“Why do you even order coffee anymore?” My better half and I had just settled in to a table at one of those “country-store” restaurants that dot the interstates these days. This one happens to be just a few minutes from home, and was a lazy Sunday afternoon’s alternative to both cooking and the shopping trip that cooking would require. I’d just taken a sip from the steaming cup in front of me, and was pondering its flavors. “You’re not going to like it,” my wife sighed. “It’s not going to be anything like you make at home. So why do you insist on ordering coffee out?”

The cup, while served hot, reasonably strong and obviously fresh-brewed, was nonetheless flat, and tasted faintly of toasted cereal. Almost certainly Maxwell House. I tried [and likely failed] to not make a face. You know… that face. That crinkled nose, pursed lip, gack face. I took a sip of water.

“I’d like to think,” I said, “that I’m optimistic.”

Optimistic, that is, despite the fact that I can count on one hand the restaurants I know that serve a good cup of coffee. Fewer still that serve a good cup every time. Houlihan’s is a reasonable bet. So are Fiorello’s barbecue joints. The Hereford House always has great coffee, and a recent dinner at Tellers’ in Lawrence turned up a Central American blend so aromatic and flavorful that it challenged me to do as well with my own….

So yeah, I’m optimistic. And every now and then I’m rewarded with an experience that inspires me. Mostly, though, I just really like coffee. And sometimes, like a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re preparing to tackle a heaping plate of comfort food, even a merely tolerable cup is better than none at all.

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