I want to begin by saying this is the best situational coffees, not the best brands or roasts or derivative drinks or whatever. Now that that’s out of the way, coffee is pretty great, right? I mean, it can be drunk hot or cold (though admittedly I hate cold coffee), it can be simple or complicated, rich or subtle, flavored with outside ingredients or taken straight, and it fits in at the richest and poorest of events. I’ve already discussed how I came to even enjoy coffee in the first place, but in retrospect I can see that was not an adequate enough homage to this essential dose of caffeine, so I decided to write a little more about it.
Coffee has many common situational uses. After dinner at a dinner party, first thing in the morning, with breakfast, on a road trip, taking the sting away from a little too much alcohol…whatever. You get the idea. So, here are the best coffees, ranked.
9. The After Dinner Coffee
So, you’ve just finished chowing down on a big piece of meat with some potatoes and veggies. Perhaps you’re at a restaurant with people you see but not frequently but also with whom you need to have a healthy relationship (like in-laws, for example). Plates are cleared but discussion will continue, and there’s nothing like a nice cup of coffee to help you digest and prepare you for the rest of the evening. I prefer this to be decaf, but then again I’m at an age where if I have caffeine after about noon I won’t be able to sleep that night. It’s even better if you’re at a restaurant and served with a slice of buttermilk pie (which is absolutely the best variety of pie). This cup of coffee makes you feel just a little bit sophisticated, especially if you’re at a steakhouse or nicer establishment, but even when it’s just a K-cup from your Keurig at home, it’s nice.
8. The Second Cup at Work
You’ve finished that first cup (see below) and started working. As you’re typing a response to an email, your phone rings with some pseudoemergency that you have to attend to. You do that, come back to the email, but before you can hit “send” your boss comes in and has something else for you to do. You handle that then finally hit “send” on that email. You notice it’s been over an hour since you finished your last cup, so you head to the kitchen to get yourself another one and run into some coworkers who had the same idea. For about 2 minutes, you can gab with your colleagues and refill your cup. This reprieve from responsibility is just enough to let you catch your breath but not long enough to take you out of your work rhythm, which is perfect. Plus, hey, by the time you finish this cup you’ll only have an hour or so until you can take lunch, so that’s nice. Side note: I googled “work breakroom” and that picture popped up, and I must say that’s the most perfectly generic-looking breakroom I’ve ever seen.
7. The First Cup at Work
I work alone these days so this isn’t as meaningful as it used to be, but when I used to work in an office with a lot of other people, the first cup of coffee I had at work was always the best. For starters, I tended to get to work earlier than anyone else so I normally made the coffee and to me coffee always tastes just a bit better if you’ve been the one to brew it. But also it was about 15 minutes of meditation. While the coffee is cooling to a drinkable temperature and continuing through the consumption of that first cup, you can look through emails, do some filing and other clerical work, or maybe even just take in the headlines from the worlds of news or sports as you get your day started. It’s all about having 15 minutes or so to yourself before you need to make phone calls, socialize, and give or receive orders from others in the workplace.
6. The Irish Coffee
Nothing says “adulthood” like adding booze to coffee. In fact, alcohol and coffee might be the two most adult beverages in existence, and it makes sense that it’s sometimes appropriate to blend the two. An Irish coffee has alcohol (typically whiskey or some sort of spiked creamer, but I think the “Irish” is just a general term for alcohol in this instance), which means it can help you wake up and relax at the same time It’s also a nice hair of the dog if you’re recovering from a wild night. I am actually not a huge fan of the flavor of Irish coffee normally, so I rarely imbibe, but when I do it’s always at a most appropriate moment. Saturday morning of a vacation, maybe at a golf outing when the weather is mild, and very occasionally if I have to work on a weekend. It feels just rebellious enough to be fun, but not so much as to turn into a party or a lecture about how liver disease runs in the family. Plus, it feels like a slower form of waking up, like starting a computer in safe mode. “Drink this. It will wake you up but it also has alcohol in it to prevent you from waking up too fast!”
5. The Road Trip Coffee
Oh, yeah. It’s 5:45 a.m. on a Friday morning that you’ve taken off so you can get away for the weekend. You’re at a 7-Eleven just off the highway, filling up your tank for the trip and running inside for a pick-me-up. Those cardboard cups with the cardboard sleeves that prevent you from burning your fingers just fit the whole ambience of a road trip for some reason. And it’s early so no one really wants to have a conversation yet, so for now it’s just you and the missus sipping coffee and listening to the radio. I love road trip coffee. It’s not pretentious, you know? It’s not a half-caff white mocha frappe with whipped cream and two pumps of caramel. It’s coffee in a cup, nothing more, nothing less. It’s utilitarian but in a way that reminds you you’re doing something a bit out of the ordinary.
4. The It’s Cold Outside Coffee
I love having coffee when it’s cold out, and I like to drink coffee outside when it’s cold out. Not the full cup, mind you, but just a sip or two before your face and/or fingers get numb. And I want to clarify that I’m from Texas so I mean Texas cold. Like, 40°F or so. Cold enough to see your breath but not enough to feel the fluids in your bones start to solidify. It’s just a little peaceful. Mother Nature is trying as hard as she can to keep you indoors, but you’ve got this magic bean juice that helps keep you warm for a bit. Take that, Mother Nature! The prettier the scenery, the more enjoyable the coffee is, by the way. Mountains in the distance? Sign me up. Rolling hills or misty forests or even a January beach are also great backdrops for a cold outside coffee. It’s more of that inner peace feeling, which always seems to be so nice first thing in the morning.
3. The Greasy Spoon Coffee
The great thing about a diner/breakfast joint is that time stands still just a little bit. First thing in the morning and 1:30 a.m. after a night out drinking seem very similar, and there aren’t many places on Earth like that. My personal favorite chain restaurant like this is, of course, Waffle House, but everyone knows a greasy spoon. When I was in law school I used to go to a place called Pancake House in Lubbock about two or three times a month, always early on Sunday mornings if I could help it. Nothing tastes better than a cup of coffee when you’re waiting for your omelet and hash browns. The smell of breakfast food, the clinking of plates and pots and pans drifting into the dining room from the kitchen, and the great drawl of a waitress saying (in a thick West Texas accent) “Mornin’, hun, what canna git started for ya?” just add to the atmosphere. There’s something homey and protective about a cup of coffee at a diner like that.
2. The Lazy Sunday Morning Coffee
We drink a lot of coffee at our house. My wife and I both love it, and even if I’m the only one at home (I’ve been working from home a lot since Covid), I’ll normally make and consume a full pot. But Sunday mornings are the best. We like to brew a pot and then I’ll turn some music on and my wife will play video games on mute. It’s very nice. It’s familiar, it’s nice, and it’s even better knowing that you have nothing to do for a little bit. Winston Churchill once said that the price of greatness is responsibility, but on Sunday mornings sometimes it’s nice to embrace your un-great self and briefly pause your responsibilities just to spend some time enjoying a nice up of coffee at home.
1. The On the Porch Coffee
This is it. This is THE coffee. And I don’t mean literally on a porch, but outside anywhere. Could be the patio of a restaurant, the deck of a cruise ship, the parking lot of a Starbucks, or whatever. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s outside and relaxing. The best part is that it’s not mutually exclusive with any of the other coffees here, really. You can have Irish coffee outside, you can have your after dinner coffee outside, and you can definitely have your it’s-cold-outside coffee outside. It can be alone or with others. It can be silent or talkative. It can be in the midst of responsibility or not setting an alarm and waking up whenever. But pouring a cup and enjoying in nature, no matter how limited any given “nature” may be, is great. It’s grounding a bit, right? The best cup of coffee I’ve had in quite some time was last October in West Yellowstone, Montana. I was there with my in-laws on vacation, and our cabin faced an open field with mountains in the distance. It was cold, but not freezing, and the air was crisp and dry with very little wind, so the cold wasn’t as cutting as it could have been. Standing outside on the porch in the clean air, looking at the mountains and thinking about what it must have been like for the first people to see that place was so…peaceful, maybe? It felt for a moment like that place at that time was exactly where I was supposed to be, and that’s a feeling that is hard to replicate. The picture here is one I took from that porch, and even looking at it on my phone is oddly relaxing.