There's a running gag at work and amongst my friends that I'm a terrible coffee snob. It's true. The coffee in the cafeteria, by my estimation, only barely qualifies as coffee. The addition of a Burgies in the lobby has made drinking the cafeteria coffee a thing of the past. I will stoop to drinking Folgers if need be, but there is no coffee emergency that necessitates drinking instant coffee. That's actually kind of funny because instant coffee is how I learned to drink coffee. The summer after I graduated from high school, my part time job at Center Pharmacy had morphed into a full-time summer job, complete with coffee breaks. One of the long-time employees had a method of making instant coffee that she swore made it taste like fresh brewed coffee. She maintained that if you boiled the water and poured just a little bit in over the top of the crystals and swirled it around really fast, it would "melt them" and make the final product indistinguishable from fresh brewed coffee. Never really having had fresh brewed coffee, I had nothing to compare it to so I believed her.
The last 20 years have taught me that she was full of shit. Nothing but nothing will make instant coffee taste like real coffee. It'll always be a pale imitation. I blame the Java House in Iowa City for most of my coffee snobbery. The Java House is one of the things I miss most about Iowa City. Many coffee places try, but no place has ever managed to get the mix of coffee and ambiance as perfectly balanced as the Java House does. And what's better is their coffee ROCKS. Whenever we're in Iowa City, the Java House is a required stop and I always get the St. Louis Blues au lait. You can buy the beans and bring them home and make it yourself, but it's just not the same. Nobody does it better than the Java House.
So despite my fondness for Starbucks and other such highfalutin coffee places, I have a small confession to make.
There's nothing quite like a convenience store cappuccino.
I know, it seems anathema to everything I stand for coffee-wise, but there's something about those little cups of joy that makes everything right with the world. Putting an empty cup into a slot and pushing a button while what basically amounts to a powder/scalding hot water mix pours down is so satisfying. Of course, these "cappuccinos" are nothing like the real thing. And thank God for that. I'll take one of these any day of the week over an actual cappuccino. And the fact that came from a place called Kum & Go or Kwik Shop or Swift Stop or Quik Trip is just icing on the cake.
The quality of these convenience store cappuccinos varies wildly, sometimes even within the same machine. The french vanilla may be nothing but water but the Irish Creme is just fine. And if you really don't want the caffeine but instead just want something hot? There's always hot chocolate. It's the drink of choice when I'm headed back to home from a trip down to Ankeny or Des Moines so that I can stay awake for just the drive home as opposed to the entire night. This brings up another point - these drinks are really only ever consumed inside a car. Never would it cross my mind to get a drink like this to bring home. Besides, if I'm going to be at home, I can make my own (better) coffee for less.
So despite my coffee snobbery, I can't help myself. It's in my genes. My mom loves a good convenience store cappuccino, and I, for one, am glad to have inherited that.