okay sure, some people get headaches from too much caffeine. Others get headaches from caffeine withdrawal. I grew up to the sound of my father’s coffee machine percolating away in the morning. In my early 20s, I’d often joke that I took my coffee intravenously. Quite simply, I adore coffee and I appreciate it’s side effects.

On a more serious note, drinking coffee can be sustainable. It can support smallholder farmers, it can help combat deforestation. And, drinking coffee can bring you joy and a sense of community.

Community Coffee: Sit down, drink some coffee!

Sit down. Drink some coffee. You will be fine.

Seen at Ocean Coffee Bar in Saint Jean de Luz, France.

If you are adverse to coffee, many of the same benefits can be found in tea. (Black tea with milk is my second favorite beverage.) It’s been said that a hot cup of coffee or a hot cup of tea is medicine for the soul.

Drinking coffee is a perfect way to start the day. Hot coffee helps us to find calm in a storm. Meditating over a cup of coffee can settle the mind. Meeting for coffee can connect us not only with our friends or family but with the world.

Moral of the story? If coffee doesn’t like you, don’t drink it. And, if you are tired, get more sleep don’t drink more coffee. On the other hand, if you are concerned that your coffee consumption might be a bad thing, don’t be. Remember, everything in moderation. Even carrots.

Drinking coffee makes you part of the worldwide coffee community, so enjoy your coffee. Or as I saw on a sign at Ocean Coffee Bar in France: “Sit down. Drink some coffee. You are going to be fine!”


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