Debbie Matthews: I dream of coffee

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 03:41 PM

Note to readers: The following was produced under the influence of the flu, and flu medication. Maybe. Or maybe this entire thing is a fever dream. But when Cher and Ben Franklin came by earlier to play ping-pong for Archie comics, they both enjoyed it.

Looking back, I guess I’d have to say it’s all Sarah Foster’s fault.
When The Kid was in kindergarten at Morehead Montessori School (909 Cobb St.), we stumbled upon Foster’s one Saturday while exploring the school’s neighborhood.
Each weekend I would expand my little one’s world with mommy-and-me tandem adventures. Petey called it getting a rambunctious 5-year-old out of the house for a while so he could sleep.
At the time of the discovery, I was working at the book store. I was seduced by the cool food and by how much fun everyone at Foster’s seemed to be having.
When I saw they were hiring, I began considering the switch.
I really wanted to cook, and learn, feed people.
I didn’t have the experience to go into the kitchen and start cooking, but I figured before long I’d be cooking away and sharing recipes with Sarah.
My new boss was a very nice lady, but we were entering the holidays, and she needed a cashier; not an apprentice.
When I was off the clock I was allowed to hang out in the kitchen and soak up what I could as long as I didn’t get in the way.
Working there was a barista, I think his name might have been Christian. He administered coffee near me at the register.
I called him Aggy. The nickname had something to do with Agamemnon, a Mycenaen prince during the Trojan war — I think.
He was funny and kind to this frustrated cashier wallflower.
I teased him about the French poodle types that ordered his concoctions.
One day after the lunch rush he made me a drink.
I lifted the ceramic mug up to my face and a smoky, warm caramel cloud flew me to Willie Wonka’s after-hours club.
I was a complete goner. Even after returning to my job with Bosco and the world of the printed word, a large percentage of my calories came from these embarrassing, expensive compounds.
Since it’s been so unseasonably cool I’ve been downing them like a freshman facing midterms.
And, in a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan that nobody saw coming, I have a few opinions.
Fosters is my caffeinated mother’s milk. It is my baseline. An objective assessment there is impossible for me.
Starbucks is the plain pockets jeans of the coffee world. If you’re wondering whether the zombie apocalypse has arrived, pay attention to the faceless horde queued up for their mocchachinos one Thursday afternoon.
If Stephanie is brewing at Whole Foods you can score a yummy fancified coffee. She won’t let you leave until you sigh with delight.
If Stephanie isn’t around, quality can be uncertain. Either way, their espresso roast is somewhat bitter.
My best, all-round coffee is a bit of a dark horse. Sheetz.
At around three bucks, they’re the cheapest. They make four or five gillion a day, so they are gods of consistency.
I love the interactive order screens, but they are also the source of Sheetz’s biggest flaw. You can order extra flavor, but to cut back on ingredients, you must discern your potential barrista and request a change.
The employees are unfailingly nice and helpful, but trying to identify and chat up that one particular over-burdened, worker feels scarily, shamefully like asking a boy at the CYO function to dance a slow one.
After 10 cups of Sheetz, though, the 11th one is free. Brilliant.
But for complete fulfillment of the senses, for the best example of a skim, half-caramel, full-sugar, no-foam latte; the one I want to be sipping when I’m fresh out of the shower, The Kid’s on speaker phone, and the mocking of GrizzliGator is about to commence.
It’s all about Bean Traders (714 Ninth St). Each sip transports you into an art nouveau illustration of swirling amber tendrils and beautiful, brunette women.
Those folks know from coffee, but the shop’s floor is treacherous. If I got a free latte every 10th time I stumbled in there, I’d have been drinking for free since ’93.
Without even trying, I can be remarkably dim. But I was thinking. All those random jobs I had in and out of the food biz prepared me for this column.
I wouldn’t write quite the same way if I hadn’t worked at that crazy German family deli. My voice would be very different if the chefs at North Ridge Country Club weren’t so generous with their expertise.
Stuff happens and then other stuff happens.
So that’s the lesson, I guess.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is