Over the years I have read many stories of “bad coffee experiences.” A strange kind of competition seems to exist among coffee cognoscenti to see who can lay claim to having had the worst cup of coffee, and who can back up those claims with the most creative accounts of their suffering. I am generally underwhelmed by these tales of woe, since I know beyond the remotest shadow of a doubt that the worst cup of coffee ever brewed was served at my family’s fishing cottage in Bedford, Pennsylvania. I was not there myself. But I am related by blood to a half-dozen surviving witnesses.
Our cottage is a place where my extended family occasionally gathers on warm-weather holidays, and where my uncles and male cousins meet up in-between to catch up and do manly stuff. On this particular occasion, my father, a few of my six uncles and my late grandfather had just finished a camp dinner of the hot-dog-and-baked-bean variety and settled into a card game. My grandfather offered to make coffee. The unfortunate uncle who took the first sip promptly spit it out on the floor and demanded an explanation from my grandfather, who lived through the Great Depression, raised 11 kids on the salary of a sometimes-employed steelworker and school custodian, and was a frugal as they come.
The response was one for the annals of coffee quality: “I used the hot dog water. I didn’t want it to go to waste.”