Life is too short for cheap beer, bad coffee

I’m not a snob. In fact, I’m more of a bleeding heart. But when it comes to beer and coffee, I’m admittedly a bit of an elitist. 

I loathe gas station and fast food coffee. If I’m not grabbing a morning cup of joe from Panacea, I’m making locally-roasted coffee at home. And in regard to beer, my stomach churns at the thought of Bud Light or another mass-produced, watered down brewski. I’d rather forgo the beverage entirely than drink a cheap beer. Give me a well-crafted IPA or amber ale and I’m one happy girl.

Who knows where this all started? It certainly wasn’t from my parents. Growing up, my mom and dad drank instant coffee. My dad prepped their coffee cups each evening by arranging their mugs side-by-side and spooning in grinds. The next morning as I popped a bagel in the toaster, they poured water over coffee grinds, heated it in the microwave and stirred to dissolve. 

As far as beer goes, my mom would never in her life drink a beer. She was a true Southern lady, salutatorian of her high school and attended Winthrop. She didn’t drink much of anything until later in life and then it was most certainly a glass of Chardonnay or a cocktail. Intellectually, she was driven and a hardcore Democrat, but socially she was traditional and demure. 

In contrast, my dad had a rough childhood. While my grandfather was a successful mill village engineer, he was also abusive to my dad and uncles, as well as my grandmother. He only spared my aunt. The strife at home drove the boys out of the house and led them down some wild paths. This was the 1950s, so “wild” back then meant cars, cigarettes and a little booze. The boys would hang out behind the downtown bars. When the kegs were drained at the end of the night, my dad and his brothers caught the runoff beer in Mason jars and drank it. 

My dad loves to hang out with my sister and me at Boojum, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium or Wicked Weed, but even at those places, the strongest thing he’ll drink is a pilsner, as he would prefer a Coors over anything. 

I guess my knowledge of and love for good coffee and beer came from my days in the restaurant industry. Throughout college, graduate school and young adulthood, I worked as a server. I loved waiting tables. I enjoyed the newness and challenge of each table, getting to know the personalities of the guests and ensuring their time at the restaurant was relaxing and memorable. 

I only worked at local farm-to-table and/or high-end establishments, like Tupelo Honey or Frog’s Leap. Skilled chefs and restaurant owners ensure their staff knows the products well, so we routinely had wine and food tastings as well as mini-lessons on how/why the chef prepared something a certain way or where the foods and ingredients came from. 

This offered me a type of education one can only receive when immersed in the industry. And while this column highlights coffee and beer, I’m pretty particular about food origin and wine as well. 

I wrote a feature article about coffee for the February/March edition of Smoky Mountain Living magazine. As part of my research, I visited several coffee roasters in the region, watched the roasting process and tasted different types and roasts of coffee. Considering my love for the drink, this was a dream assignment. Coffee roasting is a beautiful art requiring time and skill. I think about that every time my mouth sips coffee from a roaster. It’s part of the whole experience and part of why I love it.

In terms of beer, a friend and I have taken on a challenge. Last year, I was perusing the shelves at Blue Ridge Books and came across a pamphlet called “The Great N.C. Beer Map.” When unfolded, it’s the entire state of North Carolina with all breweries listed. It may take us a couple of years, but our plan is to visit every brewery in this beautiful state of ours. 

There’s so much stress in my own bubble and in the world at large, it’s fun to think of things like good coffee and beer. Many wise folks have said “Keep life simple.” The older I get and the more curveballs I’m thrown, the more I embrace this philosophy. 

So, whether it’s a steaming cup of dark roast coffee or a fresh IPA from a Main Street tap, I’m ever so grateful for the small pleasures in life. 

(Susanna Barbee works in marketing and as a writer for Mountain South Media, Smoky Mountain News and Smoky Mountain Living. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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