Loving the Coffee Culture

More than just a hot cup of Joe.

By Joey Kennedy


I’ve been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember.

When my sisters and I were young tykes, my parents never made coffee off limits to us. My older sister and I could get up in the morning, walk our little, caffeine-starved bodies into the kitchen, pour ourselves big cups of joe, and enjoy the deep, roast flavor of 100 percent arabica fair trade coffee beans.

That’s not true. This was the 1960s.

We were probably drinking Folgers Very Weak Blend. We’d pour tons of milk and sugar in our cups and enjoy the warm, silver-filling-tingling sweetness as we watched Mighty Mouse save the day.

Until my parents moved us from southeast Texas to deep south Louisiana, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated coffee. We lived on Duet Street in Houma, La., in Terrebonne Parish. Our street was probably lower middle-class – generally small homes with hard-working men and women and lots of kids. The Wells family lived across the street.

The youngest Wells’ boy, Bobby, became my best friend. I’d spend lots of days at the Wells’ house, and Bobby’s mom, Miss Bonnie, would always have a rich, thick pot of coffee on. That’s where I learned that coffee was a whole lot more than milk, sugar, and Folgers.

I thought about all of this recently when my wife, Veronica, told me this year is the 100th anniversary of Community Coffee, a Baton Rouge-based coffee company that has the dark roast we prefer most often.

I don’t know what brand of coffee Bonnie Wells cooked us, but I know I loved it and came to crave it. The coffee was very strong, probably thanks to chicory. I rarely put milk in that coffee, though sugar was almost always used. I came to crave it.

I crave it right now.

For years, I searched for that coffee taste. The closest I’ve come is in Cuba, where the coffee is very dark and very strong. Cubans drink their coffee in little espresso cups. I always asked for a regular-sized cup, and my Cuban friends would look at me like I was some coffee-crazed addict.

I was. I am.

I brought a lot of Cuban coffee home from my trips there. Veronica and I agree it’s the best dark roast sans chicory we’ve had. Alas, we don’t have any right now.

Community coffee may be our go-to home brew, but that Louisiana brand really has nothing over the choices we have in Birmingham.

We have two major coffee brands in this area that are even older than Community. Royal Cup and Red Diamond have been here quite a bit longer. And Birmingham, which now has a reputation as a foodie paradise, is also quite the coffee town, too.

Full disclosure: While I am curious about coffee, I am no coffee connoisseur.

I just like coffee. Lots of it. Maybe five or seven cups some days. If I miss my coffee fix in the morning, I’ll get a headache. I cure it by drinking coffee.

If there’s only decaf, I’ll get it. And I’ll pout.

But I never, ever drink flavored coffee. Keep your hazelnut and vanilla, barista buddies. I’m not drinking pumpkin spice anything.

I want coffee. Fully caffeinated. Usually black. Maybe every now and then with a shot of my baby’s love.

About the silliest I’ll get in the coffee shop is a latte.

I can drink coffee that has been sitting on a burner for six hours. Or coffee that has just finished brewing. Of course, I like the latter better, but the former is better than nothing. Or hazelnut.

We have a lot of coffee houses in Birmingham, and they’re not all Starbucks, either. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Starbucks snob. I don’t care one way or another.

There’s a tiny Starbucks right at the entrance of Sterne Library at UAB, where I spend a lot of time with my teaching gig. It’s a busy, busy place; still, I’m there so often, they don’t have to ask my name or coffee preference.

I also love it that Starbucks put one of their stores next to Lucy’s Coffee & Tea on the edge of UAB’s campus a few years back, and Lucy kicked their butt. Starbucks quietly slinked away, because clearly, Lucy is boss of that neighborhood.

I love coffee, and I love coffee shops. I spend time at O’Henry’s, Red Cat, the Abbey, Seeds, and Revelator. I haven’t checked out Filter at Five Points South yet, but I will soon. There are lots of other coffee shops in Birmingham, too, and I hope to get to them all before I jitter out of here.

Sometimes I like to sit and savor a liquid jolt as I read my Kindle. Sometimes my wife and I will zoom through Red Mountain Expresso for a couple of cappuccinos.

We rarely take one of our pugs to the vet that we don’t stop by Starbucks on the way home for a puppuccino (just whipped cream, really, but the pups love it).

Still, I pine for that Wells’ coffee, lovingly made by Miss Bonnie and shared with friends around  their kitchen table. I always got more, if I wanted it.

I wanted it. Black, and thick, and beautifully bitter. I want it now.

What’s your favorite coffee place in Birmingham? Why?•


One Response to “Loving the Coffee Culture”

  1. Pershing L Wells says:

    Awesome story brother! Thanks for mentioning my mom!

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