Coffeeneuring Rewind with John: Coffee Outside and Meanders along the Chesapeake Bay

One of the kerpillion things I love about coffeeneuring is the virtual journey I go on through people’s submissions. Some people send snapshot summaries, while other write-ups read like a travel journal. John, who rides in the areas on the Virginia Peninsula is one of the latter. He not only shows us around his neighborhood, but shares his coffee and brewing methods used during his coffee without walls stops. Please enjoy and many thanks to John for this Coffeeneuring Challenge journal.

Coffeeneuring Rewind Along the Chesapeake Bay

First of all, thanks to Mary and all the folks behind Chasing Mailboxes. Coffeeneuring adds a dimension and focal point for fall rides that has generated a lot of interest here among the Peninsula Bicycling Association crowd and others around this small planet. Hats off to you for the inspiration and effort involved.

This is my first effort at the Coffeeneuring Challenge, and my chosen theme has multiple layers. Some of them are more than a little subtle. Basically though, all the locations are either on the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries. Channeling Otis Redding here. Outdoor locations and coffee brewed on the spot make for some challenges.  Weather forced a change in menu on the first outing.

Each location chosen has some historical significance. Sometimes this history is a little obscure or quirky, but that’s part of the fun.  Coffeeneuring can be educational.

Some thirty years ago, a good friend of mine was the captain of a small cargo ship. The ship’s homeport was in Bremerhaven, and they picked up cargo in small ports around the Caribbean and South America. Coffee was a featured item, and Deter knew all the small plantations and coffee brokers in the area.  The coffees chosen were ones that he and I enjoyed on his ship at various points along the way. Since he died a couple of years ago, this challenge is in tribute to his memory.

8 October – First Effort

The route is my usual training route around Langley Air Force Base, three laps around the 10k loop, then along the nature trails and out to the dock overlooking the Northwest Branch of Little Back River. Total of 23 miles. This point is very close to where the ill fated airship Roma departed Langley on 22 February 1922. It crashed and burned later that day in Norfolk.

The brew planned for the day was to be a New Orleans French Roast with chicory root and prepared in a French press. Heavy rain and wind ahead of hurricane Matthew made it impossible to light the backpacking stove, so a cold brew was substituted. This was prepared by adding the grounds and roasted chicory to full water bottle and riding around for an hour before stopping to drink. It worked surprisingly well.

20 October – Second Ride

Back River Lighthouse ruins, Grandview Island on the Chesapeake. Constructed in 1829, it was a conical tower only 9 meters tall. The structure was damaged by Confederate raiders in 1862 and repaired the following year. Erosion issues plagued the structure almost from the start, and the light was eventually destroyed in 1956 by hurricane Flossy.

Interestingly, a drowning near the lighthouse in 1931 resulted in a sensational trial. Elisha Kane was acquitted of murdering his wife, largely on testimony provided by his father, Evan Kane, a doctor famous for removing his own appendix under local anesthetic.

The ride was from my home near Langley Air Force Base, using mostly bicycle routes in Hampton. The purpose of the ride was to gather information for a Hampton City Council meeting to discuss improvements in infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians. Takes in Grandview Island, Buckroe Beach, Phoebus and Fort Monroe for a total of 32 miles. Very flat, little traffic and scenic.

Cafe olla agave, a slight variation on an old Mexican recipe is wonderful on a cold morning. Use a traditional Mexican roast coffee, and grind fairly fine.  Prepare this in an aeropress; if it takes too much effort to press, your grind is too fine, conversely if the press is too easy, you need finer grounds. A little experimentation will reveal the correct texture. Add about a gram of freshly ground cinnamon to the grounds and sweeten the resulting coffee with a little agave syrup. Add a splash of tequila just before serving.

25 October – Third Time Out

The photograph was taken at the Rodgers Smith Landing on the Poquoson River. This is near the original land grant from Benjamin Syms which became America’s first free public school. It was established in 1634. Syms left in his will 200 acres (0.81 km2) of land and eight cows for “a free school to educate and teach the children of the adjoining parishes of Elizabeth City and Poquoson from Marie’s Mount downward to the Poquoson River.”

The route is a modification of the Peninsula Bicycling Association Thursday ride. It begins and ends at the Tabb Library and takes in neighborhoods and back roads as well as the Running Man bike trail.  Crossing Hampton Highway and Victory Boulevard require some caution as the traffic lights don’t feature crosswalk buttons and my bike and I are not heavy enough to trip the demand sensor. But they are the only two lights on the route. Mostly flat with a few rollers, 34 miles total.

Coffee Curacao, a real treat with an island vibe. Start with a dark roasted Guatemalan Antigua coffee. It has a complex aroma and a unique flavor that is hard to beat. Grind the beans just before making the coffee for best flavor, and use a fine grind. Prepare in a Moka pot using the instructions above. Pour into demitasse cups and add a shot of Ponche Kuba. Okay, a small confession. Ponche Kuba was developed by my great-great uncle Don Jaime Sprock in 1942 and is still produced on the island of Curacao at the family distillery.

27 October – Fourth  


Just down the hill from the victory monument is a dock overlooking the York River and the scene of the Yorktown Wrecks. At least nine wrecks have been discovered so far from the Revolutionary War.  During the 1781 siege of Yorktown, American and French forces sank several British ships. Many more were scuttled on orders from the British general Cornwallis. Perhaps as many as seventeen wrecks have yet to be discovered.

Today’s brew was Cuban coffee, known as cafecito. It is prepared in a moka pot. Use finely ground espresso roast beans from Jamaica to make the best cup. Preheat water for the moka pot to prevent overheating the grounds. Fill the basket with the grounds, packing firmly.  A spice bottle works well for this.  A safety note here. Packed grounds will increase pressure, so be sure the pressure relief valve is not clogged, and use only moderate to low heat. As soon as the coffee starts to appear in the upper chamber, pour a small amount into a deep cup containing about two teaspoons of raw sugar. Using a small spoon, whip the sugar and coffee mixture until it foams. This forms the espumita, the creamy foam of the coffee.  When the remainder of the coffee brews, add this to the espumita and transfer to demitasse cups if you want to share.

11 November – Fifth Ride

The route began and ended at the marina at Fort Monroe. It was a part of an ongoing effort to come up with a route to use as a possible suitable extension to the Cap trail down to that historic fort. Distance is 31 miles each way for 62 miles total. Mostly a very bicycle friendly ride, but there are still a few difficulties to work out. The segment on Allen’s Mill Road can be a little tense, and going through Langley AFB might not work for everyone. The round trip makes a nice metric century.

Pictures were taken on the Engineer’s Wharf at Fort Monroe. The background shows part of the fort and the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse. Built in 1803, it is the second oldest lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay, and the oldest still in use. The Engineer’s Wharf was built in 1818 to provide a landing stage for the stone and other materials used in the construction of the fort.

Cowboy coffee is the easiest to prepare, but has a few pitfalls. It is very easy to overheat, and that will result in some bitterness. Best to chose a bean with low acidity, and grind it relatively coarsely. The best flavor comes from high altitude coffee grown in Columbia, traditional heirloom coffee arabica bourbon is wonderful if a little hard to find. Place the grounds in the bottom of the pot, fill the pot with cool water and heat slowly to just 95 degrees centigrade. Allow to sit for a few minutes for the grounds to settle and decant the coffee into your cups.

15 November – Ride Number Six

The city of Hampton divides into four quadrants. Today’s ride covers the remaining bicycle routes in the Southeast quadrant. Mostly urban, many traffic lights and heavy traffic. Ninety percent of the drivers are careful and considerate, but the ten percent require close watching. The bike routes all suffer from poor paving, inadequate or non-existent marking and sometimes just not enough room on the pavement. The ride today took in the Veteran’s Hospital, Hampton University and sections of Fox Hill and Harris Creek. Coffee stop was at the mouth of the Hampton River, looking across to Blackbeard’s Point.

Blackbeard was an English pirate, subject of much local legend and lore. He turned his back on a royal pardon in June 1718 and resumed the pirating life.  One is tempted to guess he was bored. On 22 November 1718, Robert Maynard and a small force of soldiers surprised Blackbeard and his crew near Ocracoke Island and a ferocious battle ensued. Blackbeard was killed along with about ten of his men.

Maynard removed Blackbeard’s head and hung it from the bowsprit of his sloop and returned to Hampton. Governor Spotswood had the head hung from a pole on what is now known as Blackbeard’s point to discourage would be pirates. It remained there for some years.

New Orleans Cafe au Lait, the local version. The term French Roast usually means coffee laced with chicory root, but the commercial version is sadly lacking in character. To do this justice, you have to start with fresh chicory root.  Look for the pretty blue flowers in late summer, and note the plants. Harvest the root after the flowers are gone in early fall. Don’t wait for frost, as this will affect the flavor. Scrub the roots carefully and slice into thin discs. Dry these in a warm oven, no more than 85 degrees Centigrade overnight and store in the freezer until ready to use.

To roast, place on a cookie sheet in an oven at 160 degrees Centigrade for two hours or until your whole house smells wonderful. Grind the roasted chicory and mix with coarsely ground medium roast Colombian and Guatemalan beans. Prepare the usual way in a French Press. Sweeten with molasses if desired.  Serve with steamed milk.  A slight adaptation was required for preparation on a backpacking stove. Instead of steamed milk, it would be more accurate to call it scalded milk. Heat the milk in a pot over the stove until it steams freely, but does not boil.

18 November – Ride Number Seven

The route today takes in the Northwest and Southwest quadrants of Hampton’s bicycle routes. Some of the best and worst of the lot. Victoria Blvd provides a great commuting corridor between Newport News and Hampton, but the bike lane is not marked and is frequently used for parking. Chesapeake Avenue provides awesome views of the harbor, but the western half is concrete with very prominent expansion joints. Each joint would cause the bell mounted on my stem to chime. Amusing at first, then just annoying. Total mileage for the day was 47.

Picture was taken near the eastern end of Chesapeake, looking out over Hampton Roads. This is one of the best natural harbors in the world and well known for the Monitor-Merrimac battle and features heavily in the war of 1812. The British sack of Hampton in 1813 provided much of the impetus for building Fort Monroe and other fortifications up and down the coast.

Across the water, you can make out several aircraft carriers docked at the Navy Base. This provided the inspiration for the historical content. Very near this spot, on 14 November 1910, Eugene Ely successfully (barely) flew a Curtiss biplane from the deck of the USS Birmingham. This was the first time that feat was accomplished.  The aircraft very nearly plunged into the water, with it’s wheels kicking up so much spray that the pilot was nearly blinded.

Okay, this is one for the true coffeeneuring devotee. Kapeng alamid, sometimes called Kopi Luwaki, is the name given to a coffee made from beans collected from the scat of the common palm civet (Yes, it really is made from cat poo.) It appears that the digestive process of the creature makes subtle changes in the chemistry of the raw beans that give a distinctive flavor to the roasted beans. A friend sent me a sample, and it has been waiting for a suitably special occasion.

Not for the squeamish, and best when prepared very simply. The pour over method works well and allows for the best expression of nuance, and distilled or purified water is recommended. Rinse the filter before brewing and pour hot water over the grounds in four installments over about three to five minutes. Use the beaker from the french press to collect the coffee as it brews. It was a little cool today, so wrapping the beaker in a thick sock helps to keep the coffee hot. Kapeng alamid has a mild flavor, something like nutella. My first experience with this coffee was on Deter’s freighter, anchored in the harbor at Buenaventura, Ecuador. Most of the crew was Filipino, and the cook brought a supply from home.

Always Be Coffeeneuring,


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