35th anniversary celebration: In defence of good coffee at the lake

a cartoon character sitting in a mug of coffee while coffee is being poured in a mug Illustration by Katie Hicks

Into the early 2000s, we published a series of “Classics.” The writer would argue for something that you could not live at the lake without—watermelon, beach towels, a beloved web chair. Twenty years on, we’re asking, what are the new cottage classics?

Mornings are beautiful at the cottage, made of sunrises over the lake, gentle mists, and birdsong. But for me, it’s hard to truly enjoy this beauty before caffeine kicks in. Coffee is a sacred part of my morning ritual. And my afternoon ritual. (And other rituals depending on how I’ve slept.) It’s the same for about 70 per cent of Canadians who drink coffee daily. But cottaging isn’t typically associated with top-shelf java. In the past, cottage coffee meant worn-out percolators or jars of instant crystals. For some, coffee from the decades-old drip machine they use at the lake is the cup they want. Others with more particular tastes are finding ways to embrace their favourite coffee away from home. 

One of my dearest friends, who visits her Saskatchewan cabin every summer, says that good coffee is luxurious, but not blasphemous. It’s not too fancy a luxury to detract from the feeling of escaping the wider world. It actually enhances it. Well, good coffee enhances it. Luckily, it’s never been easier to BYOB: be your own barista, that is.

What this means has as much variety as cottages themselves. Some lake houses may have high-end espresso machines. Other cottage-goers swear by French Presses or pour-overs. (For me, a pod machine devotee, that’s too many steps before caffeinating.) Once you establish your preferred brewing method, your favourite roasts, and get a couple of good (i.e. big) mugs, you’re mostly there.

But, since we’re at the cottage, give yourself permission to play around. You want your set up to help you thrive, not merely survive! On a summer afternoon, a hot cup doesn’t hit the same, but ice trays and large, reusable cups with straws make homemade iced coffee an easy fix. Pack a few syrup bottles to add familiar vanilla or caramel flavours, or spoil yourself with exotic ones like Italian eggnog or macadamia nut. For post-dinner coffees around the fire, spill in some whisky, Kahlua, or (my first choice) Bailey’s. Do this in the morning too, if you feel like it—you’re on cottage time after all. Consider making coffee like crafting a cocktail—let your imagination run wild. Caramel sauce. Whipped cream. Chocolate shavings. Maple syrup. Plant-based “milk.” You can have any or all of them. (Or black coffee, if you prefer.)

No matter how you make it, coffee tastes better at the cottage. Peaceful moments sipping it on the deck or the dock go beyond mere refreshment: they’re memories to take home with you.

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