Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's Coffee

The local coffee mega-store (which shall remain nameless) introduced a new flavor recently: Pumpkin Pie Spice, Latte or Frappuccino. I have been eyeing it for some time and wondering how much I might like it. But before I launch into my findings (which you must recognize are note worthy) let me give you some back ground on me... and coffee.

I grew up like many of you, I would imagine, with a mother (or father, as the case may be) who drank coffee just about every morning. She still does. "Nothing like that first cup of coffee, " she is known to say. She is a coffee purest and drinks it black. I have overheard many people compliment her on her coffee. I have distinct memories of my mornings beginning with the sound of the automatic coffee mill grinding the beans before brewing them at exactly 6:05am. My mom transferred her creation into a thermos promptly after brewing so the bottom didn't burn but the temperature stayed ideal - hot. And each night she set the whole process up for the following day's ritual. On the weekends she would sit in the over-sized lounge chair in our living room, watch out the window for any happenings on the street, read the previous week's worth of papers and magazines, and drink her thermos of coffee. I slept in, so she was always up before me. But every Saturday looked almost identical to the one before - me shuffling out at 10am to see my mom buried under papers (ostensibly stacked "read" and "unread" on either side of her legs, which were stretched across the ottoman) with Albert our dachshund curled between her and the chair and her thermos of coffee sitting on the floor with her cup perched on the table lamp next to her. This was adulthood. It embodied everything I found utterly boring or unappetizing. Somehow I knew that I would have to start liking these things before I could grow up.

I have still been unable to complete this rite of passage. And as a result my nearly 10 years of marriage and 5 children do not cut the mustard in making me feel like an adult. If I could sit down for one Saturday, read an entire newspaper, and drink a pot of coffee, I truly think the heavens would part and I would be accepted into the Fraternity of Adulthood. Oh well. You see coffee doesn't taste like it smells (and the French Roast my husband likes can stay in France for all I care). My mom says it does. My girlfriends who drink coffee say it does. My husband says it does. They are lying. It doesn't. If it did, I would drink it. So needless to say Starbucks, or any other shop painted in muted tones with too-obvious hints of Parisian sidewalk cafes, had gone rather unnoticed by me. I didn't worry about how much money I was spending at them. I wasn't embarrassed that the barista knew my name AND my order before I could take my place in the back of the line. No, I was naive. Innocent. Free.

Then my dear friend, Jill (she shall not remain nameless since it is to her that I owe my utter destruction) introduced me to Chai. Just the name rolls off my tongue like butter. It is a tea with a heavy spice component making it taste very similar to pumpkin pie (without the pumpkin, as Jill would point out - she dislikes pumpkin pie). I liked it the first few times I had one. Then I began to learn the ways of the Jedi in ordering my Chai. The Starbucks version of Chai is actually a Chai Latte, meaning they mix a liquid tea & spice concentrate with milk and water. If you omit the water, it lends itself to a creamier and richer drink. I like that. Then I learned that for a Tall they use 3 pumps of mix, Grande equals 4 pumps, and Venti is 5 pumps. If I added an extra pump to the drink, I got a zing of flavor. I like that, too. The barista now knows my order - a five-pump, no water, grande chai latte. But I haven't entirely capitulated. And after my experiment with the Pumpkin Pie Spice Latte, I am in no danger of totally selling out. So now we may return to the original post...

A couple of weeks ago I noticed the new flavor being tauted as a "slice of Paris." I have been to Paris. That is beside the point. The point is that I like pumpkin pie and its spices, and I LOVE Chai (which is, as I stated above, pumpkin"less" pumpkin pie). So I asked the barista what the difference was between a Chai Latte and the new Pumpkin Pie Spice Latte. The following is a general gist of her response:

"The Chai houses a more dynamic and robust spice blend, using a base more like allspice or cloves, while the Pumpkin Pie Spice has a subdued flavor with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. They each have their own distinct taste."


I was a chicken to try it then. But just today I decided I was going to find out what this, "...subdued flavor with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger" was all about.

IT'S COFFEE. Yea, coffee. I took my first sip and about spit it out. I took another sip, still gross. Coffee. In my utter forsaking of the coffee world, I had forgotten that a latte traditionally means espresso with milk. Espresso - the mother of all coffees. When I asked for a description between the two drinks, the gal forgot to mention that the Pumpkin Pie Spice Latte was ultimately a base of espresso. No wonder her appraisal of the flavors were more "subdued." Um, yea. You simply can't overpower the taste of espresso with a few drops of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger - I don't care if your cinnamon does come from Madagascar.

So, I am once again reminded that I am still not an adult. Who decided drinking coffee and reading the newspaper was grown up, anyway?

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