June 23, 2014

On What Grounds

On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle
Coffeehouse Mysteries, #1
2003 Berkley Publishing Group
Finished on 4/11/14
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Coffee makes a sad man cheerful; a languourous man, active; a cold man, warm; a warm man, glowing; a debilitated man, strong. It intoxicates, without inviting the police; it excites a flow of spirits, and it awakens mental powers thought to be dead... When coffee is bad, it is the wickedest thing in town; when good, the most glorious. When it has lost its aromatic flavor and appeals no more to the eye, smell or taste, it is fierie; but when left in a sick room, with the lid off, it fills the room with a fragrance only jacqueminots can rival. The very smell of coffee in a sick room terrorizes death. (John Ernest McCann, 1902 Coffee Almanac)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Clare Cosi used to manage the historic Village Blend coffeehouse…until she opted for quieter pastures and a more suburban life. But after ten years and a little friendly cajoling from the owner (a fresh pot of Jamaican Blue Mountain was all it took), she’s back to the grind, serving coffee and solving crime—one cup at a time…

With a sprawling rent-free apartment directly above The Village Blend, her cat Java by her side, and plenty of coffeehouse redecorating ideas, Clare is thrilled to return to work. Until she discovers the assistant manager unconscious in the back of the store, coffee grounds strewn everywhere. Police arrive on the scene to investigate. But when they find no sign of forced entry or foul play, they deem it an accident. Case closed. But Clare is not convinced. And after the police leave, there are a few things she just can’t get out of her mind… Why was the trash bin in the wrong place? If this wasn’t an accident, is Clare in danger? And…are all detectives this handsome?

Once upon a time, many years ago (long before the advent of Starbucks and Keurig machines) I used to drink Folgers coffee. Nothing fancy, just black with one packet of Sweet & Low. Actually, I think I started drinking Yuban, but I haven’t seen that brand in at least 20 years. In any event, I bought coffee in a large tin can, which required a can opener, as opposed to the “newer” plastic containers with the peel-off seal.

My husband and I rely heavily on our 2-cup mornings before heading off to work and when we were drinking that particular blend, we thought it was good. Well, decent, but much better than the industrial strength pots that were brewed (and left to sit far too long on the burner) at work. Many years later (and after switching from Sweet & Low to Splenda), I was served the most delicious cup of coffee, brewed with fresh ground Kona beans. I suddenly realized what I’d been missing. Out with the 3 lb. container of Folgers and in with a coffee bean grinder and fresh beans from The Mill, a local coffee house here in town. We’d become sophisticated coffee drinkers!

I rarely drink coffee after I’ve had my two cups at home, but every so often, when I need just a little pick-me-up, I indulge in something decadent from the cafĂ© at my bookstore. My favorite coffee treat is a Salted Caramel Mocha, but it’s a seasonal drink, so I usually just get a Mocha. However, a few years ago my husband and I discovered Americanos and we’ve found a couple of coffee shops that make this simple, yet delicious cup of coffee. Who knew coffee could taste so good?!

In addition to improving our taste in coffee over the years, we’ve also upgraded our method for brewing that perfect cup. We’ve gone from our 1980’s Mr. Coffee (which I didn’t know how to use, but owned just in case we ever had company!) to a variety of coffee makers, including a Cuisinart Grind & Brew and a Melitta “pour-over-cup” brew cone. But now we feel like we own the Cadillac of coffee makers. Our Keurig not only gives us a perfectly brewed individual cup of coffee, but it allows us to choose our own favorite blend or flavor, ready to drink in far less time than it takes to brew an entire pot.

So, what does all this have to do with books? Well, after reading several glowing reviews for Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries on Nan’s blog, I decided to give On What Grounds a try. The book was merely ok, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few tricks of the coffee trade while reading this mystery. For instance…

On the Perfect Cup:
The perfect cup of coffee is a mystifying thing.

To many of my customers, the entire process seems like some sort of alchemy they dare not try at home.

If the beans are Robusta rather than Arabica, the roasting time too long or short, the filtering water too hot or cold, the grinds too finely or coarsely milled, the brew allowed to sit too long—any of it can harm the end product. Vigilance is what gets you that perfect cup—vigilance and stubbornness in protecting the quality.

On Espresso:
Stovetop espresso pots usually come in three-,six-, and nine-cup models. Using one is quite simple. First you unscrew the bottom of the pot and fill the base with water, up to the small steam spout. Then grind whole beans. (The Blend uses one heaping tablespoon of grounds for every 3 ounces of water.)

The term espresso refers to the method of brewing and not to the bean so a quality bean will give you a good cup, and the Village Blend suggest a dark roast like French or Italian.

Grind them into fine particles, but be careful not to overgrind. Beans ground too fine, into a powder, will make the brew bitter.

Once the proper amount is ground, place the grinds in the little basket provided with the machine, tamp it down tightly. The basket will sit above the water as you screw on the top part of the pot.

Next place the pot over low heat. In a few minutes, the water will boil. Steam will rapidly force the water up through the grounds and into the empty pot, filling it almost instantly.

On Storage:

Whenever I walk into a kitchen and see beans stored in a clear glass jar on the countertop, I shudder. Exposure to light will affect the beans’ freshness and the coffee will lose its flavor.

I shudder twice as violently when I see storage directions on some of those inferior grocery store coffee brands. They actually tell you to “Store your coffee in the refrigerator,” implying you should simply take the bag you just bought at the store, open it, and put it in the fridge to be retrieved daily. Big mistake!

When the storage bag or container is removed from the refrigerator or freezer for daily use, it exposes the coffee to moisture in the air. The container then goes back in the freezer or fridge, and the moisture condenses and ruins the coffee.

A refrigerator or freezer should be used for long-term storage only. A vacuum-sealed bag, for example, can be placed in the fridge or freezer and opened only when ready to be used. But once the bag is opened, the beans should be transferred to a proper container, and not returned to the fridge or freezer.

Do buy fresh roasted coffee often and buy only what you will use in the next one or two weeks since the fresh smell and taste of coffee begin to decline almost immediately after roasting.

On Melitta Brewing:

[…]Water for the Melitta method should be heated just to boiling[…]

The trick with a Melitta is to pour slowly and stir, allowing the water to seep smoothly through the layers of grinds and into the carafe without channeling up. And of course, one must use a cone-shaped filter. Flat-bottom filters of any sort should be outlawed in my opinion, as they require more beans per fluid ounce of water to get the same strength of brew. Flat bottoms dissipate. Cones concentrate, saving beans and consequently costs[…]

Final Thoughts: I enjoyed reading On What Grounds, but I can’t say that I loved it, nor am I sure I want to read further along in this series. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of “cozy” mysteries, preferring a more intense thriller that keeps me on the edge of my seat, heart racing. However, now that I’ve met the main cast of characters, I’m a bit curious to see what’s in store for Clare and the men in her life. And, there’s always the coffee-making tips and recipes to drool over!


  1. You learned a lot about coffee from this little cozy!

    1. I really did learn a lot and have passed that knowledge on to my husband, who loves coffee just as much as I do!

  2. It's just me who drinks coffee here, but have been a Keurig Platinum owner for 6 years now and love it. We also have one at work. It's great when we have company too as decaf, regular and flavored coffee lovers all get the perfect, fresh, hot cup!.

    My favorite blends are Peet's Major Dickenson Blend; Starbuck's French Roast and Starbuck's French vanilla.

    I've also enjoyed the

    1. Oooh, I would love to have a Keurig at work. Of course, I get Starbucks for 50% off with my employee discount, so I shouldn't complain. :)

      I'll have to try the Peet's Major Dickenson Blend and the French Vanilla. I haven't really ventured into a lot of flavored coffees even though I do enjoy them. Need to buy more sample boxes.

  3. I'm not a big fan of cosy mysteries, but I do love a good cup of coffee ;-)

    1. The coffee details definitely made this worthwhile.

  4. I'm glad you didn't hate the book! Love that peace-sign mug.

    1. Ack! I forgot to thank you for the book! Thank you, thank you! :) And, no. I certainly didn't hate it. Just wish I had loved it as much as you and Nan. Maybe the second one will be my cuppa. ;)

      Got the mug at work a few years ago. It was on a display with a bunch of Beatles memorablia for the 60s. It's the perfect size for my morning cup of coffee. Or as Rod says, my vat. :)


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