Thursday, August 1, 2013

RAGBRAI 2013: A coffee snoot's dilemma, Pt. 2

Photo by Richard Masoner/Flickr
This is the second and final post on my thought experiment/journaling last week while riding my bike across the state of Iowa on RAGBRAI. See part one.

RAGBRAI Day 2: Mon. July 22; Perry, IA

I'm writing from the house of an extraordinarily hospitable Presbyterian minister, a colleague-of-a-collueague-of-a-pastor/friend...the kind of connections you make when trying to secure your own overnight stays for RAGBRAI. We didn't know this lady one little bit before tonight but she's treating us like royalty, even with her difficulty getting around due to health issues and simultaneously babysitting her adorable grandson. So grateful.

No entry for yesterday due to passing out from exhaustion, and I'm getting there tonight. Adventures in coffee snobbery continue: Yesterday on the route, just outside Council Bluffs, there was a Fair Trade and Organic coffee hut. All the magic words to which coffee snoots swoon! The place was called "Fair Shot" (cute). But I passed it by; the guilt of Day 0 was still too close at hand. Later, my sister-in-law expressed her being impressed by my self-control. I didn't tell her it was based in shame.

This morning, though, I had a hankerin' for Good Coffee. We left Elk Horn... (We stayed there instead of the official overnight town of Harlan because we have family there. We ended up riding 10 extra miles the first day and 10 fewer miles the next. So we kinda cheated.) - Anyway, we left Elk Horn just before 6am this morning and got to our mid-point of Guthrie Center around 9am. Due to said cheating we were very early, and there were very few cyclists in the vendor village set up in the city park at the edge of town. I only found one vendor selling coffee, and I hovered there, consulting with Erin - who was at that point supportive of my quest for Good Coffee.

A few teenaged boys working the stand, watching me hover, asked me if I wanted anything. "Um...aaah...what kind of coffee do you have?"

Confused (uh oh, here we go), one of the teenage kids picked up a bag of beans and said the name of some roaster I'd never heard of (at least it wasn't Folgers, but I still took this as a bad sign). Meanwhile, as I hmmed and hawed, an older woman - one of the boys' mother, I presumed - came out of the sweet Airstream trailer they were using and asked me what I was looking for in a coffee. (Also meanwhile, the boys began dumping carafes from a Bunn maker into huge Igloo water coolers; yet another bad sign.)

"Uh, I like a dark roast...," I ventured, knowing this was not going to end well and feeling like more and more of an a-hole by the second. One of the boys piped up, innocently, "I think this is dark. You'll like it!" (Ah, bless the innocence and charity of Midwestern youth!)

The older woman - who was taller than me and pretty in a matronly way - offered to go get me a sample, returning a minute later with a large styrofoam cup with about the bottom 1/4 filled with coffee that I could tell by sight and a quick smell would not be to my liking. As the tall/pretty lady handed me the cup she said, "We're doing the best we can with what we have..." and immediately walked back into the Airstream.


She couldn't have hit me any harder. She might as well have kneed me in the nads, except for that wouldn't have hurt as much. There I stood: A coffee snoot in a small town where they - like my own small town a few counties due east - do not have to cater to city slickers with picky tastes, and there I was insulting the laid back country folk of which I claim to supposedly be one...

So what did I do? Took a sip (yep, shitty coffee all right) - and walked over to a giant trash barrel and sheepishly tossed it in, styrofoam cup and all (after first looking over my shoulder to ensure no one was watching me from the vendor's table). The yuppie guilt was crushing.

Ah well, nothing another 40 miles on a bike can't absolve. Plus, tomorrow night we're overnighting in Des Moines, capital of both the state and coffee snootdom; and at my brother's house no less, a haven of coffee snootery...

Day 3: Tue. July 23; Des Moines, IA (written ex post facto)

Woke up in Perry at our host's house and she'd made a hearty breakfast, before our short ride to Des Moines. Wow, this stranger/Christian sister is awesome. She made Folgers. I drank it happily and without complaint or irony, and it was good. My snootiness is apparently a psychological affliction that came come and go based on circumstances. Circumstances such as: Having too much time and capacity to brood. It was morning, too early for brooding in the first place, and we had a day's ride to start.

Day 4: Wed. July 24; Knoxville, IA (ex post facto)

Got up this morning in Des Moines and drank whatever was in the pot at my brother's place. It was all right/not great, didn't care. It was off to Knoxville via my childhood stomping grounds: the Prairie City Church of the Brethren, 5 miles south of my hometown of P.C., and a stop in Monroe, where I went to high school and spent much of my childhood weekends on our family's farm NE of town. This is the day I blasted my mother-in-law in the face with a firehose, but that's another story...

Day 5: Thurs. July 25; Oskaloosa, IA (e.p.f.)

No coffee, but did see the Fair Shot hut on the route yet again. Erin asked me if I wanted to stop but I said, "Nope. Maybe tomorrow," as we breezed by...

Day 6: Fri. July 26; Fairfield, IA

"Fair Trade. Organic. Shade Grown." - The words of institution for coffee snobs, printed on Fair Shot's menu! We have full coffee transubstantiation! Prepare for divine caffeine presence in your corporeal body!

After five days of waiting I finally pulled off this morning at the Fair Short Coffee hut on the route, first seen outside Council Bluffs on the other side of the state and most days since. It was, as usual, a happenin' spot, and the line was long but moving at a decent pace. Erin was supportive of stopping; I'd shown restraint all week as we repeatedly passed the place.

Despite her support today, she still took the time to rightly poke fun at the intense snootery going on (especially the "shade grown" thing, which was completely foreign to her and *sigh* I knew what it was about...and explained it). She was sarcastic, that is, until she saw that they also had a selection of snooty tea (her weakness). Deal. Everyone's happy.

Seven dollars later (it's RAGBRAI, everything's expensive) we were sipping on our hot bevs, with our butts planted on the cross-bars of our bikes, a posture we'd mastered over the course of the week. All around us, we noticed that folks resting with their strong drinks were more laid back, and generally more smiley and conversational. The sacred moment now past (getting your shaky hands on the drink, taking those first sublime sips), we were now in fellowship time at coffee church.

Two guys from Chicagoland stopped and commented on how amazing the coffee was at this particular vendor. ("Best on the route," I heard in passing a number of times throughout the week.) Being fellow snoots, I regaled them with my waiting-all-week-for-this-coffee! story (the extremely condensed, one-sentence version; i.e. - not this version). And I had to agree with them: It was indeed, finally, Good Coffee.

Surveying Fair Shot's operation, I was impressed by their water heating station, followed by their grinding, brewing, and pressing station, with the sweet brown bean water then being poured into small carafes for quick pouring at the sales counter. All stations actively staffed; craft meets technique, for maximum efficiency and enjoyment. No pre-ground Folgers pap, no flavor-robbing Bunn makers, no giant Igloo cattle waterers. None of that b.s. at Fair Shot! Nope, this was the Real Deal, y'all: Certified coffee freaks doing their labor of love for bicycling coffee lovers/snoots. And I was there, membership card in hand. Shit, was it great!

Later, around noon, we pulled into our overnight town here, Fairfield, which has a rich snoot culture of its own - strange, for a smallish town in rural SE Iowa; see the wiki link for why this is. Anyway, we found a bar just off the square. Walking in, feeling confident at the beer possibilities, I looked into their bottle cooler and saw a fine assortment of craft beers, including Peace Tree, based in a previous overnight town, Knoxville. (Sadly, I didn't get to the brewery while in Knoxville; next time...).

Here I was again, though, in my snootish element. Lord have mercy, was it good beer.

Final Day: Sat. July 26; Ft. Madison, IA; Mississippi River (e.p.f.)

No coffee, though in the penultimate town of West Point, I did have a bottle of PBR (hipster = snoot) and two amazing fried tacos at 9:30 in the morning, after riding hard since before sunrise out of Fairfield. At that point, it really does to your body feel like noon/lunchtime/beer-thirty, so don't give me any guff about a.m. beers.

Peace, I'm out. Back to Toledo...

No comments:

Post a Comment