a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

The bluelander guide to enjoying coffee

I'm making another solid attempt at cutting sugary fizzy drinks out of my diet, because it's poison. Switching to "diet" soda isn't an option for me, because it's a different kind of poison. Thus, I'm trying to incorporate more varieties of beverage into my diet. One project has been trying and ranking different kinds of flavored seltzer, which you can read about on yonder website. Another project has been cultivating an appreciation for coffee.

I've had a complicated relationship with coffee. My parents drank it, and I always loved the smell whenever it was brewing, but every time they offered to let me try a little bit, I always regretted it. It didn't taste the way it smelled. Eventually, I watched the episode of Good Eats about coffee and learned how important preparation is to making it palatable. I enjoyed the taste of coffee from reputable providers (back when I was still going to cafes) but I never quite made the jump to preparing it myself.

Part of this is an aversion to hot drinks in general, and I've finally figured out what I've been doing wrong my whole life: I've been drinking while holding the mug by the handle.

The handle isn't for drinking! It's so obvious now. It's for transporting the coffee to the location where you're going to be drinking it. Picking the mug up by the handle means the only way to judge whether it's cool enough to drink is by taking experimental sips, which means the first part of drinking hot coffee always involved repeatedly scalding myself. As you might expect, this created a "coffee = pain" association in my brain, and it's taken a long time for me to shake it off. I've finally cracked the code: I don't take a drink until I can wrap my fingers around the mug and keep them there without discomfort.

When I took experimental sips, it created a nasty feedback loop of anxiety: I very, very slowly and carefully lift the mug to my mouth. I barely let the liquid touch my lips. If it's still scalding, my involuntary reaction was to jerk the mug away from my face, which caused the coffee to slosh onto my mouth and hand, causing more pain. Which made me even more anxious about the next sip. I'd get so anxious that I would let it sit an absurdly long time, until I was 100% sure it wouldn't hurt me, and then I was drinking cold coffee. Cold-brewed coffee is good, but hot-brewed coffee that's cooled to room temperature is one of the worst things one can put in their mouth. Not using the handle ensures that I can drink it at the perfect temperature without the pain.

So that's drinking figured out, what about preparation? There's only one way to make great coffee,1 and it's a hassle: you have to buy freshly roasted beans, grind them yourself immediately before preparation, boil water, and slowly pour the water over the coffee grounds through a filter until it's all gone through. This sucks for a lot of reasons. You have to buy a coffee grinder. You have to clean a coffee grinder. You have to buy an airtight container to store your coffee beans in, you have to use them before they go stale, you have to re-up your bean supply on a regular basis, you have to deal with coffee ground cleanup.

We've invented a bunch of modern conveniences to make the process simpler, and none of them will make a great cup of coffee. But some of them will make a good cup of coffee. What's considered good will vary by personal taste and preference, but the one I've settled on is the most convenient and least messy form of preparation: instant.

Instant coffee has gotten a bad rap, but I googled "what's the best instant coffee", and after you filter out the expensive fancy-label brands, the consensus seems to be that Folgers Classic Roast is the one to get. I've been drinking it, and in my opinion, it's pretty good. Is it as good as freshly ground pour-over coffee? No, but none of the compromises are going to measure up to that standard. It's better than a lot of pre-ground drip coffee I've had, and it's certainly as good or better than the machines that use those awful single-use plastic coffee pods.

It couldn't be simpler. I put about two teaspoons of coffee crystals in a mug, I boil 12 ounces of water in an electric kettle,2 I pour, and I stir. I wait for it to cool down a bit, then I stir in about a tablespoon of half-and-half (20 calories.) I don't need to add sugar, but you can if you like; you won't come close to needing as much sugar as they cram into soda.

I use the touch test described above to know when it's ready to drink. I drink it. Cleanup is as simple as rinsing the mug so it doesn't get stained, then washing it at my convenience. In conclusion, there are ways to make coffee, and it's not the worst thing you could be drinking 🦝


  1. that is to say, there's only one way to make great hot coffee; in my opinion, cold-brew is by far better than any of the hot preparation methods, but the hours it requires to be ready means it's not a viable option for my ADHD.↩

  2. if you're not from the US you already know this, but my one piece of purchasing advice is this: get an electric kettle. I paid 20 bucks for mine a decade ago and it's still going strong, and having a fast and easy way to boil water is infinitely useful.↩

#anxiety #beverages #coffee #hacks