Coffee

Coffee vs tea – the writer’s perspective

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Every morning across America, war erupts on the granite/stone/laminate landscape of the kitchen counter. A war of epic proportions, waged over the centuries without any hope for resolution. The players are bitter enemies, strained after decades of losses and having faced the daily grinds of war. Trouble brews constantly, offering little solace from a situation that could easily boil over if left unattended.

It’s the battle between tea leaves and coffee beans.

On one hand, tea offers subtle flavor complexity and has a history that goes back almost to the dawn of man. It’s a staple across the world, and is great at any time of the day. Coffee packs a substantial punch in the morning and serves as fuel for the working man. There’s truth behind the slogan “America runs on Dunkin.”

Tea

As mentioned above, the subtle flavor differences in tea are astounding. They’re wildly different depending on the type of tea you buy, how it was stored and how you make it. Of course, its source of origin is chief among those.

Unlike its potent opponent, tea has less of a caffeine kick, allowing it to be used at night. With tea, there’s less of a chance you’ll be up into the wee hours of the morning with insomnia. While it lacks a hefty amount of caffeine, various tea blends have been used as health tonics for centuries. Green tea with a bit of lemon and honey is still a staple home remedy to soothe a bad throat, among other issues. It also does less color damage to your teeth in comparison to coffee or even black tea.

(Alton Brown has a perfect brewing method for those looking to begin their loose leaf tea devotion. And yes, using loose leaf tea makes a world of a difference compared to using bagged tea.)

Coffee

This potent brown liquid downed by billions across the planet fuels us in the morning, fuels us in the mid-morning and even during the afternoon pick-me-up for some. Like tea, it’s picky in how the drink is brewed and varies depending on the method. And like tea as well, its flavor varies on the type of coffee purchased, as well as its roasting origins. Whether taken straight or with some sort of additive (milk, sugar or syrup), coffee has a wide array of flavors in its arsenal.

Unfortunately, due to its high caffeine content, many can’t drink it past the early afternoon. And, the decaffeination process, if not executed properly, can harm the drink’s flavor.

Coffee is more popular than tea in America, in most places, dating back to the Boston Tea Party. I’m not saying drinking coffee is more American, but it goes to show how a great beverage can have staying power when it’s coupled with a cultural mindset.

And my winner is…

Coffee, by an incredibly small margin. Either way you slice it, tea and coffee are the liquid foundation for most writers, and I’m hardly an exception.

Both have kept me hydrated and warm as I continue to write. Seeing “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” in January was a big part of my decision to pursue creating a novel. While it wasn’t a great box office hit, the movie’s pacing and character development really hit home. While other movies tried to be grand and offer some sort of soliloquy and heavy-handed dialogue, “Jack Ryan” was just a fun, fast-paced thrill ride.

In closing, thanks to Stoakes Books for his Liebster Award nomination. One of his questions served as the impetus to write on this topic.

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5 items on my desk

Workspaces provide a glimpse into what matters to someone. Photos, letters, funny little placards and various other items all play a part in someone’s personality. I’ve had my fair share of funny pictures (Vote for Ron Swanson) and inspirational quotes (Sense of Urgency) and blanket statements (This is a snake-free environment. Please keep it that way.) in workspaces throughout my career… here’s a glimpse at what’s currently on my desk.

– Backup and portable hard drives 

Working with photos and video means my computer’s hard drive tends to disappear fairly quickly. So, there are a couple of spare hard drives nearby to help back up and add a bit of padding to my files. Never go without a backup, a computer crash is just around the corner!

– Wacom tablet

I’m hardly a great artist when drawing by hand. It’s hard to mess up a stick figure, but somehow I do just that. With the tablet, however, I’m able to touch up photos and use Photoshop with more precision. When working with different brushes, it’s an invaluable tool. And, since it’s a pen, it makes me believe I can actually draw something.

– A thank you card from last year

I have a bad habit of keeping cards. Christmas, birthday, a creepy newspaper reader note slid under the office door and thank you cards are all boxed away. A select few, however, do remain out on display. One thank you card from last October has been on my desk for a few months now. It’s the simple things that keep you grounded and encouraged amidst the chaos of life.

– Flashlight

Because random noises at night are creepy.

– Coffee mug

There are times I have too much blood in my coffeestream. A cup of coffee usually fixes that. I’m a big fan of Spokane’s local roasters, Thomas Hammer in particular. Their breakfast blend is perfectly balanced in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. It’s by far my favorite wake-up tool in the morning.

Summer’s saving grace – Vietnamese Iced Coffee

My uncle introduced me to this delicious drink last year when I visited New Orleans.

Just a couple of blocks away from his house is a coffee shop called The Orange Couch. Yes, there is indeed an orange couch amidst the otherwise white furniture. But, like most people, we weren’t in search of attractive furniture.

The cafe has the typical espresso fare (lattes, mochas, drip, muffins, etc.), but also has the hidden jewel of Vietnamese Iced Coffee. I’ve raved about this drink too often, as some of my friends will attest to. But this subtly sweet discovery is something to be cherished.

Not to be rushed, the preparation of this coffee takes some practice to get it right, but the presentation and result are worth it. A regular iced coffee won’t taste the same ever again.

You’ll need:

  • 6 oz. hot water (just off the boil)
  • 1 tsp. sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon Cafe du Monde – coffee with chicory
  • Phin filter
  • Ice

First, heat cold water so that it’s just about to boil. It will take a couple of minutes, so start with your coffee. Measure out a tablespoon of coffee. Cafe du Monde’s chicory roast works excellent, as it has a coarse grind and adds a distinctive twist to regular coffee.

Place this in your phin filter, and give it a bit of a shake to level out the grounds. I found my phin filters online through Amazon, where they’re only about $1.50 each. Once the grounds are level, twist the damper down so that it’s snug with the grounds, but not too tight – this is just to compress them a bit.

Then, twist the damper in the opposite direction by one turn. By doing this, you’re allowing the grounds to expand and not let the coffee drip for about half an hour. That’s not fun.

Spoon around 1 tsp. of sweetened condensed milk into a mug. I don’t like mine terribly sweet, so one usually works well.

By now, the water should be done heating up. Should it be boiling, just let it set for a few seconds. I’m pretty picky about coffee grounds in the final drink, so I run a finger along the bottom of the filter to catch any loose culprits.

Place your filter on top of the mug and fill it about 1/4 of the way to the top. Let it set for about 20 seconds, which will allow the grounds to become saturated. Then pour the rest of the water in, and set the cap on top of the filter.

Done right, the brewing process should take around four to five minutes. You can check under the lid to see when everything is finished.

Now, at this point, the coffee is still excellent. Just stir up the sweetened condensed milk at the bottom and enjoy it hot, if that’s your preference. On a sweltering summer day, however, an iced drink is usually needed. So, grab some ice, toss it in a glass, and don’t forget to stir up the hot mixture.

Just pour it onto the ice, and stir it around, to cool it evenly.

This is a perfect drink to sit down and spend some time with a book, or even if you’re just out people watching in a coffee shop. The subtle chicory flavor permeates every sip, but isn’t overpowering – even if the coffee is made somewhat strong. At the coffee shop, this is likely to cost around $3.75, and it’s worth every penny. Mixed in with the atmosphere of the shop and the skill of the barista, Vietnamese iced coffee is a great drink.

Making it at home, however, lowers the cost per cup by an incredible level. It’s probably only 20 cents per cup. But you likely won’t be stopping with one. I’ve found that filling up my thermos with ice and pouring in one serving is enough to last through half a day of work.

Give it a try – or if you’re around, I’d be more than happy to make a cup… for myself first. You can wait.