The Fort Mill Times set out recently to investigate one of the most popular beverages in the world – and no, we’re not talking about whiskey.
We wanted to cover your favorite morning beverage, that one that wakes you up with its distinct aroma and first sip – still not whiskey – and all the routines and traditions that surround the drink that is actually more like a lifestyle. While drinking it ourselves, we decided to write about coffee.
More specifically, we wanted to write about coffee culture in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Indian Land.
But when we started asking people about the area’s coffee scene, we got a lot of nervous laughter and comments such as, "What, you mean like Starbucks?"
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Yet coffee culture is more than just who makes the best Pumpkin Spice Lattes. That's part of it, of course, and we’ll get to that. But the biggest part of this particular art exists where people consume the most amount of caffeine: their homes.
For the first part of this three-part series, we asked if we could come over. And some of you actually said yes.
Trading cigarettes for coffee
In his kitchen on Island Cove Road, building supply dealer Al Steele drinks coffee fresh from Honduras. He’s a member of the Fort Mill Rotary Club, which frequently travels to the third-world country under a clean water initiative. In addition to doing his part to provide clean water to the villages, Steele has made quite a few coffee connections there.
In fact, he recently welcomed a Honduran house guest from a coffee farm. The woman stayed at the Steeles’ home for nine months, as she wanted to learn to speak English. “I taught her Southern English,” Steele said. In return, she taught him coffee.
Authenticity is important to Steele. When seeking out the best beans to use, he told his Honduran friends: “‘I want the coffee beans that you and your momma use.’”
He uses a 70/30 blend: 70 percent medium roast and 30 percent dark roast. He’s also since learned that the best beans are the smallest.
Steele said he never drank coffee before visiting Honduras; instead, his vice was cigarettes. He quit smoking at age 50, and coffee picked up right where cigarettes left off.
Every morning, he grinds the beans fresh before each pot, using a wire filter to allow oils to seep in to the brew properly. He also adds French vanilla creamer and Truvia sweetener, although he knows coffee experts frown upon that.
Steele claims that Honduras has better coffee than Guatemala.
“It’s kind of ironic, that the poorest people have the best coffee,” he said.
When he travels to Honduras, Steele said he always carries an empty suitcase and returns with an extra 45-50 pounds of coffee. Considering he’s been there 36 times, that’s quite a lot of Joe. When someone makes a large donation to Rotary Club, he will often give away a bag.
“It’s good coffee with a good story,” Steele said.
Ghee, whip, and amaretto
Elle Peterson is a pet sitter and a self-proclaimed Starbucks addict.
“I probably go there seven to 10 times a week,” she said. In order to cut down on spending, she invested in her home setup in Indian Land.
Surrounded by six large dogs, Peterson used her Keurig single-cup coffeepot the afternoon we were there, but she also showed off other brewing methods, including a ceramic pour-over brewer and a French press, which was drying on a towel.
“The French press is good for two to three cups of coffee,” she said. “I already used that this morning.”
She displayed North Carolina-based Counter Culture whole beans, saying that she likes to support local, although she also drinks Lavazza. She has a grinder for when she’s making coffee for the French press, and she mentioned the importance of filtered water.
Peterson uses ghee clarified butter in place of creamer when she’s using her Keurig. It offsets the lack of oils coming through the coffee when using coffee pods, she said.
“It’s nice; I have no problem adding fat to stuff. It tastes a lot better.”
Sometimes her coffee calls for a splash of amaretto; other times she adds whipped cream and cinnamon. “When I’m home, coffee’s my reward,” Peterson said, as one of her clients, a Golden Retriever named Cora, licked her in the face.
A pour-over household
Lisa Cooper has a live-in barista at her home in WhiteGrove, and that’s her husband, Kyle. He worked for a short time at Starbucks in Nashville before the couple moved to Fort Mill to become worship pastors. He said he learned just enough to know that he wanted to learn more. After his Starbucks stint, he started frequenting local coffee shops in Nashville, asking baristas for tips.
“This is a Keurig nation that I’ve moved to,” Kyle said. “Everyone uses a Keurig!” He admitted that he himself uses the popular single-serve coffeepot while at work.
While an auto-drip coffee maker sits cleaned in the corner of the kitchen, it’s not what the Coopers are using much these days. Kyle makes pour-over coffee daily, using a gooseneck kettle, a medium roast breakfast blend and a kitchen scale.
With subway tile as a backdrop, Kyle Cooper demonstrated how to “bloom” the beans over a ceramic pour-over brewer. Blooming opens the grind to release the fullness of the flavor and the acids, Kyle said. “Coffee is a very acidic drink,” he explained. Blooming “releases the acids so that you're not just pouring them into the cup.”
The Coopers’ method is simple in equipment but scientific in measurements; Kyle refers to his calculator to demonstrate the ratio of beans to water at each step. He used Starbucks mugs boasting his two cities: Nashville and Charlotte (well, close enough). Kyle drinks coffee black, and sometimes Lisa adds a scoop of coconut coffee for an extra treat.
“It’s coconut, coffee and raw sugar,” she explained. “It’s like a coconut latte!”
French Press for the morning ‘cranky pants’
Attorney Brian Murphy became interested in pursuing a perfect cup of coffee in an attempt to find an alternative to daily trips to Starbucks, even though he’s just around the corner from the coffee giant in Baxter Village.
“It was in an effort to try to get a good cup of coffee and not spend $4 a day at some of the commercial places around town,” Murphy said.
He initially began with a blade grinder and a coffeemaker, drinking Eight O’Clock whole bean coffee. That developed into a French press setup where he can brew Starbucks beans himself at home.
“It’s fresh, it tastes so smooth, and you don’t need anything else in it,” Murphy said. “It wakes you up; it gets you ready for a tough day.”
Murphy said a burr grinder is important because it grinds the coffee a little better and allows more flavor to make it into the cup. Murphy and his wife, Joy, typically buy espresso or Sumatra roast.
Joy, a special education teacher, acknowledged their routine can get a little hectic in the mornings while trying to prepare breakfast and lunches for the entire family.
“I enjoy the French press, but I miss the convenience of a grind-and-brew coffeepot.” Sometimes, the self-proclaimed “cranky pants in the a.m.” mom turns the coffee duties over to her husband.
He doesn’t seem to mind. Even with the extra effort, Murphy said, “I’ll tell you, I would much rather have a cup of coffee at home with this (French press) than from any place I’ve had a cup of coffee; well, maybe except for Cuban coffee.”
Around the corner, the Murphys’ neighbor, Shannon Schmidt, drinks her morning brew from a Breville grind-and-brew pot.
“Drinking coffee is vital for me to be able to function in society,” Schmidt said. “Without it, I can't hold intelligent conversations with other adults in the morning.”
However, it was evening when we visited her Baxter kitchen.
“I’m guessing all the others are telling you about their morning time coffee anyway,” the sales director said. So she wanted to tell us about the Nespresso machine she uses to make after-dinner espresso for herself and her husband, Mark.
“We like to keep it simple, though my husband would really like to have a bigger, more expensive machine,” she said. “But this seems to do just fine for us.”
Schmidt uses the Nespresso capsules as well as other brands.
“You can get equal, or better, other types of coffee from others who make it.”
The espresso shot was ready in just a few moments, and Schmidt took that first, all-important sip.
“It makes a really nice Creama to enjoy!” Schmidt said, referring to the thin layer of foam at the top of an espresso.
Coffee as a cultural connection
Christian book writer Diana Asaad’s parents are Egyptian, and she grew up with Turkish coffee in her house. She started drinking it herself in her 20s. In addition to American-style coffee, Turkish coffee, so rooted in her history, is part of her regular routine at her home in Adler Grove.
Asaad uses a dark roast and then adds cardamom and sugar to the coffee while it is on the stove. The key is to have a really fine grind, she said, to keep too much sediment out of the bottom of the cup. Even so, she cautioned against drinking the last sip.
“It’s like sludge,” she said.
While demonstrating the stove-top method, she warned, “It’s very, very strong. When I first started making it, I didn’t like it very much. But everybody was drinking it, so you kind of develop a taste for it, just like (American) coffee.”
Asaad loves serving Turkish and other styles of coffee to guests at dinner parties.
“Coffee connects people,” she said. “Wherever you’re from, I feel like everybody has this kind of a drink that is included in their culture. So when I offer you a cup of coffee, I’m offering you community.”
Melissa Oyler: email@example.com @melissaoyler
Part 2: Restaurants around town who are focusing on coffee art
Part 3: From seed to cup, and the art of roasting.
Inside their kitchen cabinets
Al Steele, Island Cove Road:
▪ Beans from Honduras
▪ Permanent filter
▪ Cuisinart auto drip coffeepot
▪ Truvia sweetener
▪ Coffeemate French Vanilla
Kyle Cooper, WhiteGrove:
▪ Ceramic pour-over brewer
▪ Gooseneck kettle
▪ Kitchen scale
▪ Mugs with hometown skylines (optional)
▪ Capresso burr grinder
▪ Paper filters
▪ Coconut coffee, used instead of creamer (occasionally)
Elle Peterson, Indian Land:
▪ Ceramic pour-over brewer
▪ French press
▪ Coffee Culture beans
▪ Lavazza beans or pods
▪ Filtered water
▪ Whipped cream
▪ Ghee butter
▪ Amaretto (optional)
Shannon Schmidt, Baxter Village:
▪ Breville grind-and-brew coffeemaker
▪ Nepresso machine for espresso
▪ Splenda (occasionally)
▪ Brian Murphy, Baxter Village:
▪ French press
▪ water kettle
▪ Starbucks medium roast
▪ Diana Asaad, Adler Grove:
▪ Turkish coffee method of preparation
▪ dark roast
▪ Water heated on stove and coffee simmered
How do you like your morning coffee?
We recently asked our readers on Facebook how you like your first cup of morning Joe. Here are the responses:
Marie Fair: We are a Keurig family, and Starbucks (Pikes Place) blend is all that we keep on our carousel!
Cindy Fultz Carner: We grind Dunkin Donuts Original.
Annabel Polo-Garza: We grind our coffee and use refillable Keurig pods to help cut down the cost. We usually alternate between Peet's Italian Roast and Starbucks Verona Blend.
Meg Arel: Forte Legato Coffee roasted right here in Fort Mill! Grind it fresh every morning.
Amy Cain: Folgers in my cup!
Marti Horn: We use Eight O'clock ground coffee. I found Keurig coffees were too weak.
Mark Kerr: I use grounds. Place 1 tbsp per cup of water into the filter then push all the grounds together. The longer the water has contact with the grounds, the better the coffee. Then, I pour filtered water into the machine and turn it on. Water is key. As to brand, I'll use Starbucks, DD & Black Rifle.
Nikkita Nguyễn: Cafe Bustelo or Chock Full o’ Nuts. French press, of course.
Tiffany Pate: Whole bean, ground and then pour over! If we are making coffee for more than just one we use a French press. Such a better cup of coffee!
Sharon Curlee Ziel: I loved my French press until my husband made us get a Keurig. Peet's is what we use most, sometimes Panera. I will splurge and get Illy every now and then.
Suzanne Todd: French press only.
Christine Montes: Husband makes fresh-brewed espresso every morning. I make instant espresso for myself because I can't stand the wait. (I also add a lot more teaspoons of coffee compared to the directions). I wish there was a place to get fresh brewed Cuban coffee around here.
Thomas James Moquet: Buy whole beans and grind yourself. It is the ONLY way to ensure the best taste and freshness. I recommend Fog Chaser by San Francisco Bay Coffee Company. A 2-pound bag is only $18.99 and if you buy three, shipping is free. This saves you a bunch of cash by buying in bulk and it is better than most of the stuff in the grocery store. Also check out these guys [Forte Legato], really good fresh roasted local (Fort Mill) coffee.
David J. Kelly: Forte Legato Coffee is my first choice … however I can get it in my cup the fastest.
Jack Lind: Nothing but Dunkin Donuts in my house, pre-ground and slow brewed. Easy and delicious ...
Tim Harleson: Chock Full o’ Nuts! It's Waffle House coffee.
Brian Firmstone: I prefer Dunkin when I'm out but love my Keurig for the consistency.
Karen Drouin: Keurig because it's fast and I need it fast. I disagree though, that you can't make it stronger. Not a connoisseur yet but I can see how the French press would be superior.
Johnene Porter Holt: Maxwell House Master Blend in our Bunn coffee brewer.
Skip Liles: Black Silk, Drip brew; also, Keurig Black Silk, Breakfast blend
Kristin Hutcheson Weeks: Dark Magic Decaf; K-cup
April Lancaster: French press. Trader Joe's Italian Roast.