The first time you taste it you know it’s different but you can’t say exactly how. It’s called Cowboy Coffee but it’s really just boiled coffee and it’s what you drink if you’re working in a sheep herding camp high in the mountains of Northern California. It will make you want Starbucks more than you ever thought possible.
My brother was telling me all about this on a phone call this morning at 6:30 Pacific. He had hiked out to the top of a mountain, an hour or so away from his camp, so that he could see the sun rise and get enough cell reception to make a call. I made him promise to take pictures and send them as soon as he gets somewhere with a wi-fi connection. I heard him pause at the word wi-fi and when he spoke again he started off with a little bit of a laugh, “I will, I’ll send them,” he said. “But it may be some time before I’m anyplace with Internet. I haven’t had a data connection for days.”
These words made me realize what different walks we were on this morning. Me, threading my way from the Embarcadero to San Francisco’s Financial District on my walk to work and my brother on his way up the side of a mountain at over 8,000 ft in the Sierra Nevada mountains above a heard of sheep. I dodged a homeless man and scooted across California Street just as the Walk sign started to blink, meanwhile my brother briefly lost reception as he rounded a couple of boulders on the ridge he was walking along.
We talked for a while about his past week at the ranching camps and how he was looking forward to getting home this week for a few days. I ducked into Coffee Bar, a new artisan coffee shop on Sutter Street and ordered a large drip coffee. “You’re not ordering a coffee are you?” my brother asked.
“I am.” I said, laughing just a little.
“Man, I haven’t had a Starbucks in a week,” he said. “I’ve been drinking boiled coffee.” That’s when he told me all about Cowboy Coffee. I smiled as he described it – how you make it by boiling grounds and water together, then when it’s done boiling you add a little bit of cold water to the top of the pot and it causes all the grounds to sink to the bottom. I could picture him sitting in front of a pitted fire or a propane burner with a blue spotted metal coffee pot at six in the morning after sleeping outside all night. “There’s not as much caffeine in it either,” he said, “so you have to drink a lot of it.”
I placed my coffee down on the counter, put my phone up against my ear, poured just a little bit of crème into the cup and grabbed a plastic lid from the top of the stack. I usually try to pull one from the middle of the stack, because I’m neurotic that way, but this morning I just had too many things going on to manage that maneuver. “Well, what do you take in your coffee, Mike? I’ll drink this one for you.”
“Oh – great, thanks!” he said and we both laughed. It was good to hear his voice. We hadn’t talked in a couple of weeks. I could tell that he was tired but he sounded happy. Hopefully we’ll have a few pictures to post on the blog over the next week or so. Until then, happy trails!