Kettle of Fish

Early Morning Coffee

My Rouses Everyday, May/June 2017

“Well, it’s 4 a.m. I crawl out of bed, I put the coffee on and head for the shed … load up the truck with all my gear, I got Don Dubuc ringing in my ear…”

That’s the beginning of the theme song that kicks off my Saturday morning program on the statewide Outdoors with Don Dubuc radio network. Notice that the first thing St. Charles Parish musical artist Reed Alleman suggests after “crawling out of bed” is to “put the coffee on….” It’s a safe bet that, if you’re heading out on your fishing or hunting trip, it’s close to the top of your list too. And while I’m sipping my coffee between 5 and 7 a.m. as I do my broadcast, I realize I’m probably talking to more coffee drinkers than anyone else on the radio!

Coffee has for a long time been the kick-starter many of us need to warm up after climbing into a cold tree stand or prior to heading a boat into a 20-knot north wind. It’s also been the soothing complement to a hearty camp breakfast or a stimulant for those post-trip stories told around a campfire or a crackling fireplace.

My lifelong love affair with coffee goes way back. My dad got me started. I remember how, whenever we’d visit my grandparents, everyone would sit around the kitchen table and ask, “How do you take your coffee?” I’m not sure, but I think that expression is either a New Orleans or maybe even a general Southern thing. That was before family members communicated via Facebook, text messages and emails. Not that having a cup of joe doesn’t fit well in those online chat rooms, but those precious in-person, family-and-friend visits go better — so much better — over a cup of coffee.

Special occasion coffee turned into a daily routine during my two-year stint in the U.S. Army. Now, if there’s anything lacking consistency, it’s Army or any military version of coffee. Mess hall coffee wasn’t that bad, but even the stuff that came in C ration boxes and had to be stirred with a screwdriver in a tactical or field situation — believe it or not, even that was always welcome.

Over time I seem to have become pretty much an all-day, anytime coffee consumer. The colder the temperature, the higher the coffee flow rate. Nighttime coffee usually follows a good dinner or a frogging or bowfishing trip. Otherwise, I’m perpetually looking forward to that first morning cup.

Of course, we all have those what I call “special coffee moments.” I’m not sure whether it’s the coffee tasting better as the result of the moment or the moment enjoyed more because the coffee’s part of it. Whichever — certain moments and coffee are as good a match as gumbo and rice — or gumbo and potato salad, for that matter. A personal favorite example of this is that precise moment that comes just minutes before legal shooting time during duck season. For those who are still hours away from your first morning cup, here’s the scenario: You’re dressed in as much waterproof, insulated, camouflage clothing and waders as you can fit on a human body. You head out, sometimes breaking ice (much less frequently thanks to modern global warming) into the dark world of early-morning black water and an array of unusual odors, sometimes braving ravenous insects and slippery serpents before finally arriving at your duck-hunting destination. After untangling and throwing out a few dozen decoys, you settle in under the cover of roseau cane and marsh grass. Along the eastern horizon you begin to see a faint glimmer rising above the shoreline. It’s just minutes before that long-awaited “30 minutes before sunrise” legal shooting time. Now is the time to pour from the thermos the hot liquid that will be a toast to the start of a great hunt. While the coffee’s going down, there’s those stimulating thoughts of squadrons of waterfowl responding to the caller’s quacks, then dropping out of the clouds and into the decoys bobbing on the pond. That’s followed by you and your buddies putting on what can only be described as a “clinic” on shotgunning skills — all those visions seen in the pre-dawn darkness while savoring that strong, sweet or special-flavored elixir. Wow, gets me fired up just thinking about it!

Even on warm summer days, many of us dedicated coffee drinkers will grab a sip here and there throughout the day. But on those frigid days when we really need our coffee hot, the container can fail to do its job. Thanks to modern technology, that’s happening a lot less often. Just as there’s been science-based research and testing to produce containers that keep liquids, foods, baits and even fish colder longer, that same effort has resulted in the production of containers to keep coffee and other drinks and foods hot longer. The result has been a proliferation of companies specializing in making and marketing thermos bottles, mugs and cups that extend the hot and warm life of your coffee far beyond those of the past. While millennials certainly find it hard to believe, many of us remember those plastics thermos bottles of the 1960s era that had glass (yes, glass) inserts that would keep coffee hotter longer. Even though they were easily broken, they were replaceable, and I guess the sale of inner glass inserts was someone’s brainstorm on how to ensure recurring sales. I don’t know how many, but I’m sure there were lawsuits brought forward by consumers who poured their coffee filled with glass shards and crystals into their cups. I personally had it happen to me. Then came solid stainless steel with insulation between the inner and outer liners — a drastic improvement. Over the last decade, a variety of super-insulated drink cups and thermos, in myriad shapes and sizes, have arrived on the scene, and they are amazingly efficient at keeping our coffee hot for extended periods of time. Some are pretty pricey, but they make excellent gifts for anyone who takes their coffee along on their daily commute.

If you haven’t entered the modern world of super-insulated coffee mugs, here are a few tips to keep your coffee the temperature you like it. First, if your mug is microwave compatible, heat your coffee in the container you drink from. You know those promotional can coozies we all get to help keep our drinks cold? The extra insulation in one of those coozies can, if it fits your coffee cup, also help keep it warm. Finally, if you find yourself needing a temporary coffee mug, while not particularly environmentally friendly, those Styrofoam go-cups do a better job than any other non-insulated type.

Besides being a warmer-upper, just holding a hot cup of coffee can win friends and influence people. Check this out: An experiment conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder and published in the journal Science found that “participants who briefly held a cup of hot coffee judged a target person as having a ‘warmer’ personality.” Works for me!

So how do I take my coffee? I like a wide variety of flavors and blends. My favorite is a dark roast, with no sugar but with a shot of Italian Sweet Cream. Matter of fact, I think I’ll go have one now.