Coffee (in isolation)

For some, coffee is what gets them up in the morning. I cannot deny the smell of coffee first thing in the morning is one of the most motivating of aromas. To raise it to a level of the sublime, have coffee perked outdoors over an open fire. Now that conjures up images of days gone by when I was flexible and energetic enough to bend myself into a tent, roll out of a sleeping bag, walk 250m to find a washroom, chop wood, light a fire, walk 250m to find a water spigot, fiddle with a blackened aluminum coffee pot, and wait ever so impatiently for the first burbles of coffee. Follow that up by sizzling bacon outdoors…. oh my…..

My coffee drinking career started early, perhaps grade 9 or 10, around about the same time I took up smoking. Both were done because it was cool and I wanted to impress my friends. Then the addiction took hold and both smoking and coffee drinking became automatic and joyless, but both begat social behaviour which was pleasant.

I have memories of sitting at the dining room table with my Mom, every morning, smoking our cigarettes, drinking our coffee (made in a counter top coffee maker, using a coffee like Nabob or Edwards or Maxwell House), taking about the news and what we had planned for the day ahead. It’s just what was done.

When I started working, coffee was also a given. Bunn-O-Matics in the staff kitchen, the smell of burned coffee thick in the air, overflowing ashtrays. I had coffee at home, I had coffee on my way to work, I had coffee beside me all day while I worked. Every breath I took had either a drag of a cigarette, or a sip of coffee in between.

Zoom forward some 25 years, and suddenly I start having these things called supra-ventricular tachycardia (SVT). Out of the blue, my heart would start beating out of control. Pulse would get upwards of 170 beats per minute (I know this because I ended up in hospital twice with it).

Although it is a ridiculously scary thing to happen, and a ridiculously easy way to get your heart pumping, this is not what fitness gurus recommend you do to get your heart rate up.

To stop this from happening, I was instructed to eliminate coffee and caffeine. Did I? Of course not. I had long ago ditched smoking, but coffee was here to stay. So I tried decaffeinated coffee.

A slight pause here. As I aged, my appreciation for coffee, much like the rest of our North American culture became snobbish and particular. I had beans delivered from roasters in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. I invested in a burr grinder. I was gifted a lovely Hario dripper (the beautiful cousin of the Melitta plastic pour over cone and five times the cost). I would go out for coffee with friends. I’d drink coffee after dinner.

It was all very pretentious and whoop-de-do and completely ignored the financial advice of the likes of Gale Vaz-Oxlade and Rob Carrick. I could have probably bought a condo in Canmore with all the money I spent on coffee and coffee paraphernalia.

Back to decaffeinated coffee. I bought a bag of this from my local roaster, and, well, when it’s ground in a burr grinder something mystical happens. It becomes statically charged and coffee grounds end up e v e r y w h e r e. I thought perhaps it had something to do with that particular bean, so I tried a different company’s decaf bean. Same thing. Static! I don’t know about you, but when I’m around static electricity, it makes me irritable. Add that to a morning pre-coffee, knowing there is no jolt of caffeine, it makes for one miserable Cathy. So I switched to tea.

The caffeine in tea didn’t make my heart race, so I took up tea with the same zeal as I had with coffee. I needed the best tea, the best kettle, the best pot. I settled on tea bags and a mug, and use tap water boiled in our mineral crusted kettle. I started to become practical. I also had a procedure done where a heart surgeon “tinkered with the electrics” in my heart, and got rid of the SVT episodes.

Overtime, I started introducing coffee again with a decaf coffee in the afternoon bought at a food court coffee chain store. Then it became a half-decaf half-regular coffee. Then it became full strength. The afternoon coffee break at work became, well, a time and space to not only enjoy the company of coworkers, but also a time I looked forward to enjoy my old friend, coffee. On weekends, Michael and I fell into the routine of running our errands, then stopping in at our favourite coffee shop to enjoy a coffee and solve a sudoku puzzle together. We also met up with family and friends at this time, making it a nice opportunity to catch up.

Then Covid-19 happens, and this brings us to the purpose of this post. I start working from home full time. It took me a good two weeks to find my groove. But what was missing? My afternoon coffee. I dug out my old and beautiful Hario pour over, and that solved the immediate problem. I toyed with the idea of getting a Nespresso machine, hoping it would also come with George Clooney. What did happen was images of a frustrated Greta Thunberg.

So, although housebound, and no longer buying a daily afternoon coffee, that money saved was burning a hole in my pocket. There was one machine I had not yet tried for home brewed coffee, and that was the moka pot.

The Bialetti Moka Express

I have seen it used, and had delicious coffee results. In fact, it was the inspiration of the Spiced Coffee blog I wrote about back in 2010. This type of coffee maker always conjured up images of steam hissing, followed by a devastating explosion. I’m not a fan of explosions, so never invested in one. However, something about being stuck in an apartment by myself for 8 hours a day made me brave. I went to the Italian Centre Shop, bought myself a 6-cup Bialetti Moka Express and stepped into the adventure of stove-top coffee, the Italian way.

Not too full and don’t tamp

First, I watched dozens of videos about the “right way” to use the moka pot. Instructions were as varied as is there is stars in the sky. I settled on the instructions that came with the Bialetti, meaning, using cold water, filling it to the steam escape valve, grinding the beans between fine and espresso, not using too many grounds, not tamping it down, and putting it on the stove and allow it to do its thing over medium heat.

The moka pot makes a lovely gurgling sound to announce when it is ready.

I became brave when I learned that the pressure in a moka pot does not reach anywhere near the level of a coffee shop espresso maker. Nor does it make espresso. Moka pot coffee is between espresso and drip. The people at Bialetti will encourage you to use it like espresso though, and helpfully give you the proportions to make cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites, etc. I settled on filling my coffee mug a quarter full of milk, and heating that up in the microwave. When the coffee is done, fill the mug to the brim and stir. Right now, I will say this is the Most Delicious Coffee I have had. It’s not fancy, but it’s good. And what makes it better? Although working in isolation from my workmates, we now set up regular 2 pm phone calls and catch up.

Coffee time!

Are you still with me? Here’s a post-script. I was going to post this as a separate entry, but will slip it in here. COVID-19 also started a social media craze for Dalgona Coffee. Of course I had to try it. To make it, mix in a bowl:

2 tbsp instant coffee
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp hot water

Whip this until it turns into a beautiful, glossy, froth. Put it on top of cold milk.

Dalgona Coffee

I had two of these in a row. Thirty minutes later my brain started to throb. I had to lay down because the room began to spin. This Dalgona coffee nearly did me in. It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong, but way too much caffeine for me.

Crum Coffee Bar

Edmonton has a new independently owned and operated coffee bar. The beautiful Mila and Christine Gossain sisters have opened Crum Coffee Bar located at 4640 Calgary Trail South, Edmonton. With plenty of free parking, it’s an easy stop when running errands, meeting a friend, or wanting to sit and relax and work through the Edmonton Journal‘s puzzle page as Michael and I do on weekends.

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Mila and Christine’s passion for coffee is almost palpable. Coffee is in their DNA as their parents are also in the coffee biz in the city. What do they do when not operating a coffee shop? They travel to visit cafes! Remarkably calm with all that caffeine and a new company to run, the sisters promise to keep things simple. You will not find unicorn blended coffee beverages here. We are talking quality coffee, espresso, lattes, flat whites and cappuccinos.The organic beans are hand roasted in small batches by Cherry Hill Coffee from Kelowna, BC.

If you need a treat with your coffee, the Gossain’s will be baking croissants and other goodies right in the store.

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Some may remember this Huntington Galleria location as a Second Cup franchise. Michael and I had made this a favourite stop over the past few years, not so much for the Second Cup brand, but because we adore Christine and have always been made to feel welcome, admire the art work on Michael’s lattes, and frustrate ourselves with 5-star Sudoku puzzles. We have sat among many regulars for the past few years. We don’t outwardly acknowledge each other yet we all know each other, and there is comfort in that.

If you are looking for something new on the coffee scene, with welcoming friendly staff, and a comfortable place to sit and relax then please try Crum Coffee Bar.

In summary:

Crum Coffee Bar
4640 Calgary Trail South, Edmonton
Twitter: @crumcoffeebar
Facebook: CrumCoffeeBar

Open Monday – Friday 7 am – 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8 am – 7 pm
Loads of free parking
Nice spacious seating indoors – chairs/tables, bar stools/counter
A few chairs available to sit outside facing parking lot
Nearby:  Italian Centre Shop

David’s Tea

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What? It’s wrong to have a beer accompany my weekend afternoon mug of tea?

In 2012 I did a post on tea, in particular my long standing favourite, Earl Grey. To do research for the post, I had written to a number of tea companies and got generous samples of their teas to try. One of these, David’s Tea, I remember well because their samples were generous and introduced me to varieties of Earl Grey I had never heard of before.

At the time however, I was quite overwhelmed with all the tea that was given to me, and didn’t want to play favourites with one company over another, because all the tea was good.

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Michael’s tea-tin, full of Tetley. Beside that is my Tetley green, some tea from the Empress in Victoria. On the shelf is the coffee grinder and bag of Transcend beans that smell so awesome words can’t describe it.

I’ve always been a lover of tea, and just the other day after a particularly warming cup, declared to Michael that “Tea makes me feel good – it’s sort of like a nice warming of the tummy, followed by the all-over warm-fuzzies you feel after watching pandas go down a slide, followed by the feeling you have been hugged nicely by someone you love”. I further declared that “Coffee does not make me feel this way. Coffee makes me feel obligated to run through the apartment, and start projects like dusting, vacuuming, organizing cupboards, making a macrame plant hangar, and bake a cake designed to look like a princess from the Disney film, Frozen…..all at the same time”.

Michael blinked at me with the patience that he has, so I continued with my observation.

“Then I will realize after emptying our storage cupboard to look for vacuum bags, a fresh Swiffer duster, macrame boards, flour, and Frost princess cake molds that we don’t have these items! I will try to calm my nerves by sucking back another mug of coffee, but of course it doesn’t work! The anxiety and despair I feel for being so behind in my projects has risen to a level that any rational thought has no room to be considered and my mind is already jumping in the car and racing through rush hour traffic to get cleaning supplies from Wal-Mart on one end of the city, macrame boards from Michael’s Craft Store on the other, and then try desperately not to terrify a child in Safeway as I shout at them to quickly describe what a Frost princess looks like while I pick up flour that I forgot to get at Wal-Mart, along with the Frost princess mold at Michael’s Craft Store. At this point, I would be prepared to bake a sponge cake and whittle a Frost princess from it.”

While telling this story to Michael, he gently yawns and stretches like a cat that just woke from nap, and strokes my back in a soothing way while my pupils dilate, un-dilate, dilate, and my chest heaves from the heart palpitations.

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More tea. Tea in tins. Tea in small round containers. Tea in bags. The bagged tea is from David’s Tea and covers oolong to green to black to herbal varieties.

I drink two, maybe threeorfourorfive, cups of coffee a day, but thought I should try to drink nothing but tea.

Day 1 of my new exclusive tea drinking went well. No headaches. A peaceful calm came over me. I didn’t feel I had to rush to do anything. I felt peace. Glorious peaceful peace. But peace doesn’t mean content with one’s tea supply. Suddenly my world of Earl Grey seemed awfully small, so with my new relaxed state of mind, took a relaxed lunch break at work and wandered over to Edmonton City Centre to check out the teas at David’s Tea.

I came home with assortments of oolong, blacks, greens and herbal. I attempted to discuss pu-erh tea with the person behind the counter, but when I said, “Oh, you have a lot of poo-air” the person looked just a little horrified.  I abandoned further discussion on that type of tea.

I will not bore you with describing all the teas I got because tea is such an individual thing. Michael drinks regular Tetley, day in and day out. This has been going on for decades. I need to change things up every now and then, and David’s Tea allows that to happen. What I particularly like about them is the ability to buy very small amounts just to try. I have always turned my nose up at fruit infused tea, but came home with a few samples that have change my mind.

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Michael’s tea pot because he likes his tea out of a pot. I’m content with a mug, but just recently bought a pineapple pot from David’s Tea because it was on sale 40% off.

After two full days of tea only, I did feel far more relaxed, and had no headaches. On Day 3, I made the mistake of picking up a bag of Transcend Coffee beans I had purchased last week, and squished the bag. The scent of fresh, delicious coffee wafted out, and realized right then, that I could never give up coffee entirely. I am trying now to have just one maybetwo coffees a day, and fill in the rest with tea. Everything in moderation as they say.