A year ago, coffee served two basic purposes for me: 1) as a caffeine boost and 2) as a vehicle for flavored creamer. If I didn't have the latter then I would forgo the former. It didn't matter how tired or sluggish I was — I couldn't manage more than a few dainty sips without that creamer. I tried! I really did! I just couldn't hack coffee without milk, sugar or pumpkin spices. If flavored creamer wasn't available I would turn to poor substitutes: milk of varying percents, chocolate, soy, almond, etc. Anything to cut the coffee flavor down!
Needless to say, I didn't feel like a "real" coffee drinker. My coffee was basically flavored milk with a good tan. Coffee shops overwhelmed me, and I felt like the "real" coffee drinkers were judging my froofy drink (in reality they were probably more concerned with getting their own morning caffeine fix). Besides the social shame of the whole thing my wallet hurt! Those fancy flavored drinks at coffee shops cost money (and calories too — that milk isn't free).
You get the idea. But that was the before: now I can drink black coffee no problem. It's cheaper. It's healthier and it's way more tasty. So here's how I learned to kick the creamer habit and finally start drinking real coffee:
1. I started using quality equipment
When I used creamer I was brewing with an automatic 8 cup machine. Later I got a manual hario drip cone (but I didn't know how to use it so the coffee still tasted terrible and I still dosed with creamer). Still, the cone was cheaper than my friends' Keurigs and ate less counter space too. Win win win (except for that pesky bitter coffee).
Then life changed: I received an AeroPress and S Filter from my brother the coffee snob (he's been trying to convert me for years). It was small. It was super easy to clean. And best of all it turned out the AeroPress was actually a really easy way to make my precious morning joe!
Which brings me to my next step in the kicking the creamer process...
2. I learned how to brew
Part of what drove my creamer habit was that my coffee tasted bad. I hadn't realized that was a problem I could fix with a little TLC. When I was brewing with the Hario I would just blindly dump a scoop of whatever grounds were handy into the Hario cone and pour some boiling water in the general direction of the coffee. Surprise surprise: bitter coffee. It turns out stuff like water temperature, grind size and even how long you brew can make a big difference in your coffee's taste.
At my brother's behest I watched some S Filter recipe guides and found a brewing method that worked for me: an inverted brew that makes a 1 minute fauxmericano. My coffee studies revealed I learned that boiling water is bad for coffee: it tastes much better when brewed at about 200 F (94ish C). If you have to guess your water temperature (like I did) just try waiting a few seconds or a minute after the water boils before pouring it over the coffee.
I also decided it was worth buying a kitchen scale so I could actually measure my coffee and water. Speaking of coffee, here's a nice ice cream scoop of fine ground Ben & Arabicas on my scale. No creamer for this stuff! :)
3. I started using better coffee
Obviously I knew there were differences between roasts, but since I was pouring copious amounts of flavored creamer into my coffee it didn't seem to matter. O, does it matter! I discovered that how a bean is roasted actually affects what flavors are brought out in the cup (I guess there's a reason roasters work with recipes).
After a little trial and error I found I prefer my roasts no darker than medium and even then it really depends on the roast. Your mileage will vary: talk to your local roaster (if you have one) or your local barista (but please, not during the morning rush).
And lo & behold, the coffee tasted better...
I started kicking creamer slowly. For several weeks while learning to brew on the AeroPress I would simply take a tiny sip of the coffee before adding the creamer. I was like a druggie: using less and less creamer and then eventually graduating to half & half and finally plain old milk.
And then one day it happened! I just didn't add anything after brewing and drank (and actually enjoyed) the whole cup. I even slurped (which actually oxygenates your taste buds and supposedly makes the coffee taste better).
So there you have it: the story of a caffeinated conversion in a cup. My wallet is happier. My waistline has cushion (which I usually spend on pastries, but whatever) and now when our family hits the road for summer vacation I just order a plain iced coffee. No more F***pucinos for me, thank you!