Heeeey, I'm back!* This blog is about how to eat good on bitch money.

*This is a lie.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conventional eating, part III: maintenance coffee

Obviously it's inconvenient to have to keep returning to your room at intervals throughout the day to do surgery on the crappy little coffee packets for your in-room set-up; you need to be down there on the floor learning, growing, networking! Presenting and being presented to! Who knows what life-changing PowerPoint slide might flit by while you're waiting for the elevator, what hottie you've been following with your eyes all weekend might duck into what breakout session on what subtopic of what plenary theme.

Usually as long as you jump start with one solid, strong cup of your own stuff in the morning you can make do with the convention coffee in the big urns they stick out in the mill-around areas outside the dimly lit, freezing cold little minitheaters where the PowerPoint lurks. But sometimes you can't because the convention coffee is spectacularly bad or because they're stingy with it.

In that situation, you need to know how to pass*.

First, understand that it is not possible that there is NO good coffee anywhere in the tower. Somewhere, somebody, guest or host, is enjoying something hot and strong and black and delicious. It's only the conventioneers that are being served the tepid brownwater. So you shake off your conventioneer skin and you go and get some of the good stuff, and you don't pay for it.

This takes some pre-planning.

Soon after you arrived at the hotel, as you were riding up to your floor with your luggage, did the kindly porter say, "Are you here for the convention?" Of course. And what did you say? Water under the bridge now, of course, but what you ought to have said is, "Oooo, what convention? How exciting!" And then you ought to have tipped the porter as lavishly as possible.

When you unpacked those bags. What did you find inside? Not drab conventionwear, please. The look you want to aim for is upscale and relaxed. Your clothes need to say "on my honeymoon!" or "ready to shop!" or "please direct me to the humidor!" Bring along one convention blazer to put on over your resortwear and render it network-appropriate.

When you descended and registered for this sojourn in corporate limbo, they handed you a pile of badswag. A name tag, an ugly shoulder bag, a stack of literature, possibly a logo-slathered beer coozey or potmetal lapel pin. Most of this stuff should be shoved somewhere out of sight and left there forever, but you are usually required to carry the name tag around. The name tag marks you as Someone Undeserving. Put it on your convention blazer. Carry--do not wear--your convention blazer down to the convention floor and find a place to stash it when you wish to leave the convention floor. Behind a potted palm. In the drop ceiling in one of the restrooms. You will wear it ONLY when you are at play in the fields of the lord of PowerPoint. It will not leave that area until you are ready to pack to go home. Jettison the shoulder bag they give you immediately. Throw it into the hotel pool. You must not carry it, not now, not ever. You will have brought something appropriate to put your various printed-out PowerPoint shows and other essential convention claptrap in. Something that says, "Could you get me a taxi to the theater district?" rather than screaming, "I'm the kind of Willy Loman who will wear any godawful thing, as long as it's free!"

When you go down in the morning, take along a mug from your hotel room (because the room mugs are branded separately from the public area mugs; the public area mugs make you look like a conventioneer) and stash it where you stash your blazer. When you're ready to go for coffee, ditch the blazer, grab the mug and stroll, don't stride, to the restaurant or bar area--wherever they have the good stuff. If you can't find the urn and serve yourself, feel free to ask a hotel lackey--look affable and slightly drowsy and explain that you can't drink the stuff in the room, or better yet, your new spouse can't, so you're down here on a mission. Grin ruefully during the explanation phase and both thank and tip effusively upon receiving satisfaction. (Don't get in a swivet about all the tipping I'm recommending because no matter what, you're spending less than you'd spend if you had to pay Starbucks every day.) Do this regularly and they will allow you to fill your own cup or thermos from home, if you had the foresight to bring one.

*From the OED: pass, v. 43. intr. d. To be accepted as or believed to be, or to represent oneself successfully as, a member of an ethnic or religious group other than one's own, esp. one having higher social status; spec. (of a person of black ancestry in a racially segregated society) to be accepted as white. Later also: (of a transsexual) to be accepted as a member of a different sex.
1929 N. LARSEN Passing II. ii. 38 ‘I see. They were “passing” too.’ ‘No. They weren't. They were white.’ 1953 E. H. BROOKES S. Afr. in Changing World vii. 147 Because of the permutations of nature, a coloured man white enough to ‘pass’ can have children or grandchildren who look ‘Coloured’. 1963 M. MCCARTHY Group xiv. 319 ‘Freddy's parents were trying to pass,’ she went on sombrely. ‘Like so many rich German Jews.’ 1994 City Life 24 Aug. 61 The author documents hundreds of cases of individual women who lived most of their adult lives as menwomen who managed to ‘pass’ in all kinds of situations.

1 comment:

Robin P said...

Triple Nom-er, I guess you are learning how to "pass" as a blogger (grin).

Re coffee away from home, there are several alternatives to simply using the hotel room's crummy, little coffeemaker, although we don't want to throw out the mechanical baby with the hot water it produces, for reasons to be specified later.

None of these methods are without their hassles and problems, but if you want more than one or two cups of coffee better than you will find in most motel/hotels while you are away from home, try one, or several of them.

a) pack your #2 Melitta plastic filter cone and a supply of #2 filters with you, along with your Ziplock© bag of better coffee. Use the hotel coffeemaker to make the hot water you need to pour through the Melitta© cone. This method makes better coffee than the standard Mr. Coffee© style coffeemaker because, if you use Uncle Robbie's so-called "single extraction method (patent pending)", the coffee is smoother and less harsh. This method consists of using more coffee and only pouring water through it (carefully) once. Then dilute your strong, thick results with hot water, to taste.

b) Or pack a portable French press or French pot with you. There are metal travel versions of such coffeemakers, which are less prone to breakage than the glass models. Again use the hotel's coffeemaker for hot water. Uncle Robbie (= UR) does not like French press coffee, which is really just American "cowboy coffee" made in a pretty flask with a fancy plunger in it. Leave it to the French to pretty up throwing grounds in a tin pan. UR finds this coffee too oily, and the coffee oil's contents gives him heartburn. Yes, the paper filters DO DO something besides act as a holder for hot, wet coffee grounds! Pay attention. The devil is always in the details.

As an aside, Uncle Robbie has also decided that the French and Italians over-roast their coffee, which burns away many of the unique characteristics in any particular country's coffee. The so-called French and Italian roasts are NOT types of coffee, but are methods of roasting. These methods are suitable for less desirable coffees because they produce a burnt, carmelized coffee taste no matter where the coffee is from. The French and Italians are old-school tasters, who tend to be coffee heathens.

c) pack an Aerobie hybrid-method coffee maker with you, with a few of its special filters, and use the same hotel coffee maker source of hot water to make your coffee.

Aerobie coffeemaker, you ask? Has Uncle Robbie lost his mind? No, dear reader, this device exists, costs about $35, and is supposed to make decent coffee economically. It appears to use a smaller amount of very finely ground (= espresso grind) coffee. Ignore the fact that its manufacturer insists on calling it an espresso maker, which it is NOT. Find a review and picture of it here:


Copy and paste this link in a blank browser page address bar. It is to a South African gadget site, but the device is made in the U.S. by the Frisbee folks. Its owner/inventor studied different coffee brewing methods and came up with this one. He recommends using water at 176 degrees Fahrenheit (= 80 C). This seems too cool to me, but he says he tried hotter water, too. UR is interested in tasting coffee made by this method, but never has done so, yet.

Yes, it will be very difficult for you to achieve this temperature without a thermometer with you, but know that is quite a bit cooler than the usual 195 to 205 degrees F (= "off-boil temperature") recommended for the drip method of coffee making. I will leave it to you to figure out how to achieve this water temperature, if you desire to do so. Or make it at off-boil temp and see how you like it. if you really want to complicate the process (UR specializes in doing this), you could bring a special thermometer with you. Yes, there is such a thing as a travel food thermometer, believe me.

d) many reading this blog, or at least the two people who actually do read it, may be asking themselves, Uncle Robbie, what if the motel room has no coffee maker in it that I can use as a source of hot water? What do I do then?

O.K., you could bring a small electric kettle with you, or you could bring one of those dangerous cup heaters that college students used to use, and that may still be sold somewhere or another (campus drugstores?). These are heating elements that plug into the wall and are shaped like two coils of fat wire encased in metal tubing, which is exactly what they are. You would need to heat the water in another cup, and pouring from a cup is a messy proposition. You could pack a small, measuring cup with you for such a purpose. Make certain it will handle hot temperatures.

There is a pricey version of the electric kettle that has a temperature-setting adjustment on its side. I saw one of these for about $40 online. And one of the standard manufacturers makes one for about $20. I used to own one of these. It may have been made by Sunbeam©, or at least branded by them. Almost all stuff is made in China, Korea or Viet Nam nowadays. Wally's World has a non-adjustable electric kettle for $18. These would be a bit bulky to pack, but it IS doable.

e) If you are away for more than a few days, consider buying a bag of better coffee wherever you find yourself. Wally's World, aka, Wal_mart, which is a favorite store of Nom Chomsky's, has 12 ounce bags of Starbucks© coffee (yummm!) for about $7 to $9. Compare this price to what you will pay in a Starbucks coffee shop for single cups of coffee.

Larger metropolitan areas will have fancy restaurant supply and gourmet food shops which may also have pricey, good coffee in them.

f) you could consider buying into the most expensive, but convenient way to make coffee. I am speaking of the newer "coffee pod" coffee-making methods. Anytime anybody individually wraps any food item for you, they are going to charge you for doing so. Coffee is no different. There are some very good coffee companies, such as the Illy coffee company, which will be more than happy to sell you good coffee put into little filter pods. Google for "Illy coffee pods", or simple "coffee pods". Here is one link for you:


There are some portable coffee makers made which use such pods.

Push come to shove, if you don't want to bother with any of the above methods, ask where the nearest Starbucks is. Chances are it is quite close, perhaps even right next door to your hotel. (That is supposed to be a humorous comment, so laugh, please.) Or look for any college-style coffeehouse. Ask where the nearest one might be. Who knows you might get lucky with a co-ed while in there. Your trip could be memorable for an entirely different reason after that.