llustration of COFFEA arabica L. 106 (Coffea arabica L., Arabian coffee) From Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erläuterndem Texte : Atlas zur Pharmacopoea germanica, Volume 2 of 3 via

Between cheap instant and mildly more expensive fairly-traded whole bean coffee, fresh ground and prepared, I am somewhat agnostic. That is, I do not know my own mind.

The crusty granules of instant coffee require small investments of time and effort to get a quick cuppa joe. I can keep a jar of ’em, and a sugar bowl, by the nearest tap and grab a fast refill of lukewarm caffeinated goodness. The product is consistent, usually pretty cheap, and does not take me far out of my stream of consciousness to prepare.

It is also fairly soulless.

It may be consistent, but that is “consistently drinkable, but far from memorable.” Except the occasional experimentation with variously flavoured, or cheaper, or fill-in-the-blank attempt to be other than cheap instant coffee. (By the way, that over-priced Starbucks crap instant sucks worse than the over-priced Starbucks crap espressos, imo.)

from Commons.Wikimedia.Org

Working from whole-bean coffee is nearly the polar opposite. Different beans and roasters taste differently. For an exercise in meditation, I grind the beans to suit the method I will be using to prepare, and mindfully work through every step of the process. Which can be very calming.

But… sometimes the beans are awful, and no amount of care results in a tasty cup. It could be the source of the beans, it could be how they were stored, roasted; it could be any of the million and one variables between the grower and me. Or it could be me. I may not have cleaned my coffee maker, or pot, or grinder (yes, grinders need to be cleaned occasionally. The make-or-break of great coffee is some of the natural oils, and those oils get on everything in a coffee grinder, and those oils can go rancid just like butter can.)

The variability of working from whole beans means I am less likely to have a perfect cup of coffee. It requires skill and diligence on my part, which interferes with my ability to do other things. But, when it is successful, I am more focused on it, making the achievement an even greater accomplishment.

The same may be true of the failures. Sure there are days when the instant is too wimpy, or a bad decision to try that generic brand, but usually I don’t care enough about the moment even to throw out the bad brand – slug it back and code on. I am much more affected by a bad bag of beans, or a lump of sour cream landing in an otherwise perfect espresso.

I guess I will just muddle on, both coffee gourmet and gourmand depending upon the moment.