originally published February 12, 2013

As open-minded as I may be when it comes to matters of food (I’ll subject my palate to almost anything that doesn’t look too Fear Factor-ish), eclectic art (I’m mastered the act of nodding politely) and sex (I once did it with the lights on), I have to admit – I am a pathetic creature of habit when it comes to my morning coffee. Dark roast, no cream, no sugar, no foam, no grotesque hazelnut tint to the beans. I’ll also restrain from spicing my coffee up with whiskey, partly because I’d worry about where my life was headed if that became a habit, and partly because there’s no need to mess with my morning lifeline.

It’s coffee. It doesn’t need to dress itself up for me in the morning. Love is all about accepting the object of one’s affections, even in their tussled, unkempt, straightforward morning incarnations. I don’t do myself up to look fancy for my coffee; I expect the same in return.

Now, when it comes to that mid-afternoon caffeine booster shot, I’m willing to be more flexible. We’re on the town now – let’s slap a little makeup on and see what happens. Thankfully, there are dozens of options to choose from.

We’ll start on the bottom end of the ethics scale. Let’s say you want a latte to perk up your afternoon. Maybe you need a little something to get you through the rest of that traffic school session the court ordered you to attend after you ran over that statue of Ronald McDonald. I’m not judging – he probably deserved it.

But you’re a little low on funds. Hey, that’s cool. Replacing that statue probably cost a bundle. If you can’t swing a latte, why not grab a ghetto latte? Head to your favorite Starbucks and order a shot of espresso over ice in a tall cup. Walk over to the complimentary cream table and fill ‘er up. Congratulations! You just bought a Starbucks iced latte for about two bucks.

Actually, you just ripped off a company, and probably brought out the rancid innards of that espresso shot when you had it poured over ice. But if you have a soul so devoid of compassion that you would intentionally aim for a beloved children’s food mascot with your car, you probably don’t care.

If you’ve had a rough morning – maybe your dreams of becoming a professional bobsledder were shattered by a thoughtless shrew of a coach – you might need something with a little more bludgeoning power to get you through the rest of the day. A red eye might be for you: that’s a shot of espresso poured into a cup of coffee. Not enough? How about a black eye, with two shots? No? A green eye has three. Probably not the best thing to ingest right before yoga class.

If you grow to love this beverage, but enjoy playing the occasional prank on your internal organs, try a lazy eye. That’s the same shot of espresso, poured into decaf coffee. Why? Because fuck logic.

This one comes with far too many entanglements for a typical caffeine crash. Mirra is a particular type of coffee that has origins in Turkey. Coffee beans are roasted twice for extra bitterness then boiled twice, leaving behind a thick, dark sludge. That gets poured into a copper pot called a cezve, and served in a half-full cup. The guest drinks it, then hands it back to the host for it to be refilled and handed to the next guest.

Sounds like a great way to pass along mouth-herpes to an entire party. Also, if you forget to hand the cup back, then you are obligated to fill the cup with gold and marry the host or help them with their dowry. That’s a lot to ask of a cup of coffee.

A Wiener Melange is not, to my surprise, a hot dog salad. It’s actually German for ‘Viennese Blend’. It’s either a mild cappuccino or a red eye with steamed milk and foam, depending on which coffee experts you ask. I couldn’t drink it without thinking of hot dogs. Depending on the day, this might be a plus.

Okay, now we’re getting into the good stuff. Bicerin sounds like something your doctor might prescribe for chronic testicular throbbage, but actually it’s a mellifluous nectar from Turin, Italy. Served in a rounded glass, a bicerin is a shot of espresso, then a creamy dose of drinking chocolate and whole milk. Don’t mix the ingredients; just let them sit there in layers, drawing you into a journey of flavors.

This is the kind of drink you’ll want when your afternoon has already featured a successful gunfight, the birth of a child, and the manslaughter case against you thrown out (hey, who knew there was a McDonalds employee standing behind that Ronald McDonald statue?). This is for that magical afternoon when life is at its peak. Sip it slowly; it’s all downhill from here.

Karsk is designed for the opposite kind of day. Karsk is consumed by Scandinavian guys who look like they belong in the above photo. They aren’t looking for a pick-me-up, they want a knock-me-out. Karsk isn’t made by a barista, it’s made by “that fucker with the still in his barn.”

One part coffee, one part moonshine. You can use vodka, but karsk purists prefer flavorless moonshine, maybe with a spoonful of sugar to give your inevitable blackout a sweet taste. Don’t worry, the blackout is a good thing – you won’t want to remember what you went through during a karsk afternoon.

One recipe involves dropping a coin in the bottom of your coffee cup. Add coffee until the coin is no longer visible. Then pour in the moonshine until you can see the coin again. This is a hoax of course – you’ll never dilute the coffee enough to see that coin. You’ve just created a 90/10 moonshine-to-coffee version of karsk. Congratulations on your inevitable blindness.

The good news is that you can light the beverage on fire if you need to burn off some of the alcohol. Not advisable if this is your second cup, as your breath and/or insides may also ignite.

I’ll stick with my straightforward coffee for now. Just plug it into my I.V. and let it drag me, thrashing and struggling, through the rest of this Tuesday. No need to mess with perfection.

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