Thursday, October 13, 2005

I am not as addicted to the sweet bean, bearer of caffeine, as I used to be but I still drink it regularly. Pretty muchevery day but not necessarily so. I gave up my 'subscription' to Gevalia a few months ago and have subsisted on Dunkin' Donuts coffee since. I used to like the DD coffee a lot, even to the point of preferring it to other, more expensive (cough Starbucks cough) coffees.
However, the latest "Cook's Illustrated" has an article on "supermarket" whole bean coffee. Included therein was the DD original blend. As usual for one of their articles, there was not just subjective tasting but technical testing as well. Coffee is tested by its Agtron reading which measures the darkness of the roast by testing how much light the beans reflect. A high Agtron number means the bean reflects more light and thus is lighter roasted. Dunkin' Donuts coffee tested at an Agtron of 59.9 which was the highest of the eight coffees tested. I'm not a fan of really dark roasts so this was just fine with me.
It was the other test which threw me. Coffees are tested for "quakers" which the article defines as "coffee-industry jargon for an under-developed coffee bean that fails to get sorted out before the roasting stage." The writier of the article then went about sorting out enough quakers to make a pot. It wasn't good:
"The smell was putrid enough, but the first taste dispelled any suspicions that quaker count was merely some academic exercise. The experiment isolated a taste I've always associated with bad gas-station coffee but conflated (incorrectly) with the burnt taste that comes from leaving the pot on the burner too long."
Yikes. Guess which coffee had the highest quaker count? Yep - Dunkin' Donuts with 9 in a pound. One of the dark roasts (Seattle's Best Blend) had a zero quaker count. This leaves me feeling very conflicted about my coffee. Should I go back to Gevalia's "Coffee of the Month Club?" Or should I track down one of the others in the test? I still like the DD coffee but I can't keep the idea that the reason it's inexpensive is that there are shortcuts in the roasting process out of my mind. I believe that I will try to track down Eight O'Clock Coffee. It has an Agtron about 8 points less than DD. It tested to only 6 quakers and it got good marks from the tasters. It's also at a very good price point ($5 for 13 ounces).
Eight O'Clock Coffee. Oh for the memories. When I was but a lad my mother shopped at the A&P. Said store has gone the way of the dodo but it was a good grocery store all those years ago. And mom bought Eight O'Clock Coffee there. In fact, I thought it was the house coffee of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. My formative memories of coffee are smelling the whole beans being ground at the store. Now it's commonplace to have a grinder on the coffee aisle but then, it was decidedly out of the ordinary. And the smell of the fresh ground coffee was ... how to explain ... ambrosial. It smelled better than the coffee tasted, better than the coffee smelled brewing. I knew even back then that I would be a coffee drinker when the time came.
So now it seems I've reached the fullest point of the circle. I see that Food Lion (slogan: If we say it's food, we're lyin') carries Eight O'Clock. I'll see if it is for me what madelines were for Proust.

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