The day after I got back from New Mexico (where I had a cup of coffee with my coworkers) I headed east to visit family and friends in Missouri. It’s a long drive, over fifteen hours east of Colorado, through the expansive plains and wheat fields of Kansas, all the way through the gentle hills and forests of Missouri. Turn south at St. Louis, and an hour later you’re there. A lot happened, but I’ve been tasked with writing about the coffee.
My parents’ coffeemaker is the same one they had when I was in high school. On my first morning back, I tried to brew a full pot. I filled the machine to the top line with water, but the machine sat silent when I hit the power button. Eventually it gurgled. The coffeemaker’s inner tubing had calcified so much that the coffee shot out in slow, arrhythmic bursts. I watched for a few minutes and then walked away. I came back ten minutes later, and the carafe was still mostly empty. There’s a plastic window into the water receptacle so you can see how much has yet to be brewed, and it didn’t look right: it looked like half the water was already gone. There must have been something wrong with the heating element. Just under an hour after I turned it on, the machine beeped that the coffee was ready. There was enough for one and a half cups.
I offered to buy my parents a new coffeemaker, but they declined.
So I made several trips to coffee shops on that trip. My favorite was a shop on Main Street. It’s run by a guy I went to high school with. The owner is a pretty good guitarist and sometimes had to step away from the espresso machine for an hour to give lessons downstairs. His shop is brand new, and he’s still trying to figure out which coffee distributor he wants to work with. I was a fan of the coffee from Breve Roasters, a distributor from the next town over, but the owner was leaning toward one of the St. Louis city roasters. I tried their coffee; it was good too. While I was back in the area, the father of one of my good friends passed away unexpectedly. My friend and I went to this coffee shop the morning of the wake. We visited for a while and then he had to leave to prepare, and I had to find a suit.
The town also has a place called St. Louis Bread Company. It’s a part of the larger Panera Bread chain, which sells soups, sandwiches, and pastries nationwide. Panera Bread actually started as St. Louis Bread Company, but I guess that “St. Louis” doesn’t play too well nationally so they rebranded all the shops outside the metro area. I ended up there a few times, mostly when the other shop was closed or when the owner was teaching music lessons. I was always tempted to grab a danish or a bagel, but I’m trying to watch my weight so I stuck with coffee.
I also ended up at a Starbucks in Effingham, Illinois. If you’ve ever travelled through Central Illinois, you’ve undoubtedly seen Effingham’s most notable landmark: a 200-foot tall cross made of what appears to be aluminum siding. I was on my way to visit my grandmother, who is nearly 100 and in poor health. But that’s outside the purview of this post. I’m just talking about coffee.
There’s a coffee place in downtown St. Louis I’d heard some good things about. I was in the city for the day so I thought I’d check it out. Unlike the places I’ve lived out West, St. Louis doesn’t have any natural mountains or mesas to orient me to my place in the city, and its grid is based on the curvature of the Mississippi River. I got hopelessly turned around. I ended up at another coffee shop (which was maybe a half-mile from my original destination, according to a subsequent Google search.) The walls of this particular coffee shop were covered with erotica from the 1950s-1970s. They had a poster of an unclad Betty Page, some laminated Playboy centerfolds, some steamy still photographs from old nudie films. I’m sure the pictures were shocking and scandalous at the time they were taken, but today it didn’t look that much different than something you could find on adult-oriented cable television. I couldn’t tell if the decor was supposed to be shocking or playful. I ordered an Americano and it was good, but I suppose the quality of the coffee was beside the point.
I got back to Denver a couple days ago, and the coffee maker here works just fine. The temperature has dropped well below the freezing point, so it’s nice to be able to stay in and enjoy a cup from the quiet of my couch.