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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Dark-Roast Coffee Great in
Outdoorsman's Thermos

Coffee, the stuff that gets a great many people going each morning in many parts of the world, gets me going or gets me upset every day.

Often, my hunting and fishing companions become impatient as I delay heading to woods or water in order to drink just the right amount of the hot brew.

My Louisiana background taught me to enjoy strong coffee. My favorite type is dark-roast pure coffee. The people of south Louisiana, especially those of French descent, drink their coffee strong and either black or mixed with sugar and cream sometimes equal to the amount of coffee in the cup.

The truly sophisticated heat their cream nearly to the boiling point and pour coffee and cream into a cup from a pair of hot pots, allowing the mixture to bubble and mix perfectly.

Some drink coffee mixed with chicory, a filler made from a perennial weedy plant. Chicory apparently came to be added to coffee many years back, at a time when supplies of pure coffee failed to meet the demand.

The most popular brands of dark-roast coffee do not use chicory as an extender. Possibly, the only reason chicory continues to be added to coffee is that some people developed a taste for it back in the days when it was needed. The situation might be similar to that of youngsters who learned to eat oleomargerine during World War II when butter supplies were short and then continuing to choose margarine over real butter.

There are tricks to making good coffee. Sure, I love coffee boiled in a pot over an open camp fire. I don't even mind chewing the grounds that inevitably end up in my cup.

But boiled coffee isn't as good for a person as is unboiled coffee. So I avoid boiling coffee even when heating it at home to fill a thermos to sustain me during a long day in a duck blind or boat.VVCompanies that market specialty coffees and purveyors of dark roast, such as Community, A&P 8 O'Clock or Seaport offer special brewing instructions.

One suggestion is using two filters in the popular electric drip pots. Doubling the paper filter allows the boiling water to steep the coffee an extra moment and brings out full flavor. This allows the person making coffee to cut down the amount of ground coffee used and get the full strength. But most Louisiana dark-roast enthusiasts want extra strength.

A steaming cup of dark-roast coffee was on the table beside me as I typed this column Christmas morning, but it was my memories of being in Stuttgart for the annual Thanksgiving week Wings Over the Prairie Festival that made me think about my coffee prejudices.

The festival was out of reach for me this November, but I thought about what I was missing all that week. The Cajun-style food served by some vendors there is always a treat. The duck-gumbo cookoff is for me the highlight of the festival. A few of the contestants bring their own dark-roast coffee and share it with people sampling gumbo.

It would seem that a vendor could add dark-roast coffee and improve sales on Main Street. The traditions associated with waterfowl hunting make a strong cultural connection between the people of south Louisiana and the people of southeast Arkansas. Good coffee ought to be a larger part of the connection.

Coffee houses have become popular in many Arkansas cities. Little Rock has a few new ones. There is even a new coffee house in Fayetteville that serves Community dark-roast coffee.

It would be nice if people who serve coffee could be trained in the old traditions of Louisiana coffee houses.

For one thing, true coffee lovers never find coffee too strong for their taste. Some who add nothing to their coffee require only that it be served at the proper temperature. But those of us who often add milk, honey, sugar and such are more difficult to please.

When a zealous waitress refills a half-full cup of coffee-cream mixture, she causes her customer to reach for more cream and sugar and try to reestablish the desired mix.

Facing the harsh environment of southeastern Arkansas' prime duck-hunting areas between now and the end of the season, I hope I find good coffee in those early opening cafes in such towns as Star City, Stuttgart, Brinkley, Holly Grove or Grady. But just in case the coffee is weak in my favorite warmup spots, my thermos will be full of the right stuff.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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