Coffee Cultcha? Get Outta The Quarter!

Jan 14, 2009 by

In my life and times, coffee used to be nothing fancy. Coffee could apparently stunt my growth when my age was in the single digits, according to my grandparents. I tasted my Tennessee grandmother’s cup once when I was four and endured her laughter at my grimace over its bitter taste. I couldn’t understand why my mother drank it every morning – what’s the point of having any coffee in the cup at all, Mom, when you fill half of it up with milk, anyhow? My first trips to New York City with my Long Island grandparents revealed that Manhattan had coffee shops on nearly every corner. Granted, most of those same coffee shops have been replaced by Starbucks franchises (and it may sound like a bad joke, but there actually are corners in Manhattan that have a Starbucks across from a Starbucks), but some remnants of that coffee culture live on. Plus, a required stop was always Zabar’s, so Dad could take their whole beans back to Houston with us and grind small amounts of them in our teensy grinder.

I didn’t really encounter the whole advent of espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, flavored coffees, iced coffees (a serious mind-blower for me, I kid you not) and other variations on that whole operation of running hot water through filtered grounds until college. I didn’t encounter my first real bit of coffee snobbery (aside from Dad’s preference for Zabar’s beans) until I went out to a summer glass program in Stanwood, Washington, and encountered a barista who was annoyed that I didn’t order a cappucino to her standards. “Do you even know what a cappuccino is?” she asked me indignantly, as though we weren’t at a gas station coffee stand in the middle of nowhere, but in a European city where I wasn’t making myself understood. If it weren’t before 6 AM at the time, and I didn’t desperately need some form of caffeine, I’d have stuffed her face in the cappuccino machine that took up half the stand and shouted in her ear, “Hell, yes, I do, and I want it NOW!

So really, most of these years I’ve been here on Earth, I’ve mostly seen coffee as a much better vehicle for ingesting caffeine than, say, carbonated drinks, or pills, or an IV drip.

Not to say that I haven’t appreciated the good, good stuff when it has crossed my path. I do love a Cafe Du Monde cafe au lait from time to time, and I will never forget the late, lamented Kaldi’s in Da Quarter for giving me a taste of a truly divine Bavarian Mocha Iced Coffee – I really should have bribed the staff for that recipe (And, if it were actually a satellite of this Kaldi’s, then we will never know. *sniff*  Another fine epitaph for the place can be read here.). Technically speaking, it isn’t a coffee drink, but the Kenya AA ice cream at a place called Big Alice’s in Providence, RI (I guess it is now a place called Guido’s), is truly the shit.

It occurs to me, however, that the coffee itself is only one part of what truly makes up a capital-C Coffee Culture. If it were only about the coffee, I wouldn’t be frequenting the coffee place I go to most mornings, though I do like their granitas and their hot mochas. You want baristas (and why are they all baristas, I ask you? Shouldn’t the men be baristos?) who will not treat you like a supplicant before a Coffee Nazi. An atmosphere in the shop that welcomes all ages is a good thing and adds up to more sales of the products being offered.

Which is why I would urge folks such as this one to get out of the Quarter and sample more coffees. The Quarter is there these days for only a few reasons: to entice tourists to stay in its environs and to keep the food, entertainment, and alcohol coming for locals and tourists alike. Not that that’s all bad – it’s just not necessarily a place where a local coffee culture can thrive.

I had a great cup of medium roast coffee at the Fair Grinds recently. Mojo is good. Rue de la Course has two great locations and great coffee. Bayou Coffee House and The Neutral Ground, as well as the Bean Gallery, are nothing to sneeze at. I do hope this humble site‘s reviews of local coffees and coffee houses will multiply as time goes by, thus gaining it greater recognition as an authority on where we can get good coffee in New Orleans TODAY, not back in the nineteenth century.

If one is truly interested in comparing coffees here with coffees elsewhere, get a Pepsi Challenge-like taste test on. Grind favorite whole beans and make a cup of that coffee, grind some local beans and make a cup o’ joe from them, put ’em in matching coffee cups after they’ve been marked on the bottom with which type of coffee is in ’em, get a blindfold on, and taste away. Seems like the truly logical thing to do, if one is serious about coffee comparisons.

Deep down, though, I don’t care much about the coffee thing myself, just so’s I never again have to ingest a cup of dreadful swill I had in a hotel in Springfield, Illinois, last year.

I just want to take it all in at my favorite spot whilst sitting in one of the hideous high-backed rattan chairs with off-white cushions that are already taking on some coffee stains. I’ll read a little, observe the regulars in their coffee habitat, watch the world go by, and glory in life’s occasional funnies. For instance:


My hot mocha froth gave me a thumbs-up this morning.

It’s gonna be a good day, regardless of what my coffee preferences are.

What are yours?


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