This is probably going to shock you. And please don’t think less of me because of what I’m about to tell you: Up until Tuesday, I’d never had even a sip of coffee in my lifetime.
Not a cup of Colombian, a mug of Maxwell House or any type of cappuccino, latte, espresso or macchiato with or without an extra shot or extra soy.
Nothing! Never! I wasn’t at all a part of the coffee craze that’s been going on in this country and worldwide for decades.
I do have a Mr. Coffee machine in my home for when company comes — but I don’t know how to work it. If my guests don’t make their own coffee, they don’t get any.
And I’ll also admit this. I have felt as though there’s a club that everyone else belonged to that I chose not to join for reasons that I can’t fully explain. I couldn’t say I disliked coffee; I’d never tasted it.
I’m a tea guy.
My mother was a black-coffee drinker but she always worked (Hi, Mom!), so I was watched during the school day by my Aunt Flo, who was Irish-British and always gave me tea at lunchtime. That started when I was younger than 10, so I became a tea drinker.
Before my confessions go further, here are some hard facts. An estimated 148 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee were produced worldwide in what is called the 2015/16 “coffee year.” And global coffee consumption outpaced production at 151.3 million bags.
Sixty-four percent of adults say they drink at least one cup of coffee a day. The typical US consumer drinks 2.7 cups a day. And that’s with me bringing down the average.
At a retail level, the US coffee market is estimated to be $48 billion a year.
Starbucks are almost as prevalent in Manhattan as fire hydrants. And I’ll bet you can’t find a spot in the city that is more than a five-minute walk from a store-bought cup of coffee.
And while most of the retail industry is collapsing, the coffee business is, well, percolating — the one coffee-related word I know, despite that it’s outdated in this age of high-end java emporiums with their own language that only members of the club can understand.
I’ve met lots of people who talk about their kids with less devotion and pride than coffee store managers used to discuss their beans. Gawd, I want to be a part of this!
My feeling of exclusion grew recently when I received a p.r. pitch from the people running the third annual New York Coffee Festival. They asked if I’d like to attend and, maybe, write about it. It takes place Friday through Sunday at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street in Manhattan.
Is there anywhere I’d feel more out of place?
So I decided to use this as an opportunity to join the club — at least for a day. With a handler by my side to make sure I didn’t overdo it (or, I guess, say anything inappropriate), I visited three of the highest-end coffee shops in the city and went on a caffeine bender that had my brain wired, my fingers jittery and my insides wondering what the hell that feeling is.
I lost my coffee virginity at Toby’s Estate Cafe and Courtyard on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, followed by visits to Devoción Café on Grand Street in Brooklyn and Starbucks Reserve, that company’s high-end shop, on Vesey Street in Battery Park City.
I should note that caffeine isn’t new to me. And I get more than my share from not only tea but also soft drinks. But sipping a variety of high-octane coffee blends the other day gave me a new appreciation for the drug.
At Toby Estates, I tried a Black and White cold brew and I liked it. I then sampled the Americano Coffee — which despite the name is 80 percent Colombian beans and 20 percent Ethiopian. It seemed to attack my innards … until I sweetened it. I finished up my taste test at Toby’s with a hot Colombian poured through a Japanese strainer. The manager promised it was “naturally sweet.” Not exactly.
In Williamsburg, at Devoción, manager Steven Sutton is superserious about coffee. He served up a Sparkling Cascara, which was refreshing, sweet and made after the coffee bean is converted into a sort of molasses.
El Nilo, a hot coffee, was fruity — according to Sutton — and “funky,” according to me. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for sugar or milk and break Sutton’s heart.
This cup apparently had three times the normal amount of caffeine which, if I kept drinking, would mean I could zip to the next stop in Battery Park City without help from Lyft.
But what I really needed — and what I think I was missing culturally — was one of those drinks that has the pretty foam design on top. Latte art, is what I think it’s called.
I got that at Starbucks Reserve, which is equal to the other places in coffee devotion and describes itself as the “Willy Wonka chocolate factory of coffee.”
There I also got a cup of coffee that is somehow infused with nitrogen — another thing apparently missing from my life.
What store manager Kevin R. Damon wouldn’t give me was a Purple Eye, a cup of coffee that has four extra shots of espresso.
“I’m a coffee master, not a resuscitation master,” Damon explained.
OK, fair enough. I didn’t die drinking coffee. And for a day, I was one of the cool kids even while I was drinking hot coffee.
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