“We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other.”– Parker Posey in Best in Show
I am a latecomer to the coffee world. Never really drank it until I started dating my wife, back in the early 2000s. She is from NY, so coffee was pretty much injected into her veins at an early age. While I may have been late to the java party, I have more than made up for it over the last two decades. Now, I can’t start the day without a nice cup of Café Bustelo. When my wife and I travel, we love to find unique and fun places to get a cup of coffee. In this blog post, let’s explore some of the coffee shops we have visited in our recent travels.
Whether it be iced or hot, morning or afternoon, summer or winter, I need my coffee fix. It is one of those small enjoyments in life that gives you a second of calmness and peace. My wife and I recently moved into a small home with a beautiful yard backed up to a few acres of tree-covered area. We have a bird feeder outside our sunroom window, and one of the best moments of the day is when I wake up, press brew on the Keurig, add some cream and sugar, and sit and drink a cup as I watch the birds, while listening to the ominous silence of the outside. The second best part, or should I say a tie, is when I deliver my wife her coffee and good morning “coffee delivery.”
Coffee seems to have that reassuring effect. Even at bad moments, it makes you feel that things will be ok, and at suitable moments, that life could not ever possibly be bad. Momentary moments of positive clarity. Not sure that is a thing, but does it have to be? It’s a feeling and, while I usually have one cup a day, there is a moment while drinking that one cup, that life feels calm, even now.
“President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, however much coffee you drink in the morning, I want you to reduce it by half. / Lewis Rothschild: I don’t drink coffee, sir. / President Andrew Shepherd: Then hit yourself over the head with a baseball bat, would you please?”– Michael Douglas & Michael J. Fox in The American President
But it is with everything going on now that I think back to some of those cups of coffee when I remember having this unique calm. Near and far, my wife and I have had some great cups of coffee. Let’s explore a few of them now. I promise not to go to far back in time, rather keep it within the last few years. I do that not because I didn’t have any good coffee before that; instead, it’s tough remembering them all, in what I am trying to maintain as a shorter than average blog. I mean, I could go on about the coffee I drank while visiting Guatemala or the cups I enjoyed while sitting in a Parisian cafe in Paris, or a brew I could not get enough of as I ate a Belgium waffle in the fantastic city of Bruges. Still, I will leave that conversation for when I return to those beautiful locations.
Now, this is not a best-of, or number one, type of blog. This blog post is more a stream of consciousness, a reflection, if you will, on those brief moments in time, when my wife and I sat, drank coffee, hot or iced, and took in the satisfaction of our time together. I know, once the pandemic is over, that we will once again explore coffee shops, both close to home and far away. But, for now, I must rely on my memory of those coffee moments, as I sit here and enjoy a cup of Café Bustelo in one of the many mugs I have procured during my travels.
One of those particulate travels where we shared an excellent cup was on our cruise in Hawaii. As I have said in previous blogs, I lived in Hawaii for a few years. At one point, we decided to take a relaxing cruise at the end of my doctorate studies and see most of the Sandwich Islands. On this cruise, we had 100% Kona Coffee. We drank this amazing, rich, and bold flavored, locally produced coffee every single day. It’s not a wrong way to experience the tourist parts of Hawaii travel! Sitting on the ships upper deck as we overlooked Kona, or cruising by the Napali Coast, or while docked near Nāwiliwili, Kaua`i, these were just a few of the perfect times to have a hot cup of coffee, let the sea breeze hit your face, and look out towards a rising or setting sun. I cannot drink Kona Coffee without thinking back to this 2013 cruise, and will never drink Kona Coffee unless it is 100% Kona.
“James: Now, this is your first lesson in coffee. Without anything in it, it’s black coffee. Can you say black coffee? Then, there’s coffee regular. That means two sugars and milk, which they have forgotten, so can I borrow some of yours? Ah, coffee regular.”– John Travolta in Look Who’s Talking
Now, Hawaii is a long way to go for a cup of coffee. I would do it in a heartbeat, and I don’t need a reason to go back to those beautiful islands. But, let’s pause and stay closer to home in the great state of Massachusetts. Let’s travel to Cape Cod, more specifically, Mashpee, MA, and Cape Cod Coffee. This coffee company is a fantastic coffee operation. You can go on a tour of their roasting, distribution, and learn pretty much everything about their coffee process from bean to brew. You can sample their seasonal blends, and buy as much coffee as you want. I know I brought home at least two bags of full bean blends like Almond Joy, Chocolate Macadamia, and others. The flavors are unique, comforting, and as someone who grew up close to Mashpee, provokes a sense of home when I have a cup. We first visited Cape Cod Coffee while on vacation with my wife’s family. We brought twenty-two people who took in the sights, smells, and taste of locally brewed coffee—the pre-COVID world, how I miss it.
“Jules: Mmm! God damn, Jimmie! This is some serious gourmet shit! Usually, me and Vince would be happy with some freeze-dried Taster’s Choice, but he springs this serious gourmet shit on us! What flavor is this?– Quentin Tarantino & Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction
Jimmie: Knock it off, Jules.
Jimmie: I don’t need you to tell me how ****ing good my coffee is, okay? I’m the one who buys it, I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping, she buys shit. Me, I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it, I want to taste it.”
It is always wonderful when you can throw in some movie quotes about coffee, especially from Pulp Fiction. I mean, if you can’t have fun taking about coffee, while reflecting on movies that talk about coffee, then what’s the point, you know? Ok, back to the task at hand, coffee drinking during travel. Well, there have been three places that I have been to in the last couple of years that have outstanding coffee options. San Diego, New Orleans, and Nashville had at least one coffee house that knocked it out of the park. Interestingly, the reason I was in all of those cities was to run a Half Marathon, and as I have said in previous blog posts, half marathons + travel = coffee discovery!
In San Diego, my wife and I, and my sister-in-law, traveled for relaxation and running adventures. In the Gaslamp District, we visited a hip cafe no less than three times. Copa Vida, which was near our hotel, was fantastic. While the avocado toast, and almond butter toast, both of which are my go-to cafe breakfast options, were excellent, the coffee was outstanding. I remember sitting by the cafe window with a delicious brewed coffee and almond butter toast, Petco Park within sight, and the city’s calmness in the morning hours. It was one of those moments; peaceful and relaxed. Copa Vida definitely made our San Diego mornings a pleasant experience, especially when we would get a to-go coffee and walk the Gaslamp District and then along the waterfront.
In New Orleans, we found a few places that brewed fantastic lattes, cold brews, and regular coffee with flavors that left me a state of awe. Two locations, in particular, were terrific. One was French Truck Coffee and, the other, Congregation Coffee Rosters. We went to French Truck Coffee in Downtown New Orleans after I had run the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. We were going to go to The National WWII Museum and needed a caffeine boost for our walk to the museum and what we knew would be an emotional experience at what we had read, and agree with now, is one of the best WWII museums. I ended up getting an iced coffee at French Truck, and it was fantastic. Again, after having completed 13.1 miles, and as I prepared to go to an important historical museum, drinking a coffee was a wonderful feeling. For those who have read my blogs, I love to travel to run half marathons, and afterword, always explore historical locations and museums. Our treks around the city, taking in historic sites, is typically done with either a hot or cold coffee in my hands.
While there are several more coffee shops in the city, my wife and I choose to go to Congregation Coffee the next morning. While the establishment was small, the latte my wife excitedly ordered and the regular coffee I ordered, had incredible flavors. As a side note, I enjoyed their little alligator “mascot” on the mugs, especially the one with the bowler hat. As I said above, there are many fun places to explore in New Orleans, and while exploring, your coffee needs can easily be satisfied by popular or tourist places like Cafe Du Monde or local hot spots like Spitfire Coffee. While we enjoyed a brief stop at Cafe Du Monde, we found ourselves lucky to have visited Congregation and French Truck. So, next time you are in the “Big Easy,” check these places out for your morning cup! Whether touristy, locally popular, or less well-known, your coffee adventure will hit its mark in New Orleans.
While I am saving a future blog post for a detailed overview of my trip to Nashville, I wanted to, in the least, mention two of the coffee places we visited. While this was a trip full of history, a half marathon, terrific breweries, and delicious BBQ, two coffee houses just rocked our mornings. Now, let me start by first saying this, Nashville has a ton of coffee shops, legit a ton! So, I do not pretend to be an expert nor someone who visited them all. If someone wants to pay to send me to all of them when this pandemic is over, I would gladly accept it! With that said, we went to the coffee shop Stay Golden twice. For one, it was close to our Airbnb and two, the coffee and food was fantastic. I had a regular coffee my wife had an espresso and I dove into the Avocado Toast while my wife took on the American Breakfast. Like most, if not all, coffee houses in Nashville, this place had pretty sleek decor, inspired menu, and hip atmosphere. They had all your coffee options, and we were not disappointed.
The second place we loved was Ugly Mugs Coffee & Tea. A day after my half marathon run and a couple hours after exploring Nashville and historical sites in surrounding areas, we found this coffee shop where we had started; in East Nashville. I should note that this coffee house is next door to Five Daughters Bakery. Therefore, you can get a freshly brewed Hoodie, which is honey, cinnamon, and vanilla latte, and then walk twenty feet and get a chocolate milkshake donut or one of their other many flavored donuts, which sell out quickly. So, I guess you can imagine, that is pretty much exactly what my wife and I did. We got coffee, then ate an array of donuts, and then back for more coffee. Drinking inspired coffee and eating unique donuts is not a terrible way to spend a few hours in the hip area of East Nashville. One moment after we had received our donuts and were drinking our coffee, we were sitting outside on a beautiful April early afternoon and just felt fulfilled. Not the kind of “full” from coffee or donuts, but at ease. It’s the feeling you get at the end of a trip when you know it’s time to go home, and you are ready, but pleased with how wonderful it all went. If only coffee and a donut could bring out that kind emotional reaction every time!
Of course, traveling and visiting local coffee houses is a beautiful way to taste the local coffee scene. Nashville is a perfect example of this, even Washington D.C., more specifically, Compass Coffee did the same thing. It offered rich and pleasing flavors for our morning coffee tastes. Whether we were San Francisco, or Dallas, or Shanghai, China, we searched for a unique and enjoyable coffee experience, one where the atmosphere is inviting and the smell and taste of the coffee stay with us. It also, happily, provides me the opportunity to buy a coffee mug to take home, so when I brew a cup of coffee in the days, months, and years after a trip, I can drink the coffee, look at the mug, and recall the sights, sounds, and smells as well as remember the places seen, the fun had, and the coffee drank.
But it’s while drinking at home, my dad’s place, or at my in-laws in New York where I enjoy the best coffee moments. While I can drink a cup by myself and find a calm in the middle of any storm, I am happiest when I drink with others. This shared moment, two or three or more people are sitting around talking and enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning. That might be one of my favorite things. As I said earlier, my wife’s family vacations every year. They rent a house for no less than 20 people, and we all stay together for a week. It’s incredible and probably my favorite week of the year. But, to be honest, my favorite part of that week is in the morning. As people get up, one by one, and we all “zombie walk” to the kitchen zeroing in on the pot of coffee that is already on, brewed, and ready. We sip, we chat, we laugh, and enjoy our time. Then before we know it, our mugs are empty. Like life, when the sky is gray, and you feel empty, add more grinds, water, and brew yourself a second pot. Coffee is wicked awesome, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.