Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Quest for the Perfect (and economical) Cup of Coffee

The only thing that can bring a smile to my face in the morning besides my wife and children is that heavenly smell of fresh brewed coffee; wafts of steam slowly emanating from the stark white cup.  Java, Joe, Brew, whatever you choose to name your morning, afternoon or evening vice, for some late morning and early afternoon vice too, it does not matter.  What matters is the taste and smell, and the feeling that fresh brew invokes in you.  Whether you have some fancy Krups contraption, a regular old Mr. Coffee 10 cup decanter, or you purchase your lot at the local joint by a barista named Johnny Nice,  you know that first sip will dictate most of the rest of your day.  Sweet, delicious, aromatic prepared just your way, the day will be splendid.  Too much cream, not enough sweetener, watered down, way too strong; your day is headed for sheer disaster.

I do not claim to be a coffee expert in any way.  I know little of the fancy terms that litter the caffeine landscape.  Coffee is my drink, iced once in a while, frappuccino type blended drinks more seldom.  I do know a palatable cup from one I would pour out in the parking lot.  At home we make the standard Trader Joe's Classic Blend, the big 32 ounce can for $9.99 in our Wal-Mart purchased Black and Decker standard white 12 cup coffee maker.  The results are usually satisfactory.  Sometimes quite good.  It all depends on dates of the milk or cream in the fridge. Cups on the road have innumerable variables.

Last year I presented my students with a serious mathematical problem.  We were studying decimals, so I laid out the cost of coffee in varying sizes from three different establishments.  They needed to find out which was the most economical cup.  This led us to the belief that this was the best coffee.  Thinking back, many flaws lie in this thinking. The first and most considerable is taste, with cost a close second.  With taste buds, wallet, and an amateur coffee vocabulary in mind I will try to outline some of the fantastic cups I have enjoyed in my limited traveling area in Connecticut.

The Blue Colony Diner in Newtown was my first foray into the caffeine world as a teen.  Late Friday night or heading out after school meant endless refills for one low price.  I have not been there in years, but that is where my taste buds came alive.  I plan on returning soon to experience once again the roots of my daily vice.

Dunkin Donuts
Dunkin Donuts came on the scene and was the second place my addiction spread. A decent cup, but undependable flavor.  You also can not find consistency from one shop to the next.  The price on average $2.20 or so for a large is too high for the quality.  You can have a fantastic cup, one you can't put down on Monday, then at the same establishment you need to walk back in to have them make you a new cup on Tuesday because it is half cream and sicky sweet.  I go there quite often for the convenience, drive through or "thru", and sheer copiousness of this franchise that pervades the Connecticut landscape.

Starbucks is the place I am quite ambivalent about.  I always find myself wanting to love the coffee and the ambience of the setting, but for my tastes, neither is just right.  I find the brew too strong, even the mild.  Inside, the color scheme is much more pleasant than Dunkin Donuts, so the experience sure rates higher.  Being able to control the fixings that go into your cup is a big plus.  I want to put the cream and sugar in.  I know as you do, each customer has a perfect color and sweetness.  The logo laden cups and trinkets for sale on every shelf of the store remind me of a vacation gift shop trying to sell you everything as a reminder of the wonderful time you had on your visit.  My favorite mug at home is a cylindrical heavy, 20 ounce white cup with a simple brown Starbucks label.  They make good products, but the coffee, not so much.  The frappuccino is tasty, but for $4.00, a once in a long while treat.  A venti at $2.10 is on average less expensive than Dunkin Donuts, and the paper cup gives it the edge.  As you can  see...ambivalent.

McDonald's has peeked my interest in the past six months or so.  They serve Green Mountain coffee, which on its own deserves a great deal of print space for the delicious flavors they deliver to many different types of coffee shops around the state.  McDonald's carries Newman's Own organic.  Very good flavor, you can fix it yourself if you wish, but... it's McDonald's with their super corporate and step on everyone for a buck philosophy.  The positive in that, that is the cost of the coffee, one dollar for any size, even a twenty ouncer ".  Now that is economical and it is quite tasty.  Good to the last drop.  Just don't order any food there.  That is their hope. With the java, you order sausage mcsandwiches with bacon and more sausage.  If you can avoid that marketing ploy, be sure to give it a try.

Green Mountain and New England Coffee
Back to Green Mountain.  You can find this coffee at many gas stations, small sandwich shops, cafeterias, banks, and libraries throughout the state.  They have a wide variety of flavors, including my two favorites "wild mountain blueberry" and "maple syrup".  I am not a flavored coffee guy but these two are irresistible when available.  This is my brand for the Kuerig maker in my classroom as well.  For a good cup at any time for a reasonable price where you can control the contents of the cup, you can't beat Green Mountain no matter the establishment.  One of my favorites is a gas station off of the Merritt Parkway.  Twenty-four ounces fixed the way you like for $1.90.  If you can find New England coffee, that is a delicious alternative.

My New Favorite
A small coffee shop with good coffee and atmosphere recently closed in Sandy Hook, Connecticut (a section of Newtown) called Mocha.  This quaint shop overlooks a rambling river called the Pootatuck.  A new place Demitasse took its place, so I thought I would give it a try.  Holy cow, I downed this cup in minutes.  After asking a few questions, I learned they serve Willoughby's roasted coffee out of Branford and New Haven.  This is near my home.  I happened to have an appointment right across the street from the Branford Willoughby's shop a few days later.  Reasonably priced, flavorful, leaving you wanting for more. It is just a bit difficult to get to, not on my ride anywhere.  I will go out of my way for this cup though.

Coffee.  What else can be said.  Other thoughts come to mind, but I will save that for another day.  In the mean time, greet good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, with an unforgettable cup of Joe.

Please feel free to add your favorites to this list!


  1. What a great piece. You should be writing for Have you heard of it or checked it out at all? I'd like to send a link to your blogspot to the editor. What do you say?

  2. Hi George! Thanks, I appreciate it. I have heard of the patch and read it as often as I can. I don't think I am qualified or prepared to take on such an endeavor, but I do truly appreciate your kind words. I am trying to write a little more so I can better help the students I work with become better writers. I loved your blog about Long Beach Island and family. LBI is the place where my greatest childhood memories were made. I still have wonderful "summer friends" that I made over twenty years ago on the beach at 28th street in Beach Haven Gardens. We will be headed there for Labor Day weekend! Talk to you soon. Thanks again!