Saturday, August 25, 2007

Belly up to the (coffee) bar

by Ann Parker

When dear friend and Killer Hobbies blogger Camille Minichino asked if I would like to write a guest blog, I was pleased and honored … and couldn’t come up with a single hobby (pretty sad, I know).

After some mulling, it finally occurred to me: The sort of energy and passion some folks give to, say, creating beautiful miniature scenes, quilts, paintings, etc., I put into my never-ending quest for that perfect, killer cup of coffee.

So, if you take a close look at the accompanying photo, you’ll see that, yep, I’m holding a fistful of cards in one hand and a cup of Peet’s finest in the other. The five cards, prepaid, reside in my wallet, ready for a quick draw when I need a shot of caffeine, which happens, oh, several times a day. “The stronger the better” could be my motto. A passion (or is it a need) for coffee is probably the only common ground between the protagonist of my Silver Rush historical mysteries, Inez Stannert, and her creator: me. Inez is a 19th-century saloon owner who imbibes very strong coffee (usually mixed with a little something such as whiskey or brandy). Moi? I’m the wimpy 21st century mirror image—gimme a latte with an extra shot and lace it with (ahem) soy milk, please. Chocolate soy milk, if I’m feeling particularly adventurous.

In any case, I’m always on the prowl for java. The five cards in my hand represent some—but not all—of my haunts. A word about each, starting with the red one in front, and then I’ll throw in another handful of my faves from my Colorado haunts.

Panama Red — Nooooo, not THAT Panama Red. This card is for my favorite local independent coffee bar. The kids can get fruit smoothies while I indulge in my drug of choice and sink into one of their comfy chairs. P.R. has a nice funky atmosphere. Eclectic music. Takes me back to my Berkeley days. And speaking of Berkeley…

Peet’s — I have a special fondness for Peet’s. It could be because I was in Berkeley back in the ‘70s, when Peet’s (and I) was young. But it’s more than the memories … they make strong coffee and it’s good. Plus, they play classical music, at least at my local Peet’s, and the baristas are friendly and know my name…

The Library Café — Okay, who was the genius who came up with the idea of having a coffee bar in a library? However he/she is, I’d like to raise a cup of the local finest in his/her honor and send him/her a love note. Coffee and books! Books… that you can read for free. Is this heaven or what?? I could live here. Oh wait, they don’t do overnights. Okay, in that case just drop me off in the morning when they open and come get me when they close….

Starbuck’s —Yes, it’s true, I have a card to the Microsoft equivalent of the coffee world. But hey, when you’re faced with unfamiliar terrain (driving on California’s I-5 or rushing around Colorado on I-70, for instance), that ubiquitous green sign looks pretty darn friendly.

Barnes & Noble — Yes, this is a wild card, so shoot me, okay? But I got it as a gift and, yep, there’s coffee to be had at B&N (and Border’s too, for that matter). Some might think I’m cheatin’ at cards, but I’ll maintain that it works in a pinch.

Now, a few of my Colorado favorites that I’m not a card-carrying member for:

In Leadville — My Silver Rush mysteries take place in Leadville, Colorado, so it behooves me to head up there a couple times a year or so and conduct (ahem) research. Caffeine and historical research go together like … like … well, I don’t know, a double mocha and See’s chocolate, maybe? My two favorite places for coffee in Leadville are Cloud City Coffee House (which also has great soup and wireless internet) and Provin Grounds (no website for this one).

In Boulder – I spend a fair bit of time in Boulder, catching up with extended family and trekking out to Denver for more research. Boulder is coffee heaven, like Berkeley, and by mentioning only two places I will no doubt be snubbing (quite unintentionally, I assure you) any number of other great places. All that said, one of my faves is Caffé Sole (take a close look at the t-shirt I’m wearing in the photo and you’ll see the logo). I can walk to it from my brother’s house, and boy, is that nice for this writer from the Northern CA suburbs, where I need to drive darn near everywhere. My other big favorite is the Trident Booksellers and Café. Again, coffee and books. Yeah, I’m there.

So, what about you? Do you have a favorite place to pick up a cuppa Joe? Let us know. I love to learn about new places! (Note: I’ll be at Bouchercon in Alaska, so if anyone has suggestions for Anchorage or Nome, bring ‘em on.)


Kathryn Lilley said...

I don't know what exact place I most loved getting coffee--all I know is that it was at a cafe in Paris, circa 1979, then 1988, then 1992, then...

If only I could return to Paris more frequently than once every decade!

Ann said...

Ah, Paris. A long way to go for coffee, but I'd make the sacrifice!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


My husband just ordered a new machine for making lattes. We're loving the coffee from Kaldi's lately. But the first time I had great coffee was a hotel in Italy. The real cream, ah, it made me a believer!


Ann said...

Hello Joanna!
I've thought about buying one of those home machines ... But (true confession, here) although I love to drink coffee, I can't make a decent cup, so leave the brewing to my husband-the- chemist (precise measurements must be the key, I think). I see there are Kaldi coffeehouses in Missouri... I'll add them to my list for the future!
Hmmm. It just occurred to me: Some mountaineers set goals of climbing the highest peak in each state. Maybe I could set a goal of finding the best latte in each state. Of course, "best" is subjective, here...
Real cream... (sigh) ... I miss it!
-- Ann

Jean xo said...

Great Blog, Ann, Camille better watch out! Also, don't tell her, but, I like Border's coffee, too,along with many others as long as they're strong and flavorful!

Ann said...

Thanks, Jean!
Just so happens, Camille and I are "Peet's Pals" ... we are quite sympatico in our caffeine preferences, but I'd never dare to attempt making those cute mini-thingies she creates... I'd have glue everywhere, and nothing much to show for it! :-)
On coffee's essential essence, I (and my protagonist Inez) agree with you ... strong and lots of it does the trick.
Now, hotel coffee... that's a sorry story. I don't think I've ever been to a conference that's had decent coffee. But, if there's nothing else around within walking distance, I'll drink it. Guess that makes me truly possessed!
-- Ann

Josefine said...

Reading your post Ann, I really miss my college days in the U.S. Even tough we have great coffeehouses in Sweden it never feels the same as it did in the U.S, two very different coffee cultures. Then of course when you reach the continent, nothing beats un cafe in Paris.

©Hotbutton Press said...

My current favorite coffeehouse is Agia Sophia in Colorado Springs. I've also discovered the wonders of coffee syrup... an entire pound of coffee that's cold-processed and stored in a carafe in the fridge. (I bought mine at Borders.) Just add a few shots to boiling water and yum! Just like barista espresso with total strength control and always tastes like fresh-brewed.

Ann said...

Hello Josefine ...
Swedish coffeehouses... Now I'm curious: How are they different? Don't people sit around with their coffees, work on their laptops and read newspapers, or ...?

And Howdy "hotbutton press" ... I know who you are! ;-)
I'll have to try that coffee syrup. It sounds a little strange, but I'm always game for an experiment in coffee!
I don't think I've been to Agia Sophia... have I? What was that neat little bakery in Manitou Springs...? They had good coffee too (and pastries, yum).

-- Ann