Spilling the beans touches off hot pursuit

April 02, 1997|By ROB KASPER

I HAVE BECOME a bean counter. Now if I spill any coffee beans, I begin a full-scale, down- on-my-knees search for the missing ones. This aggressive, bean-chasing behavior is new for me.

Not long ago, if I spilled beans while putting them in the grinder, I would only pick up the ones that were easy to find. I retrieved the beans sitting on the kitchen counter. But I ignored the ones that had fallen to the kitchen floor.

Then the price of coffee went up, about $1 a pound for the kind of beans, Yirgacheffe and Golden Sumatra, that I buy, and my habits changed. Now, for instance, when I grind whole beans into grounds to make a pot of drip coffee, every bean is accounted for.

If five fugitive coffee beans bounce toward the floor, I pursue them. I don't rest until the fugitives have been rounded up, cleaned off with paper towels, and put in the grinder. In the old days I might make a half-hearted sweep with a broom over parts of the kitchen floor. Back then any coffee beans picked up in this sweep were tossed in the trash.

Lately, however, I have abandoned the broom as a tool of coffee bean pursuit. Instead, I use my fingers and a flashlight. Now, after a spill, I routinely search suspected bean hangouts, such as the dark spots along the kitchen baseboard, and a little niche below the dishwasher. Nowadays, these apprehended beans are quickly wiped off and presented to the grinder.

Like most folks, I have read news accounts listing the reasons behind the price increase. Industry watchers blame heavy rains in Colombia. The resulting drop in Colombian coffee crops coincided with short crops in other coffee-growing countries.

In addition, coffee supplies in warehouses were already low when the crop shortages hit.

And, finally, there has been an increasing consumer demand for premium coffee beans. The result of all these factors, we are told, is higher coffee prices.

I feel the same way about the increase in coffee prices that I felt about the increase in gasoline prices a few years ago. Rather than challenging the explanations of why the price is going up, I find myself figuring out ways to get more mileage out of what I buy.

One of these ways is chasing down stray coffee beans. Another is developing a more forgiving attitude toward cold coffee.

In the days of cheaper beans, I tossed out my partially drunk cup of cold coffee. Now I find myself more willing to reheat my cold coffee in the microwave. True, the reheated stuff has lost its volatile oils, its delicate flavors, its unique aromas. But life is a trade-off, and right now I am willing to give up the pleasure of a few volatile oils for the satisfaction that comes from saving half a cup of coffee.

I have also begun to treasure my coffee card. I get it stamped at a coffee bar every time I buy a cup of coffee there. After the card has been stamped 10 times, I can turn it in for a free cup of coffee.

I once was casual about my coffee card, forgetting where I put it, forgetting to have it stamped. No more.

Now I am an assiduous card-carrying coffee consumer. I make sure to get it stamped whenever I buy coffee. I keep it in a special spot in my wallet, a spot where I used to hide a $5 bill.

The other day, a fellow who understands the workings of the financial world tried to explain to me how I could speculate on the value of my coffee card. I had filled the card by purchasing cups of coffee that cost $1.25. Now that same cup of coffee cost $1.40.

Maybe I could test the market, he said. Now that the price of a cup of coffee was rising, maybe someone would want to buy a card that gave them a free cup. He called the buying and selling process "coffee card arbitrage."

I declined to arbitrage my coffee card. But I did think of one more way to change my coffee-

buying behavior. Now when somebody asks "You want a cup of coffee?" I am always going to ask "Who is buying?"

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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