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All Points West: Long live great coffee
April 01, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Right, wrong or indifferent, I swallowed my first cup of Joe in my early teens. It goes down pretty good on cold winter mornings in Nebraska. My mother started even earlier, in the single digits, and pretty much for the same reason. If you ask her, she can brew one of the meanest jolts, enough to wake a zombie from being a zombie, though with a gentle flavor. Back in the day, the mild aroma wafted through our south Gering home. My favorite part about mornings was letting the smell fill my nose and listening to the old percolater, while slowly getting up from bed.

There was only one flavor, coffee, and it was delivered via a handful of brands, Folgers, Maxwell, Nescafe and a bunch of others. Most memorable was spokesperson Juan Valdez and his mule Conchita traipsing up and down a remote mountain range in Columbia, seeking out the best possible beans. Now, the mules probably work a different trade.

The drink is so ingrained in American culture, so much so it made connections with America’s most popular pastime. New York Yankee great Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio became a spokesman for Mr. Coffee, brand drip coffeemaker in the early 1970s. The quick drip method was essential throughput college when buying a used coffee maker at the local Good Will ran about $2.50. Now, I use a moderately priced French press and occasionally a Kuerig partial to the no-muss, no-fuss aspect of the self-contained K-Cup.

Thanks to an explosion of gourmet flavors, getting your caffeine fix sounds as good as it tastes. The novice takes a moment to understand what takes place behind the counter as a barista (loosely fitting term actually meaning someone who serves hot and cold drinks, including alcohol) breaks out a set of test tubes and thermometers. Be patient. The rest of your day depends on the right measure of mocha to go with your latte in a grande-sized cup at exactly the right temperature. Work demands for the day determine whether or not you add in one or two shots of espresso – an annual report the size of “War and Peace” usually called for four shots.

Drinking coffee became an early morning ritual at the dozens of stops I made around the world, routinely stopping for the bold dark roast flavor of Pike Place a block from my office building in D.C. Thinking back, I might have errantly called it Pikes Peak a few times, exposing my Midwestern roots.

My coffee habit never faltered or failed, which is why when Starbucks announced it was making a return to Scottsbluff this spring, a tear formed in the corner of my eye. Even if it’s nothing more than a simple small outlet in the Safeway just off Beltline Highway, and close to the YMCA. The taste of bitter bold matches up great with early morning workouts. Meanwhile memories of feeding my addiction start to flood my head.

I’m not sure what it means for local business exactly. Numerous coffee shops dot the Twin Cities and cater to an already over-caffeinated citizenry. What’s one more? As long as it brings good paying jobs. Plus, I’m a coffee drinker who likes his options.

Angela Marie, owner of Cappuccino and Company in downtown Scottsbluff, announces ways it differs from massive coffee chains like Starbucks, cultivating a sense of community by inviting patrons to loiter. She wants friends, Bible study groups, students, and families celebrating birthdays or other such meaningful occasions to not feel rushed. This is probably the true power of coffee, bringing people together and enhancing relationships.

My other coffee hangouts at The Mixing Bowl in Gering and Café de Paris in Scottsbluff will likely feel little impact from a Starbucks presence. One thing that differentiates these cafes and others like them is a true blue food menu (the rhyme was unintentional). Again, a matter of choice, and most certainly taste.

And, what does a good cup of Joe mean to a newspaper guy? Everything.

During my time at Pacific Stars and Stripes in Tokyo, the business day began promptly at 4 a.m. because of the time difference with the United States. The first sip was critical. Starting out the day right meant brewing up the generic brown label of grounds for 30 cups of muddy goodness in something resembling an artillery round; it was actually a continental electric stainless steel miracle from the Vietnam War era. The first guy or gal into the building was given the honor and the task of making sure the next group of editors and reporters that came through the door wouldn’t have to wait to fill up well-used stained and sometimes encrusted mugs lining the kitchenette shelf. There was some feeling or thought the unwashed cups with puddles of unconsumed richness, fermented, thus enhancing the flavor of a fresh cup.

Speaking of unique flavors, I recall tasting one of the most exquisite cups ever during a military exercise in Bandung, Indonesia, in 2010. Kopi Luwak, so strong it’s served in a tea cup, is perhaps the most expensive in the world at $700 a kilogram. I was fortunate to be able to drink unlimited amounts for free. You know what they say about too much of a good thing. After learning about how it’s made, my cohorts and I referred to it as “cat poop coffee.” It is made from beans partly digested by the Asian palm civet, which resembles a cat. The flavor derives from the civet’s protease enzymes which seep into the beans.

Obviously, there have been people more passionate than me about coffee, to go through that kind of trouble, and for which I am eternally grateful.

Like Angela’s Cappuccino and Company Facebook page says, “Long live great coffee.”

To this, I raise my coffee mug.
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