“Honey, That’s a great cup of coffee”

Springtime on Mt. Tamalpais. Oak branch on the Dipsea Trail, 2012

Good evening fellow hikers and mountain people, springtime is upon us here in Northern California, and I look forward to a wonderful season of hiking, both locally and in my beloved Sierras.  Today I enjoyed a wonderful hike to the top of  Mt. Tam from the Mountain Home Inn/Throckmorton Fire House. Then I continued on to West Point Inn and back to my truck via the Nora and Matt Davis trails. Tomorrow: Mt. Diablo (and photos!)

Today I share an excerpt from ‘The Mount Whitney Journals – Book I – 1998’. For all of my writing about the topic of coffee in the six books/chapters, I can almost subtitle the book ‘The Coffee Manifesto’. I do love my coffee. Because this is my first trip to Mt. Whitney, and I’ve done almost no camping in my life as of 1998, I don’t own a stove (my companions, Mike Gibbons and Mike Galli don’t either). This means that once we get to our campsite at the Whitney Portal, we’ll be drinking only water and Gatorade. Minutes before leaving the town of Lone Pine for the 13-mile drive to the campground, I walk out of Joseph’s Bi-rite, look down Main Street and see a coffee house. I experience the same feeling that Bedouins feel upon seeing an oasis in the desert. 

A proper espresso (Nice, France, 2000)


Thursday morning, August 6, 1998. Lone Pine, CA

Caffeine Hannah’s, a block south of Whitney Portal Road, has a big sign in the window advertising espresso and cappuccino. I am skeptical. I’ve been led astray many times before by quaint and not-so-quaint coffee joints announcing proudly that they carry so-called ‘gourmet’ roasts, blends or brews, any trick in the book to lure some coffee-chugging-Starbucks (or Peets)-refugee-shmuck in and drop a buck-and-a-half on some foul, watered-down Folgeresque liquid. In spite of past disappointments, to the consternation of Galli, who’s been preaching the gospel of hydration (and the avoidance of diuretics), I walk down the street and decide to give Caffeine Hannah’s a chance. At least the owners spelled ‘espresso’ correctly. Had the sign read ‘expresso’, I would’ve done an about face.

As I enter, the place looks promising, as though it has been transplanted from downtown Berkeley or Santa Cruz. I can almost visualize Abbie Hoffman or a group of college students sitting cross-legged on the floor, carrying on lofty discussions as Ravi Shankar plays on the hi-fi. Instead there are four other customers inside, a mom and her three kids, not a tie-dyed counter-culture subversive in sight. As I step in line behind the family, the mother politely allows me to go ahead of them while they decide what they want.

I’ve just stepped forward and ordered a large decaf brewed coffee, when I hear the door open and Gibbons walks in smiling, also throwing his hydration cares to the wind. As Mike approaches, we look at each other, shrug and start laughing. It’s a mutual admission that this is what and who we are. I envision Galli on the mountain tomorrow, standing over mine and Gibbons’ bodies, collapsed and desiccated on the side of the trail, a mere two hundred yards from the summit, a condescending smirk on his face, admonishing us as the two of us lay prostate and delirious from dehydration, gasping and from our sun-blistered lips, with final anguished and raspy whispers, as we utter the word ‘Sumatra’.

It’s a risk I knowingly accept and embrace. For now, I’m only concerned with the cup of coffee I have in hand, hoping it won’t be too offensive. I take the cup to the condiment station, and upon inspection, it passes the first sensory test, visual. It looks adequately strong without appearing oily or cloudy, or looking as though it’s been sitting in a pot since the Nixon administration. The second test, smell, is likewise successfully passed. Next is a secondary visual test, the reaction to the addition of cream. Again the brew is up to the challenge, turning a rich terra cotta orange-brown. Finally, it’s time for the only test that matters. As I swallow the first sip, a smile spreads across my face as if I’ve just recognized an old friend. It’s a fantastic cup of coffee. While not quite the caliber of Peet’s, it’s far superior to Starbucks, and just slightly above Spinelli’s in San Francisco and New World Coffee on Lower Broadway in Manhattan. It rates as the biggest surprise of the trip so far.

The evolution of my Whitney coffee experience. Blue Bottle and Milanos from trip #6 in 2010

(note: sadly, Caffeine Hannah’s in Lone Pine is no more. While driving back through the eastern Sierras in the summer of 2000, I stopped in Lone Pine and was saddened to see a real estate office in its place. But good coffee can still be found in town at Espresso Parlor on Main Street)

About victorvolta

I am a freelance photographer/writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the very suburban city of Santa Clara. Education: San Jose State University (class of '84) BA degree in Journalism with concentrations in Photojournalism and English. Favorite Foods: Ribeye steaks and Stan's Doughnuts (separate plates, usually). Favorite Drinks: Strong gourmet coffee and Trader Joe's Blood Orange Italian Soda (separate cups).
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3 Responses to “Honey, That’s a great cup of coffee”

  1. ewa says:

    Love the leading pic.
    Picky about your coffee, aren’t you? 🙂 After I come down Whitney, I don’t care what I drink.

  2. Awesome! I was looking at a catalogue the other day for camping and was surprised by how many different campsite coffee specialties in existence. French presses sound nice though I’m not sure how practical. Hope the coffee was amazing!

    • victorvolta says:

      Greg, thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment. French press is practical for car camping, less so for backpacking. I’ve gone from using a Biale espresso maker (makes for a strong, burned cup), to French press, and now I just use a simple manual drip. From a taste standpoint, my favorite is the drip.

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