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How do you take it?

Whether they prefer herbal, bottomless, instant, grande, or turbo-powered, most people tend to welcome morning with a hot caffeinated beverage. Here are a few Western New Yorkers who agreed to spill the beans about what they have in their mugs and cups.

The priest
Cam Miller is lead pastor of Victorian Gothic Trinity Episcopal Church on Delaware Avenue, “a community of communities” with a sanctuary that hosts traditional and nontraditional services, as well as community gatherings of other weekly community groups. Miller is also the father of four. In March Miller celebrated three decades of priesthood with a fundraiser for the charity work he does in El Salvador.
 When asked “coffee or tea?” at our meeting at Sweet_ness 7 on Grant, Miller says, “Both. Coffee before 4, tea after 4. Spot downtown is my usual coffee stop–a lot of people say it’s my second office.

“In my house everyone but me drinks tea; I join them for tea later in the day. I have a Cuisinart coffeemaker and I try to bring a bag of organic, free trade beans from El Salvador when I’m down there. My coffeemaker is on a timer, so it’s there when I’m awake; it’s set for 6:05. My first cup is at home, the second is when I leave the house at 7:10, and my third cup is at Sweet_ness 7, Spot, or Trinity. At church we have organic free trade coffee, so it’s much better than most church coffee.

“I have it black, or with cream or half and half, never milk. Every once in a while I will get a red eye, a shot of espresso in coffee, or a double red eye. I like the intensity of it.

“There’s something about putting your hands around a mug. Coffee is sacramental. A sacrament in Christian theology is the outwardly visible sign of an inward invisible reality. The earth is sacramental, an outward sign of the creator.”

The jewelry maker/gallery owner
Barbara Hart conveniently opened an Allentown gallery and studio space adjacent to a bustling coffee shop: Café 59. In addition to running the gallery (which shows regional artists), she makes jewelry and her “little wood people,” which she sells on etsy.com. She is also a coordinator for the lively Allentown-based “First Friday” events that draw hundreds to Allentown for gallery-to-gallery wending.

 Coffee or tea? “Both,” she says. And of course her coffee comes from next door, about a dozen steps from her work table. Coffee with a little milk is what Barbara has in her Café 59-issued mug. “Two cups, it’s part of my routine, I don’t know why I actually drink it; I don’t think I need the caffeine. I need to have the ritual. Come to work, open the door, go to Café 59, buy the coffee. And I don’t always necessarily drink it. Here’s my coffee from this morning, still in its cup.

“I have collected about a billion coffee mugs: it’s an inexpensive way to collect ceramics. I have artist mugs that I got at craft fairs, fundraisers, or galleries. They break over time so I don’t own all that I’ve bought over the years.” One of her collected series is an etsy.com find: an artist based in Helsinki whose mugs feature “portraits, funky little characters—nurses, various people, real people I don’t know. They are cool, very cool.”

The baker
There is, arguably, no career that intertwines so deliciously with coffee and tea as that of baker. Luci Levere, a professional pastry chef for approximately two decades, states that she is always thinking of her next cup of coffee. “It’s the first thing I think about in the morning; my next cup is at around 3 p.m. My clock runs by coffee breaks, and I got that from my dad. Strong, hot, just the right temperature with a little bit of cream, and a little sugar and not overly sweet is how I take it.”

These days Levere works four days a week at Delish! for Deborah Clark, creating confections and teaching classes. For coffeemaking at home, Luci and husband, Doug, get gimme! coffee, which Levere says they “got addicted to when we lived in Brooklyn.” In Buffalo she gets her gimme! fix at Lexington Co-Op, Five Points Bakery, and at the restaurant attached to Everything Elmwood on Main Street in Williamsville, Organic Three (O3). For coffee outside the house, Levere says, “I do like Starbucks, but I go to Spot first if I’m out—it’s strong and consistent. I won’t drink weak and bad cups of coffee. I won’t buy it.”

And what does the baker think is the perfect baked item with coffee? “In the morning I don’t want to eat anything before I’ve had coffee, but it would be some kind of coffeecake–buttery, bready, and yeasty. Cookies are always good with coffee, too.”

The rockstar/IT guy
“I work for HSBC doing programming, systems analysis—it’s one of those phony baloney titles,” laughs Tommy Stanford, who moonlights as a bass player for the semipsychedelic classic rocking band the Found. “I program websites, and databases—it’s all internal, all financials.

 “I grind and brew at home with one of those Cuisinart self-grinding, all-in-one deals and then it’s my morning bus, stay-warm type of thing. It’s weird, I never liked coffee for the longest time, but from necessity during those long drives home from shows in Rochester it was one of the easiest options to stay awake on that monotonous, lightless drive on the 90. At work there’s Tim Horton’s and Starbucks, and I’ll have a coffee in the afternoon because I’m tired. Always with milk, no sugar.

“Coffee is a super-convenient thing. If there were tea chains, people would get that, too, which is interesting because tea has vastly more flavors. I think our culture doesn’t lend itself to tea, maybe because of its slightly more ritualistic nature. Coffee is sold to us aggressively. Kids who’ve never seen the Folgers commercials can sing along with the jingle—‘the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.’”

The doctors
When it was time to include someone from the medical community, it seemed obvious to include doctors Helen and Andy Cappuccino. When asked about their surname Andy explains, “The name is derived from the Capuchin friars in Italy, who inspired the name of the espresso drink because of their hoods.” Helen adds, “The foam on the top of a cappuccino is like the bald head of the friars.”

Andy is the famed orthopedic surgeon who treats disorders of the spine and does spinal reconstructive surgery. He is on the medical staff of the Buffalo Bills and is renowned for saving the life—and mobility—of player Kevin Everett after a helmet-to-helmet hit. He is also “an avid dad, coffee drinker, and a new pilot … my midlife crisis.”

Helen is a surgical oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute whose specialty is breast cancer treatment and surgery; she also sits on the boards of several area nonprofit organizations, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. She contributes reviews and features to the gourmand publication Gastronome.

 The couple met while they were enrolled in UB Medical School: Helen (who grew up in Kenmore) and Andy raised their six children “in the boondocks, the Town of Lockport on fifty acres,” she says, “far from the stress of work. We have a home in New York City as well.” The couple does medical missionary work in Africa, and both teach surgical procedures. The Cappuccinos have recently created a production company, Vertebra Films, and have begun investing in features.

 Can this high-powered medical couple get through a day without caffeine? “The Gaggia coffeemaker is on call twenty-four hours a day,” says Andy, “freshly ground, freshly brewed. I have a couple espressos during the day to keep me percolating; on game day I’m restricted by Bills trainer Bud Carpenter from having anything but caffeine.” Andy continues, “I have a coffee after each case, so if I do six cases, I have six cups. Most days I have anywhere from four to eight surgeries per day, depending on the complexity of the cases.”

And where do they get coffee at home, around town? “My favorite cup is from Dunkin’ Donuts,” Andy declares. “Spoken like a true native New Yorker,” Helen adds. “It’s Dunkin’ Donuts, hands down,” he says, “and I’m way too cheap to spend money on a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”

The radio voice
Bert Gambini begins his workday while most others are deep in sleep, or perhaps (for the younger set) just making their way home. He’s been in radio for “twenty-plus years” and is the morning news anchor at WBFO. He considers himself a Canadian Football League scholar, amateur astronomer, and bird watching aficionado. He’s also the co-host—along with Mike Andrzejewski of Sea Bar—of Nickel City Chef since its debut; the popular competition is now in its third season.

 At Bert’s house, the coffeemaker is set to commence brewing at 2:50 a.m. for his 3 a.m. rising and shining: he is at the WBFO studio at 3:30. When asked to describe his coffee he says, “It’s very strong. In fact, if the cup gets knocked over it’s unlikely that the liquid would even spill; it’s a piece of coffee instead of a cup of coffee.”

 And is his coffeemaker a special type? “Gosh, it’s really just a coffeemaker that I may have gotten at a garage sale.” And the beans? “I am very happy with Eight O’Clock but I do buy Spot coffee on occasion—whatever bean catches my fancy. And sometimes I do buy beans at the Co-Op but I don’t really do a lot of shopping for different coffees.”

Bert also says, “Coffee drinking is not part of the Italian culture; our drinking is leisurely. For the Italians it’s a shot of caffeine and then on with your business.” And his secret for a perfect cup is “always heaping spoonfuls” of beans: “If it requires three spoonfuls of coffee, let those spoonfuls be heaping.”

The violist and singer/songwriter
When not touring or performing with her bands—10,000 Maniacs, the Healers, and John & Mary & the Valkyries—Mary Ramsay is giving lessons on viola, violin, and piano. Check her out wth the Valkyries at Sportsmen’s Tavern the first Saturday of each month from 9:30 to 12:30.

 So, is it coffee or tea? “I don’t drink coffee at all; once in a blue moon I’ll have a cappuccino. Tea is what I mostly drink. Herbal tea.” Is that a consideration for her singing and playing onstage? “I think actually water is best for the voice; it keeps your throat coated and soothes the voice. Sometimes I’ll have hot water with lemon, but usually before a show I have a little wine.

 “I learned about having hot water with lemon and honey from ages ago when I waitressed at Lord Chumley’s. A lot of older ladies drank, and enjoyed, that. For herbal teas I like chamomile tea, which has such a nice natural earthy smell like grass, and Bengal Spice, which has a nice flavor and a sweetness to it. And with any tea you can add milk to make a sort of chai.”

If she needs a caffeine boost Ramsay goes for the subtle jolt of the cocoa bean. “I go for dark chocolate, Hershey’s Kisses, or I get one of those organic dark chocolate bars—but not too dark.”

The judge
New York Supreme Court Judge Gene Fahey presides on benches in downtown Buffalo and Rochester. He is a Spot fanatic, a regular who describes the temporary closing of the Rochester Spot (for renovations) as “making it difficult on me; there’s been a decline in the quality of my work because I haven’t had the right coffee there. Spot is the best local coffee by far.

 “Caffé Aroma is pretty good, and Romeo and Juliet’s is the best in North Buffalo, but my favorite is Spot. The machines are always cleaned all the time and that makes a huge difference. Coffee is the ultimate aging neurotic’s drug of choice … if you can’t drink any more this is pretty much it.”

And how much of the Spot elixir is Fahey sipping? “Just one—a grande red eye with a double shot of espresso. And then the mornings fly by.” When asked if he makes his own coffee he says, “Sometimes, but not too often; they just do a better job. But then there are holidays like Christmas, those days when people get the day off and they’re closed.” The judge takes his coffee black “because it tastes better that way. Milk ruins it. Those other drinks with foam, like cappuccino, are all great, but those are not about the coffee. It’s about the sizzle, not the steak.”

Fahey goes on to comment that the best fast food coffee is McDonald’s. As he sees it, the megachain has done “a good job; people really love it.” He adds, “The social part of the coffeehouse is what I enjoy but that doesn’t matter unless the coffee is really good; the tie that binds is the quality of the coffee. Coffee culture first started in England at the time of George III in the eighteenth century; Samuel Johnson and others would sit around and talk. It was viewed at the time as a dangerous drug, one that promoted a promiscuous culture. I think that’s part of the lingering attraction of coffeehouses.” 

The coffee club
The creative people who work at the creative services department and the office of public affairs at Roswell Park Cancer Institute share a hallway and a coffeemaker. These individuals so enjoy a good cup of joe that they’ve recently formed a coffee club replete with monthly dues, some casual bylaws, and an internal website announcing the daily flavors.

Michael Gonzalez, web marketing manager, says the working title of the club is BeanByte and that there are about ten dues-paying members.

Annie Deck-Miller, senior media relations manager, says, “I’ve never worked anywhere where there was more coffee drunk per capita, even at the newspapers I’ve worked for.” The coffee is Cool Beans, supplied by the Crystal Rock water supplier.

Danielle Fortier, web architect, and multimedia designer Nina Lettieri both divulge a three-cup daily habit at work.

Director of creative services Ben Richey says that he not only started the club but paid two months of dues up front. He also invented the French Vanilla Explosion: French vanilla coffee with creamers of the same flavor swirled in.

John Senall, director of development communications, says the coffee club “makes sense financially. I save about thirty dollars a month. My favorite mug? The ‘We Love Daddy’ one!”

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