TT: Mobile Treats Transformed

JANE: I had fun revealing the mysteries of the Good Humor Man to you, then you ended with a teaser.

You said that something has taken the place of the ice cream van in your landscape. So what is it?

Coffee Culture (Southwestern U.S. Version)

Coffee Culture (Southwestern U.S. Version)

ALAN: Mobile coffee vans. They don’t prowl the streets like the ice cream vans used to. But wherever groups of people gather together, sooner or later a van selling coffee will turn up. There’s one where I leave my car when I take Jake for a walk in the park, and when we had some free jazz concerts on the village green at the start of the year, there was one there as well.

JANE: I’ve seen some of these and, as a highly devoted coffee drinker, I approve.

And when I say “highly devoted,” I mean it.  My first memories of drinking coffee are of sipping off the top of my parents’ mugs when I’d carry them their morning coffee.  I was probably in single digits.  My mom ground her own beans long before doing so was trendy, and I’d occasionally eat beans as well.

ALAN: I once knew a cat who liked to eat chocolate covered coffee beans. After two of them, you had to pull him down off the ceiling!

JANE: I’ve had chocolate-covered coffee beans.  They don’t put me on the ceiling, though.  And my dental hygienist highly disapproves of what they do to my molars.

When I was in high school, my best friend, Anna, went to Jamaica to visit her dad.  She brought me back a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans.  I kept them in my locker as a snack.  Made the entire row smell wonderful.

How do you drink your coffee?  As you may suspect, I drink mine black.

ALAN: I drink mine black as well, and so does Robin. (I knew we were going to get married the first time I saw her drinking coffee.)

JANE: Ah…  A romantic thought.  However, Jim (with whom I’ve shared space for twenty years now) pollutes his coffee with cream and sweetener.  It doesn’t taste bad that way, more like a dessert, though, than coffee.

ALAN: There’s quite a coffee culture here in New Zealand. It ranges from high end, very snobbish cafes to the lowest common denominator of Starbucks. There’s a tendency to sneer at Starbucks, but I quite like it as long as I stick to just coffee. I’m a bit suspicious of the weirder things on their menu, but I think the straightforward coffee is rather good.

The vocabulary is remarkably odd though. Why do I have to ask for a Venti Americano when all I want is a black coffee in a big mug? If I ask for a black coffee in a big mug I just get blank looks…

JANE: Eh…  I’ve got to disagree with you about Starbucks Coffee.  Their default roast tastes burnt to me and I’ve heard that they deliberately over-roast the beans so that some coffee taste can permeate the elaborate “coffee drinks” that make them their money.

The only time I’ve put cream in my coffee was when I met Joan Saberhagen at a Starbucks because the location was convenient.  I got a cuppa and found I couldn’t drink it without ameliorating it.

ALAN: Other people have also told me that they find Starbucks coffee to be a bit burnt, but I can’t taste whatever it that they are objecting to. Perhaps I have an unsophisticated palate.

JANE: Or maybe you just like the slightly burned flavor, the way some people like a “peaty” scotch rather than a smooth.

ALAN: Good point. I like “peaty” scotch as well. Perhaps the two tastes are related.

JANE: Now, I’ll admit, I prefer a medium/dark roast – a good Sumatran, for example – to the very dark roasts like Italian or French. However, I find the “Maxwell House” or “Folger” coffees, which are the standards of many American kitchens, weak and without proper “mouth feel.”  A good coffee should have body, not just caffeine.

ALAN: Oh, definitely. I’m not familiar with “Folger”, but “Maxwell House” is available here (though only as freeze dried instant coffee) and I find it quite insipid. If their real coffee has a similar flavour, I doubt that I’d like it much.

JANE: Instant coffee!  Oh…  That’s a completely different topic.  Remind me to bring it up later.

So, in addition to Starbucks, what sort of coffee do you like?

ALAN: At the moment we are drinking Hawthorne’s Coffee because the beans are grown locally in the Hawke’s Bay. But the best coffee I have ever drunk in my life was on the Pacific island of Vanuatu. The island is an ex-French colony and so bread and coffee are very important to the local culture and both are taken extremely seriously. They grow their own coffee beans on the island. The coffee they make is utterly wonderful – full bodied, smooth and full of flavour.

JANE: That sounds decadent…  I bet they do good pastries, too.  I’m swooning.  Have you ever been to a coffee plantation?  Do they have tastings like at wineries?

ALAN: No, I’ve never been to a coffee plantation, so I don’t know if they do tastings – but it sounds like a wonderful idea to attract the tourists. You could certainly put me down for it.

JANE: Or you me.  Maybe if I ever come to New Zealand again, we can explore the option.  That would be fun.  Hobbiton and coffee plantations…

ALAN: That sounds like a plan! Meanwhile, I’ve just started a pot of coffee going, so we’ll have to continue this discussion next time.

9 Responses to “TT: Mobile Treats Transformed”

  1. Peter Says:

    Some coffee plantations do tastings (I’ve been to one in Venezuela), but my impression is that most don’t, since they don’t do on-site roasting. I suspect the practice may become more common if “coffee tourism” becomes A Thing like wine tourism.

    As a data-point, I like both seriously peaty malts and dark (French or Italian) roasts for most of my coffee (some beans work better with a lighter touch – I’ve been using some Yunnan beans lately that work better as a light-to-medium roast) and I find Starbucks beans taste burnt (when I first arrived in China they were the only source of anything resembling real coffee I could find – if you think North American or European instant coffee is bad, you should see what gets sold here. It’s not just niescafe (Spanish pun – “Nescafe ni es cafe”, or “Nescafe isn’t even coffee”), it’s sold as individual pre-sweetened and pre-whitened sachets that run a ratio of 1 part instant “coffee” to 3 parts sugar and 3 parts powdered non-dairy whitening agent – and the happiest moment of my time here was finding a specialty shop that sold real beans.

  2. James M. Six Says:

    I was always amused when I noticed the tiny size of the coffee cups in old movies (1940s or so), until I realized that coffee back then was mostly just a hot beverage that delivered caffeine rather than a drink to be savored on its own.

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    You’d hate my white and sweet coffee…

    That said, years ago, I learned the advantages of medium roasts, which are many:
    –Everyone will drink them (important when, as I did, you’re a TA trying to keep an afternoon lab awake, or selling coffee as a fundraiser)/
    –They taste good cold (important when that pot of coffee is going to sit for awhile. If it’s a good medium roast, you can brew it, let it go cold as soon as it’s brewed, and rewarm it in the microwave or just drink it cold. If it’s dark roast, it turns into battery acid quickly, especially if it’s kept warm.
    –Coffee makers have to use better beans in medium roasts, so they save the cheap crap for the dark roasts. This is the Starbucks trick: take cheap beans and burn them, so all you taste is the burn. You can get a similar taste from the decoction of burned toast that they used to replace coffee with in the Civil War. If you want to taste coffee, medium is a better way to do it, although the berries aren’t bad either.

    As for taste tours, the Kona district on the Big Island of Hawai’i is a fun place to visit.

    Fun factoid I just learned: Alton Brown uses one of those air pop popcorn makers to toast coffee beans. Don’t know the method, but he says he also uses it to roast nuts too.

  4. Louis Robinson Says:

    As often is the case, I’m firmly on the fence on this one [and I really wish people would stop sharpening the pickets, but that’s another rant]: I take some coffees black and sweet, and others au lait. A good Turkish coffee, for example, must have sugar in it – in fact, you pile the sugar on top of the grounds to make sure they stay at the bottom of the pot when the water is added. Bring to a rolling boil, and pour into cups. Just remember that it takes a week to clean your mouth out if you try to drink all the way to the bottom. And you can find some _very_ nice caffe in Rome. Which reminds me of another mistake Starbucks makes: cappuccino is _not_ made mostly from foam.

    Europeans tend to be less than polite about American coffee – the French call it ‘jus de chausette’, and it goes down hill from there, but I think they’re being a bit unfair. To the coffee, anyway. I’ve found that Folger’s is actually quite pleasant, if you use 50% more coffee in a pot than the instructions call for. Probably a legacy of the old days when it was relatively rare, and expensive, and people tried to stretch it as far as they could. They got used to having just enough to darken the water, and started thinking that was normal.

  5. henrietta abeyta Says:


  6. henrietta abeyta Says:




  7. Paul Says:

    A coffee enthusiast told me I’d enjoy coffee black if I tried it for a week. I did. Still prefer it laced with lots of milk and sweetener. Sorry. I did try.

  8. Hilary Says:

    I just drink straight espresso (with a bit of ice to cool it down enough for me to drink it because I’m a wimp when it comes to temperature. lol) I actually think Starbuck’s espresso is very middle of the road (so neither good nor bad) but I’ve never tried their regular coffee. I appreciate that they exist when I’m traveling and can’t find a local place though. It’s not like espresso is something you can make in a hotel room without proper equipment, or get from a diner…

    Interesting that you mentioned Sumatran coffee and full-bodied coffees. I love the Sumatrans at my work and I love full-bodied coffee in general (the fuller the body the better!).

  9. Jane Lindskold Says:

    This makes me want to go get a cuppa… I think I shall!

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