Food & Drink

Quick Bites

I can appreciate a well-made cappuccino as well as the next person, and I've been known to indulge in an espresso or three. But more often than not, my caffeine craving takes the form of a simple cup of coffee. Not a vat, mind you, which seems to be the smallest size available at most coffeehouses nowadays. A cup, preferably made the same way I make coffee at home: with a French press. It's the simplest method of brewing coffee, and for my money by far the best for extracting optimal flavor from the beans without bitterness. Naturally, those beans should not only be freshly ground, but also recently roasted.

OK, so I'm persnickety about coffee. But I have found one coffeehouse that consistently exceeds even my expectations: 3Cups in Chapel Hill. The selection is the most extensive around, for starters, and typically includes 20 coffees from all over the world. Beans are roasted locally by Counter Culture Coffee to 3Cups' specifications, with roasting dates displayed. Most impressively, given the extensive inventory, you won't find any roasting dates more than a week old.

You won't find any espresso machines, either, or the dark roasts that are made for them. French press is the brewing method here (Melitta drip being a small compromise for takeout orders), and the standard roast is medium. The result is a brew whose complex flavors aren't overshadowed by the roast itself, so that you can taste the bright tropical notes in a cup of Ndaorini from Kenya, say, or the hints of chocolate and cherry in a Finca Mauritania from El Salvador.

Best of all, you can order a small press pot that makes a single cup of coffee. Two-cup, four-cup and six-cup sizes are also available, and of course you'll want to pick up some beans to take home, too. Might as well grab a shopping basket, come to think of it. 3Cups' tea selection rivals its coffee offering, and if you're like me you won't be able to resist picking up a few bottles of wine from the shop's carefully chosen selection of over 500 wines.

Hmm, maybe I should have changed the name of this week's column from Quick Bites to Slow Sips.

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