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A bean beyond

Published February 27, 2004

TARPON SPRINGS - My friends say I would do anything for a cup of coffee.

That's not true.

I wouldn't have my chest waxed, watch Sex in the City or wear a Speedo to the beach, no matter how great the coffee.

But I would get up at 3:30 a.m., drive an hour, climb into a cold sea kayak and paddle 3 miles across open water to an island for a cup of joe brewed over a backpacking stove.

"Sounds like fun," my friend Darry Jackson said. "You can count me in."

I can't remember when or where I became hopelessly addicted to coffee, but my wife was the first to recognize the problem.

"How come everybody at Starbucks knows you by your first name?" she asked. "You must go there once a day."

"That's not true," I said, knowing that I actually went to my local coffee shop at least two or three times a day. "You are mistaken."

But like any addiction, the first step toward recovery is coming clean. So I walked to my favorite Starbucks and had a talk with my barista.

"I've got a problem," I told Mike McClelland.

McClelland, a man never needs to ask what I want when I stand before his counter, was all ears.

"I am in search of the ultimate cup of coffee," I said. And I told him that I was willing to paddle to great lengths to get it.

McClelland disappeared for a moment and returned with a thick binder I have since come to call the bean bible.

"I recommend our Yukon Blend," McClelland said. "It is a medium bodied blend of Indonesian and Latin American coffees, mellow and well-rounded, that, like a piece of pumpkin pie, starts off smooth but finishes a little spicy."

The coffee was originally blended for an Alaskan sea captain who wanted a brew that would get his crew going on cold winter mornings, he said.

So I paid $5.20 for a half pound and bolted out the door with my nickel bag, anxious to hit the water so I could start brewing.

"Do you have it?" Jackson asked when we rendezvoused beneath the street lights in the parking lot of Ray's Bar & Grill the next morning.

"Yes," I said. "And it's good stuff."

The paddle to Anclote Key would take about an hour, Jackson said. His friend, adventure racer Shawn Dietrich, tagged along for the workout.

Following the channel markers along the darkened river, I prayed the fishing boats would see the tiny yellow light on the back of my life jacket. How sad, I thought, if this quest for coffee would be my last.

Our luck held as we crossed the Intracoastal Waterway and beached our kayaks on a sandbar south of the Anclote Key lighthouse. Jackson pulled a stove and lightweight coffee pot out of a dry bag. I reached inside the hatch and produced the freshly-ground Yukon blend and my lucky Racer X cup.

We waitedly patiently as the water heated until steam poured from the spout. It took about 10 minutes for the coffee to brew, then just as long to drink it.

We savored each drop and watched as a wall of clouds formed on the horizon, then gradually built upon itself until it blocked the newly risen sun.

A sign from the heavens, I thought. Time to paddle home.

Back at Ray's on the river, breakfast awaited. The waitress came and took our orders.

"Coffee?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I'm good.

But then the monkey on my back started screaming.

"On second thought," I said. "I'll have one more cup."

[Last modified February 27, 2004, 01:31:31]


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