As I sit in here in the quiet watching the skies lighten, as I have done scores of times in the past, it is time for a confession of sorts. My beverage of choice for times such as this, and for just about any morning, has lately been instant coffee.
I know, I know; in the context of the Pacific Northwest coffee culture, this is heresy. We're supposed to obsess over which side of the hill our beans were grown on, and order our espresso drinks with a stream of qualifiers as long as an Elizabethan sonnet, and know the difference between grande and vente as well as ristretto and lungo, and so on. I can play in that sandbox when I have to, but usually I choose not to. I don't know if it was growing up with burnt percolator coffee ever-present on the stovetop, or coming of age in a New York that only distinguished between "regular" and "black" in coffee ordering, or just having too many graveyard cups of 7-Eleven and Circle-K coffee as a cop, or maybe just having unrefined taste overall, but I've never been able to get too excited over coffee.
Many people out here just don't get instant coffee. Perhaps the kindest thing a friend has said about this penchant of mine was "Well, I guess if you consider it a completely different beverage, you could get used to the taste." So, in an attempt to make instant coffee more relatable to the prevailing attitude, here's a short course in becoming an instant instant coffee snob.
Starbucks: The big green machine has been pushing its little tubular packets of instant coffee furiously of late. I tried a fee sample we picked up and liked it better than the regular brew that the chain serves - it had less of that burnt flavor that many people complain about. And one of the weirdest things I have seen was a commuter cup that had slots to hold several of the little tubes - I guess that no matter where you are, you just cadge some hot water and Bob's your uncle. I could drink this stuff regularly, except I try not to redistribute any of my resources to Starbucks.
Folger's: This is a nice, steady, mainstream instant coffee. It's a little on the thin side when it comes to flavor; it never really gets bitter, but isn't ever that robust. The smaller size still comes in a glass jar, so that's cool.
Trader Joe's: A rare miss for our favorite funky foodstore. Their instant coffee is nondescript in flavor and has an oily film on top, no matter the proportions of milk and water. Give this a pass, even though it is in a cool glass jar.
Kona coffee: Otis has brought me back two types of instant 100% Kona coffee from Hawaii: Ukulele Melody from Hawaiian Brew and Gourmet Blend by Mulvadi. Both of them come in nice little hexagonal glass jars, and each has the nice, round, earthy flavor of Kona. The Ukulele can tend to some bitterness more so than the Mulvadi, and neither mixes as well with cream as the local brands.
Nescafé Clásico: The ne plus ultra of instant coffee. You can tell it's classy because not only are there two diacritical marks in the name, the jar has a really cool shape and the label is written primarily in Spanish, with some English subtitles. It actually has a rich, full flavor, and no bitterness at all, and creates a creamy drink when combined with half-and-half. I guess jillions of people worldwide drink this, even in those fancy European countries that we think we are copying with all this coffee-drink business we have going on. And it's what I'm drinking right now.
So, pick your poison. For some, it's a grande two-pump vanilla non-fat extra-hot latte. For me, it's a cuppa. Just relax and enjoy.