40 Days Without Coffee: Or How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Tea

All right, I had a lapse in reason. I admit that. To give up coffee for lent was a ridiculous endeavor. Yet here I am, nearly three weeks in, and I live in a coffee dessert.

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I can’t profess to be overly religious. Yet I do admire the metal vigilance needed to commit to abstaining during the season of lent. So much so that this year I set myself up for the ultimate challenge: No Coffee.

Now, if you’re a tea drinker, you probably think, what’s the big deal? Well, I’ve been java consumer since I was a wee little lad. In fact, I can recall my very first cup of coffee. Mexico City when I was sixteen. It tasted like someone stuck the whole coffee plant, dirt and all, into the cup. Horrific. Yet I stuck with it because I come from a long line of java drinkers. Many cups of espresso later, I learned to love the stuff.

I am a bit of a coffee snob, and the stuff I brew as home in my vacu-pot, is sublime. I purchase my coffee fresh from a pair of sisters in town who supply amazing beans. Why am I touting the coffee I can no longer drink? Because folks keep asking how I do it, all while clasping their Starbucks cup. It’s easy because I would sooner drink tea than slurp inferior coffee. To trouble doesn’t come from temptation, it’s the long haul.

My latest toy in the never ending battle for a better cup of coffee: The vacu-pot.

My latest toy in the never ending battle for a better cup of coffee: The vacu-pot.

Tea was a mystery to me. And I took on this forty day challenge so that I might know it better.

A week before Fat Tuesday, I visited Hessian Global Goods (my coffee connection) because they also sold loose leaf tea. The ladies were nice enough to suggest several brands? types? flavors? (I’m not sure how to classify tea). Anyway, they hooked me up with tea that would best suit someone coming from the realm of coffee. All of them black with plenty of caffeine.

I brewed single cups and started loading on the sugar and milk. It tasted god-awful. Like someone dunked a Pixie Stick in bitter liquid. I endured this saccharin concoction for over a week. Meanwhile, when I went to work, I tried tea bags. Since I teach elementary school, I couldn’t keep a supply of milk or sugar around and drank the tea black. This was even worse. The drink was insipid and weak. Oh, how I missed coffee.

Now, I did learn of a loophole in the whole lent system. Since Sundays are already a holy day, there is no need for fasting or suffering. Ergo, you can have your lented object again. And boy did I. That first Sunday, I fell upon  coffee like a military coup, devouring it one long 10 cup run. But then Monday came and the pain of losing coffee yet again. This had to stop.

After much experimentation, I finally Googled the proper way to brew a cup of tea. After all, research has helped me with coffee and writing, why not with my arch-nemesis: tea. It turns out a fellow writer inadvertently saved me. Gail Carriger, taught me the correct way to brew, and drink, tea. You might know her from the Parasol Protectorate series.

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Success. With her help, I was able to brew a cup of tea that was not only drinkable, but also satisfying. I’m not sure, but I believe it’s the ritual that helped. You see, I have all these ritualistic behaviors associated with brewing coffee. They are so strong, that I still visit the scene of the crime (so to speak) even on the many days I am forbidden to touch java.

It turns out there are plenty of “rules” about brewing a proper pot of English tea and these jive well with my psyche. In fact (I hesitate to even admit this) but on the following Sunday, something bizarre happened. Yes, I indulged in coffee in the morning (as was my right). Yet I yearned for a cup of tea. Yes TEA!. I brewed a pot that afternoon, despite being able to make more coffee.

Now, I am certainly not going to eschew coffee for tea. The sky will crack open and rain stars before that happens. Yet, I have grown to appreciate tea. Something that would never have happened without my coffee abstinence.

So in the true spirit of a newly-born tea drinker, I say: Long Live Mr. Tea.

Art for "Gentleman T" created by the folks at Foodiggity. Check them out.

Art for “Gentleman T” created by the folks at Foodiggity. Check them out.

Tim Kane

 

Moonrise Over Junk Food (Your Monthly Ticket to Weirdness)

For this month we explore landscapes created with junk food, insane Steampunk calculators, and a vampire hunting kit.

Blue Dye #1 Precipice from the series Processed Views 2014

Blue Dye #1 Precipice from the series Processed Views 2014

 

Junk Food Landscapes

Always on the look out for the latest and most surreal items this world has to offer, I was stunned by how  artists Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman used junk food to recreate classic photographs by Carleton Watkins. Look at how the food artists recreated a 1869 photograph of the Farallon Islands photographs.

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And now the Ciurej/Lochman version, titled Cola Sea (from the series Processed Views 2013).

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The artists use processed food to point out just how far our food has diverged from nature. They state: “As we move further away from the sources of our food, we head into uncharted territory replete with unintended consequences for the environment and for our health.”

Stempunk Calculators

Most of use think of calculators are objects from the computer age. Who can blame us when adding apps are available on smartphones or even Google.

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Check out these truly gorgeous beauties from an age where objects were crafted by hand. The calculator, built by Johann Helfrich Müller in 1784, evokes stempunk passion with it’s brass knobs and dials. Check out this close up the workings:

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To view more of these marvelous mechanical wonders, visit this site.

A Love Story Through Coffee

Although this short film features a food product, and thus might fall under the category of propaganda, it’s so charming that it captures my heart. The characters, a boy and a girl, are dusted onto the tops of 1000 cups of cappuccino. The story shows their courtship, love, and family. The commercial is for Ajinomoto General Foods’ Maxim Stick drink flavoring. Watch and enjoy.

Tim Kane

Hessian Global Goods is My Coffee and Kitsch Dealer

Long ago, I wrote how I would buy my coffee from a “dealer” in the part as if it were an illicit transaction. The reason for this strangeness was that the pair of San Diego ladies who supply my coffee had close shop in 2011. The coffee was so darned good, I had to continue buying from them. Now, they have opened a new shop in Uptown San Diego where I can not only get my coffee fix, but also delve into kitsch from Africa and Asia.

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The ladies, Viviana and Verena, hail from England. They set up Hessian Global Goods under the auspices of Pannikan, but they quickly expanded beyond that. Their new shop clearly shows that they are now more of a global goods purveyor than simply a coffee broker. Honestly, they put World Market to shame. The ladies travel abroad quite often, packing kitschy artifacts into their suitcases when space allows. (Actually, I asked them about this, and when the went to Morocco, each one nested two suitcases inside their main one.)

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Let me be honest, if you ever are in San Diego, visit her for the coffee. It’s stupendous. They have beans from parts of the world most people didn’t even know grew coffee. Come for the coffee, but leave with some kitsch.

I covet this vacuum coffee maker.

I covet this vacuum coffee maker.

The ladies color code their supplies, so as you walk in, you see walls of color: orange, red, black, green. Sprinkled in between the coffee cups and coffee pots are tin toys, dolls

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They also collect artifacts and art from Africa including the types of wooden statues you’d expect to see in museums.

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My favorite new addition are these stuffed animal heads. Instead of a real dead animal staring down at you, check out these cute “stuffed” animals made of corduroy and buttons.

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Check out Hessian Global Goods. They’re located a giant renovated red house in San Diego (4034 Park Blvd). You can also call the ladies at (619) 239-7891.

Tim Kane

Inside Your Cup of Coffee

I can’t live without my cup of Joe, but as I read through the book Uncommon Grounds, I find out more and more about this mysterious beverage.

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Like how a goat herder in Ethiopia discovered it when his goats went missing. He found them jumping around, buzzed off the red coffee berries. Fast forward a few centuries, and we have coffee in every store on the planet. But what exactly is in a cup?

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It all starts with a coffee berry. Too bad what we really want is nestled deep inside. Two seeds surrounded by a silver skin that’s hard to remove.

Acording to Al Rayan, there are many grades of roasting you can get from a bean. (Side note, when Americans first got hold of these beans, we liked them green. Then we’d roast them right before making a cup.)

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The bitterness associated with coffee comes from the roasting. Think about licking a singed hunk of wood. Yeah, not so great.

The bitterness comes from O-caffeoylquinic acids, present in raw coffee beans. A light or medium roast dehydrates the acids to create various lactones and a pleasant bitterness that most coffee lovers adore. Keep roasting, and the lactones break apart to from 4-vinylcatechol, which goes through some more chemical steps to create compounds that give a harsh bitter that lingers on the tongue.

Once roasted, coffee beans can stay fresh for months. Once ground, however, and you have only about two weeks to make your coffee (key here, grind your own). But even after being brewed, the chemistry of coffee changes. Lactones become free acids, dropping the pH from between 5 and 5.2 down to a 4.6. This shifts the acidity from a green bean level to that of a tomato.

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The longer you keep your coffee hot, the more sour and bitter it will taste.

Although many studies have found antioxidant qualities in coffee, you could be canceling these out by adding cream or sugar. A study by a fella named Crozier showed that adding cream to strawberries slowed the absorption of antioxidants. So if you want the best health benefits from java, drink it black.

This fun video shows you some of the more interesting compounds in the aroma of coffee. Check it out.

Happy drinking, and check out my Pinterest collection of all things coffee.

Tim Kane

Don’t Drink That Coffee. It Can Kill You. (Maybe)

Most of us these days can tout the benefits of coffee, from a ward against cancer to a way to make yourself more productive. But we aren’t blind. We know that too much coffee, and caffeine, can make your stomach upset and and keep you up at night. Yet can this drink kill you? Advertisers a century ago would have people believe just that.

I could only find a photo of Instant Postum (from 1911)

I could only find a photo of Instant Postum (from 1911)

In 1895, Postum created Postum Coffee Food (yes, that was the name). It was roasted cereal with a molasses glaze. How the heck did this imitator kick coffee’s butt? Advertising. Mr. Post (yes the fella behind Grapenuts) knew how advertise. He culled together all the negative aspects of coffee and went hyperbole on them.

coffee-and-provocation-postum-food-coffeeThis add touts that coffee slowly destroys your stomach and nerves. Okay, this is reasonable. I don’t know if roasted cereal is any better.

coffee-provocation-postum-brain-fagCheck out the fine print: Coffee causes Heart-Failure, Dyspepsia (a fancy word for Indigestion), Brain-Fag (I think short of Brain Fatigue) and Nervous Prostration (total nervous exhaustion). Most are reasonable, but heart failure? Wow. That’s servere.

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Okay, this one wasn’t for Postum, but I thought is was great. If you choose the wrong coffee, you get a spanking. Bad, bad wife.

The Postum Food Coffee diminished after the government truth in advertising pointed out that roasted cereal wasn’t, and never will be, coffee. Finally,  in 1911, Coca Cola went to trial over its product being a “killer brain tonic”. The main focus was caffeine. When Coca Cola won this case, it brought coffee back into focus. It also helped  that coffee folks learned to advertise.

Tim Kane

How My Coffee Purchases Border on Illicit Drug Deals

I am a coffee snob. There. I said it.

I fool my students into thinking I love Starbucks. I do appreciate the gift cards, though mostly for their sugary treats. Honestly, Starbucks coffee tastes like dirt lit on fire. You doubt me? Try a cup black. No sugar. No milk. No chocolate. Yeah, not so good. Starbucks isn’t a coffee dealer. They’re a sugar and chocolate dealer.

Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of coffee from all sorts of vendors. Now, I can hardly drink most coffees. I can taste the artificial flavor drizzled over the beans. Yuck. Long ago I loved Kona coffee because that’s what my parents drink. I would probably go back to that if I didn’t have another, if somewhat strange, alternative.

I discovered a unique Pannikins in downtown San Diego. I say unique because it was only Pannikin in name. The two ladies that ran the shop took over the site. They’re actually called Hessian Global Goods. They have all sorts of bizarre tea cups and coffee pots. They have a huge assortment of Day of the Dead knick knacks.

Now the coffee is astounding. They import from all over the world. They even have Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica and St Helena coffee from Napoleon’s exile island. My favorites have always been the African coffee. Typically I get Uganda or Zambia. I know if it’s the coffee or their grinder, but the java is addicting.

Things were going well until the girls closed the shop due to skyrocketing rent. Since then (about a year now), I still by coffee from them. The process looks a little weird. I call the ladies up. (Like I will this weekend. Getting a little low.) We plan a meeting place. Typically this is a park. We meet up and make the exchange. I swipe my card through their phone, and they hand over a brown bag with two pounds of coffee. Yeah, it looks crazy. But the coffee’s worth it.

It may end soon. The ladies are planning on buying another shop. Mostly because all their non-coffee wares are wasting away in a storage unit.

Tim Kane

10 of the Worst Reality TV Concepts and Catchphrases

I watch a lot of reality TV. Not because I adore it. Mostly because I hardly watch TV at all these days and there’s little commitment with these shows. You can watch one or two episodes and see all you need. I was recently watching Craft Wars (with Tori Spelling) and caught the most ridiculous elimination catchphrase: “Pack up your glue gun. You’re done in this craft war.”

This got me thinking. There have been as many lousy reality TV concepts as there are bad elimination catch phrases. Here are few that, thankfully, no one has tried yet.

10 American’s Top Politician
Honestly, this is how we should do elections. More people would watch and probably vote. However, it would truly underscore the shallowness of our political system.

Elimination Catchphrase: The votes are in… Your campaign is over.

Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianaki compete for congress.

9 Barista Wars
I’m guessing baristas would battle over who could whip the best foam on a cappuccino or churn out the frostiest frappe.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’re frappe was forgettable.

8 Top Neighborhood Watch
Inspired by the movie, The Watch, perhaps warring neighborhood watches could compete over the best way to foil car thieves and burglars.

Elimination Catchphrase: Pack your flashlight and leave the neighborhood.

The Watch movie starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade.

7 Top Skating Pro
Yes, we have the X Games, but what about the drama behind the half-pipe? Here skaters would compete for the best moves and the most stellar personality.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’re ollie ollie outta here. (Ollie is the name of a basic movie in skateboarding.)

6 Project Gossip
Rumors always plague us wherever we go. Yet who can dish it out the best? Finally a Reality TV that has snarky back-biting during AND after each competition.

Elimination Catchphrase: The dirt you dished didn’t stick. Time to clean up you game.

5 Hacked
Gardeners compete each show to create the best landscape. There’s a special segment with a mystery shrub. Ooo, so exciting.

Elimination Catchphrase: Pack your shears and mow. (Can you hear the rim shot? I can.)

4 Garbage Wars
Dueling sanitation workers compete to collect unusual trash items in the shortest time. Imagine Fear Factor but as a job.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’ve been kicked to the curb.

3 America’s Next Top Teacher
As a teacher myself, it sometimes feels like this. Here we give a set of teachers the worst students, no supplies, and a cramped room to teach in. (Hey, it’s called reality, people.)

Elimination Catchphrase: You have a failing grade. You’ve flunked out of school.

2 Project Spreadsheet
Finally, a show that explores the devil may care life of accountants. Each episode sees which accountants can make it through various financial challenges and… (wait for it) come back in black.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’re bottom line didn’t hold up. You’re downsized.

Although Dwight Schrute isn’t an accountant, he certainly could do the job.

1 Top Surgeon
Life or death. Who wouldn’t watch? One slip of the scalpel and we lose the patient. At least they pay the patient volunteers well. Plus you get to be on TV.

Elimination Catchphrase: You didn’t make the cut. Pack your scalpel and exit the hospital.

Forever watching…

Tim Kane