Romancing the bean series by Caffeine Cowboy
A lot of chefs know I’m the coffee guy. My friends certainly do. A regular son of a preacher man, “the only one who could ever please you!”
I have tasted many satisfying coffees over the years. In all other cultures, making a personal cup for friends, guest, or even themselves was not wasted on making a bad cup of coffee.
They might add sugars and spices or any number of creative/available additives to make the drink worth the time. But virtually every coffee drinking culture really still takes their coffee time seriously.
Except in America! Even the best restaurants are brewing coffee by the pot. Starbucks, Royal, and Community Coffee heavy weights supply all the equipment and then funnel their bulk coffees into 4 Star venues. America isn’t choosing their coffee like wine. Coffee service is rarely personal any more.
Do you wonder why Starbucks types are doing so well? I think it is a psychological reason. The beverage is being made especially for the customer! It is as simple as that! Why else would many thousands of people spend their car payment each month for not so great coffee?
I am not so certain they are even really satisfied!
And there lies my mission. To satisfy you!
I am truly driven by my depth of exposure to the world of food and beverage and its relationship with coffee!
So how did this passion ignite? What ‘got me in to coffee’?
By J.B. Blocker
Over a small camp fire, Old Tom began by heating the well-cured little skillet he had once carried with him on the open trail. It was just breaking dark as others were showing up to the rodeo arena on the edge of town.
He would often arrive before anyone else and be drinking his coffee when his sons and grandsons pulled up with their trailers. Others would show up on most Saturday mornings.
This was the ‘60’s. I was a teenager in love with western lore. Tom was born in the ‘1870’s and had lived his youth in the time of the last great cattle drives. He was a real cowboy!
He solemnly counted out fifty greenish/tan colored un-roasted coffee beans from his worn leather pouch.
The pouch was made from the scrotum sack of a calf. They make great handy bags and come in a variety of sizes. They are still used today. You can find them among Mexican and Indian curios.
One Christmas I made some hacky-sacks out of a few really nice leather patterns and gave them as gifts.
The coffee beans were rattled around in the skillet until they browned and swelled, and began to smoke. This takes about 8 minutes. When the beans are beginning to release their oils, they are a dark brown and they begin to sizzle.
With judicious timing, Tom removed the skillet with the now dark roasted coffee and picked up a large smooth stone to pulverize the smoking beans. The smoke changed quickly from a smell of burning to the scent of invitation.
Tom told me that he once used his revolver as a kid to crush the beans “till it fired of early one morning and spooked the cattle they had just rounded up”. He said it started a bit of a stampede, and I remember I believed him. Tom didn’t tell tall tales, he told good ones.
After the beans were satisfactorily crushed, Tom placed the skillet back on the fire and added water. The measurement was two tin cups of water. The pungent smoke of the coffee beans around the morning campfire became warm rich aroma floating around us like a blanket of flavors of the earth.
The coffee came to a boil, and after the grounds were sufficiently soaked and settled, he stuck his bandanna down over the cup for a filter and poured. The coffee was strong and rich. It wasn’t anything like the Folgers in our kitchen or the often burnt coffee at the café. I shared my first cup of fresh roasted coffee made the Cowboy Way in the extra tin cup Tom provided.
In that tin cup was the past and my future. I began to pay attention to the mention of coffee in wars and travels. I continued to study it’s rich history. I was hooked. I just didn’t know it yet! Exposed to fresh coffee in such a dramatic fashion, the memories of the smells and taste have never stopped resonating.
Tom cooked a little sliced up pork belly and corn bread too. He used the coffee grounds in the mixture. It was an earthy porridge by the time he served it. He bemoaned the fact that if he had been on the trail, he would have picked up all sorts of things to make the porridge something special! The heart of a culinarian in a 90 year old man!
He told me that cowboys were usually paired up to find strays. He had ridden with a riverboat gambler and a dandy. Whenever, ‘Jim Bean’, ran out of money gambling he would join a trail drive. He was quite a horseman so he could always get work.
Jim would gamble with the cowhands during the trail drive and they would owe him most of their pay. He would never take all their money which probably kept him alive.
From the day he shared his coffee with me and told me his story, I knew that a cowboy who could cook would always be popular.
My first, cowboy breakfast on the range, sort of!
Sanitation for sure! When it was time to take a break, making a quick fire to boil the water you just filled from a stream was common sense.
Coffee or tea was the preferred way to flavor the water for everyone who could get it. It has been that way for centuries.
Add to that, when you smell and taste really fresh coffee, you understand too. It’s that blanket of comfort a hot cup of aromatic coffee provides.
A Cowboys Wisdom
Tom also taught me something else I’ll never forget. He ran the pool hall in my home town of Sunray, Texas. Often, when there appeared to be no make-able shot on the pool table, scoffers would ponder the impossibility of a shot and taunt “There’s no shot! Not a chance!”
It was to those without the vision that Tom would slowly, casually drawl, “Don’t need no shape, if you’re a shooter!” That simple phrase seems to apply more often and in more and more circumstances. It’s a fact of life!
Thanks Tom…and, where’d you get those beans?
- J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Collin County in North Texas. Advertise with J.B. by calling 469-334-9962.