The Coffee Manifesto – or what the hell does ‘venti’ mean?

The evolution of coffee (& cookies)

The evolution of coffee (& cookies)

April 24, 2013 

Those who know me, know that I am a coffee snob. I’ll date someone who voted for Romney or one of the Bushes before I date someone who drinks Yuban, Sanka or, God forbid, gas station coffee. (ok, perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but you get my point) I’ve covered the topic of coffee at length and possibly ad nauseum in ‘The Mount Whitney Journals’. My most pointed criticism is directed at Starbucks, the McDonalds of coffee. My barbs are almost as acidic as the crap they brew. When and if the book gets published, the first few spots in the book signing line will no doubt be taken by Starbucks’ lawyers. I haven’t done an excerpt blog entry for a while, so today I share what I feel are some of my better coffee-related diatribes and monologues.

The Mount Whitney Journals – Book IV – 2007

background: I’m camping with my brother Phil and good friend, Richard at the Whitney Portal. I’m up early with the chirping birds and make a pot of coffee in our French press pot enjoying the cold mountain air among the pines.                                                          

 Cup of coffee in hand, I hold it to my nose to savor the smell. Even with damaged sinuses and a compromised sense of smell, the aroma is wonderful. As I envision the invisible coffee molecules wafting across the campsite, I almost expect Richard and Phil to emerge from their tents as though we’re in a Folger’s commercial. The one in which the son, just arrived from college or possibly prison, wakes everyone in the house by brewing a pot of coffee and the camera shows mom & dad, sister, dog and parole officer rising from their beds with smiles, perfect hair and make-up and guns drawn as the smell of crappy supermarket coffee permeates the house.

Book VI -2010

I also devote a lot of words to doughnuts and even include a chapter called ‘The Doughnut Manifesto’ in Book VI, the year I made it to the summit. In the midst of this particular excerpt, I’m able to insult two major corporations in the same paragraph. 

The paragon of doughnuts: Stans (Santa Clara)

The paragon of doughnuts: Stans (Santa Clara)

The biggest disappointment by far was the much-hyped Krispy Kreme doughnut (a.k.a. sweetened Styrofoam disc). Long before I tried one – given how big and corporate the company was – I was skeptical. It turns out that the skepticism was well deserved. The first time I bit into one in ’05 or ’06, I literally laughed at how bad it was. From that first bite, I regarded it as the Starbucks of the doughnut world.

Also from Book VI: As coffee has become ever more gourmet and considered by many to require serious craft, unfortunately, so too has the self-importance the baristas. In this short paragraph, I’m able to both praise Starbucks while, at the same time, delivering a backhanded insult. The best of both worlds! After six attempts and 12 long years, I’m finally nearing the summit and I hand over the camera so Mike can document my arrival.

There’s no need for me to feel as though I need to give Mike a head start to allow him to get in position. My pace when I resume climbing gives him a natural advantage. If I moved any slower, I might be mistaken for one of the pierced and tattooed baristas at Blue Bottle’s Mint Plaza store. For all my barbs over the years, one thing I’ll give credit to Starbucks for, is that while they might serve bad coffee, at least they do it quickly, efficiently and with great enthusiasm.


And another short praise/insult excerpt, also from Book VI. I’m sitting in the back of my truck at my June Lake campground sipping coffee while thunderstorms bloom around the Sierra high country all around me.

While thunder continues to rumble nearby, I sit in the back of my truck with an amazing cup of Blue Bottle coffee. If they serve coffee in heaven, this is what they serve. As for the indifferent and aloof baristas employed by Blue Bottle, who act as though they’re curing cancer and treat customers like Folger’s freeze-dried coffee, they will be consigned to the never-ending flames of hell.

My June Lake campground

My June Lake campground

Book V – 2009 

I suppose I do a lot of mudslinging. I’ve bad mouthed Bakersfield, California a few times, comparing it to an armpit, Mos Isley Spaceport (wretched hive of scum and villainy) and other unflattering metaphors and similes. As I learned on this cross-country drive while moving back to California from Florida, karma sucks. In the literal middle of nowhere Texas, I had a breakdown and had to wait hours for Budget Roadside assistance. 

November 2, 2007, Bakersfield, Texas.                                                                             My previous instances of insulting the town of Bakersfield, California have caught up with me. As a result, I now find myself sitting on a bench in this windswept Texas rest stop waiting for a mechanic to drive in from a nearby town to change a tire on the trailer I’m towing behind my rented moving truck. I just discovered the hard way that there’s a strong karmic connection between like named towns. Insult one and you insult all of them.

What scares me is that my Bakersfield insults have paled in comparison to the barbs I’ve directed at Starbucks over the past ten years. Heaven help me if there’s a town called Starbucks in New Mexico or Arizona on the road ahead. The ground might swallow me whole, including the truck and all my belongings. Or worse, I could be chased down and eaten by a large, excuse me, ‘Venti’, Gila monster.

Bakersfields and Starbucks

Bakersfield and Starbucks

Book III – 2005  One last excerpt from one of my solo trips. I’m again camping at the Whitney Portal and am considering having a second cup of coffee before I go on a short hike up the Meysan Lakes trail. My worry is that I might become dehydrated while I’m out on the trail, so I have a long internal argument. I’ve embellished a bit, turning it into almost a parable, using two of my best friends as characters. 

As much as I want more coffee with my breakfast, I don’t want to dehydrate myself before this morning’s hike, even though it’s going to be a short one. I struggle against the urge and an internal argument unfolds. I feel the conscience of Good Sensible Hiker, with the voice and face of Mike Galli seated on my right shoulder and dressed in white whispering into my ear, “Hydration! Hydration! Drink water or Cytomax!” (It’s difficult to whisper and use exclamations at the same time, but somehow, Good Sensible Hiker pulls it off).  On my left shoulder sits darkly garbed Bad Hiker in the personage of Mike Gibbons, telling me that if hundreds of shots of tequila and thousands of beers didn’t kill me, then one little 6-ounce cup of coffee isn’t going to do it. I’m here to celebrate, he says, and after ten years of sobriety I’ve certainly earned an extra cup of coffee with my French toast. It sounds convincing when he tells me that I can simply drink more water and electrolytes before and during the hike.

In a stunning upset, though, Sensibility wins out over Temptation and I refrain from a second cup. But rather than patting myself on the back, I remind myself that if Sensibility had a batting average in the Internal Argument League, it would be sitting on the bench. Temptation would be a perennial All-Star and first ballot Hall of Famer.

The Mikes (Galli - l; Gibbons - r) at the summit in 1998. It'll take 12 years, but I get there eventually

The Mikes (Galli – l; Gibbons – r) at the summit in 1998. It’ll take 12 years, but I get there eventually


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).
This entry was posted in Book III Excerpt - 2005, Book IV Excerpt - 2007, Book V Excerpt - 2009, Book VI Excerpt - 2010, Miscellaneous, Mt. Whitney (2011), Mt. Whitney (2012), Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Coffee Manifesto – or what the hell does ‘venti’ mean?

  1. Pingback: The Coffee Manifesto – or what the hell does ‘venti’ mean? | The Mountain Journals

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s