Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Coffee

I've decided to try something different today. I don't want you to get a wrong impression of me- after reading all I have to say about Cerebral Palsy, growing up with a disability, the traumatic experiences of my childhood, the years spent in Hungary, you may think that's all I ever talk about. In fact, before I started writing about it, although no doubt present in me it crossed my mind rarely and often it's my friends or readers who ask or provoke another post on the topic. You may think I'm very serious and focused all the time and while I'm very driven driven and mean business when I mean business, I love to laugh, I tend to be fun and sarcastic and I have a host of things I enjoy. While the image that the blog has helped me built may be helpful at what I'm trying to accomplish, it is also not entirely accurate. I've started this to show you that people like me can not only be educated and productive, but also  no different from anybody else. Quite a few people recently contacted me thinking that my recent posts seem depressive and that I need to lighten up. Then and there I decided that you really need to know more about me. From time to time I will write a bit about my passions. These include in no particular order, meeting strangers, grabbing drinks, karaoking although I rarely sing myself and coffee. Mmm... Coffee. Few things bring me more joy in the middle of a hectic day than a steaming milky drink with a shot of espresso. Getting out to Starbucks used to be a part of my daily routine until I realized I leave a small fortune there every month. I didn't like coffee growing up. My parents enjoyed a hot cup of the instant beverage a few times a day black, sweet and strong. When I say strong, I mean strong. It seemed to be half coffee, half water. As a child I always wondered, how something that makes such a great filling for chocolates and candies can taste so gross. As a young teen, I've enjoyed the roasted grain beverage Inka with milk, that was developed by the communist powers in Poland decades ago to emulate the taste during the coffee shortage crisis. Since then it became a popular family drink. On occassion, my mother would use regular instant coffee if we were out and that tasted fine. I didn't start drinking coffee on my own until one of the first chains opened up in Warsaw on the back of the Warsaw University Library and the Faculty of Law building. There was something about that hot drink with cinnamon and plenty of frothy milk with all the flavors that made me enjoy it because of its taste not in spite of it. It wasn't uncommon for me to spend 11, 12 hours a day in class with very little time to enjoy myself and unwind. In a crazy schedule you learn to enjoy small moments of joy, moments to yourself and crazy schedule.  In America, I discovered Starbucks. And energy drinks. More stress, more craziness. You will laugh when you read this, but when I was in taking my bar exam be in Tampa, New York or going up to DC I was lost, uncomfortable and lonely, but Starbucks seemed like one familiar thing everywhere I went. I knew what I would get and it looked pretty much the same everywhere I went, so for me it was the one place I'd go to get myself together and regroup. The energy drinks in the morning and late afternoon helped me power through. After hours of lectures a long break over a cappuccino or latte is something I looked forward to. Even till this day, first dates, catching up with all friend or business meetings happen over a cup of coffee. A close contender: PJ's a smaller, more intimate chain had a location next to where I have lived at the time with red couches and a New Orleans feel. Oh, for a few months there as I studied for the bar exam I was there every day all day long reading over a granita or a white chocolate cappuccino, sometimes they had to vacuum around me. Another favorite was Barnie's that had a number of coffee chains at malls designed to have that retro feel as you went inside. I'd go out of my way to stock up on their syrups, flavored teas, espresso mixers and a Holiday favorite- Santa's white Christmas. All of their US locations have been since bought out and replaced by Starbucks, but if I  get sentimental I get Santa's White Christmas online. The downside is the convenience of no hassle coffee making of having somebody prepare it for me is gone.   For the longest time, I've been looking for a way to repair my budget, because let's face it, you can almost get a sandwich for a price of a Starbucks drink these days. My parents have been bringing me Nescafe's instant espresso powder, that is not available in America, but that's not a money wise method to get coffee either, although delicious. So I decided to look into one cup coffee systems, because I'm not a big fan of drip drinks. A demonstration of the Verismo system at Starbucks made me want to get something entirely different. Their milk cartridge had that fake powdered sweet milk taste that I didn't enjoy at all. I saw a few ads for the Bosh/Kraft Foods venture Tassimo. I liked that you can make hot chocolate, tea hot and iced, drip and espresso, so I decided to get it.

 Let me be straight: It's not for everyone. My machine broke on the first day. Was spitting out water and rebooting itself randomly for the next few days. Fortunately it got itself to a point where it makes some drinks (after destroying a bunch of cartridges), because three weeks later, my order for replacement is still "processing". The customer service mixed up my orders twice. I was promised vouchers and refunds but that hasn't happened yet.  On one occasion I had to explain to the second operator what the first one had told me, because he couldn't grasp the concept that with a backordered item, my order was split into two shipments and then I got the wrong type of coffee anyway. The email support seems to do nothing but tell you to call the phone support. After Christmas I was told I'd get a call back from the refund division, hasn't happened yet. I'm still stuck with Ice Tea in the middle of December, while I ordered a Tim Horton's latte set. Every time you call, you wait and you wait and then you're transferred to three different people all of which want a spelling of your name. But a bit about the drinks. The boxes come with 16 cartridges called tdisks. If a drink require a creamer, the set makes 8 cups. If it's drip coffee, tea or one of the chocolates, it makes 16. What is supposed to be so revolutionary about this system is that it reads the bar codes and knows how much water, what brewing time and pressure to use. It makes the drinks very quickly. But it's not the best system if you have a disability like me and you can't see the top of the machine and you operate it from below. It takes a bit of practice to put the disk in the right way because there's nothing in there preventing it you from doing it wrong. You put one disk in, you wait to brew, you may add more water manually and you put the next disk in.  The problem with creamers is they start to spill from the machine even before you start brewing and you end up with a lot of sweet stuff on the bottom. If you press to add more, there's no indication on it to tell you if there's cream or chocolate still left inside or are you just watering it down.  I have no idea how one would add an additional shot of espresso. I like my latte and cappuccinos unsweetened unless they are flavored. All of the milk creamer disks are sweet which I don't mind so much, but then a lot of the sugar ends up on the bottom. And you can't stir it. The point of making a latte is having layers. I know it tells you to shake the disks before use, but it doesn't really work. Some syrups are just to thick. It's a shame that they didn't come up with a system that warms up the disk and shakes it up before use. At first I thought there was nothing about the machine that I liked. The competition has solutions that automatically remove the cartridge. Here you have to take the little container yourself, and it's upside down and may leak some leftover hot liquid.  I hate how you can't adjust strength or sweetness Now I'd say I like the hot chocolate drink, the  cappuccino creamer, while the caramel espresso improves the taste of the basic latte creamer. I don't like the one design fits all approach for drinks, but unless someone is willing to buy me a Nespresso Latissma that uses your own fresh milk, this is going to be my personal cafe for the next  few months! :)

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