Coffee with Porte Crayon

Giles Snyder
4 min readMar 12, 2022

I generally avoid any coffee that I don’t make myself.

Nothing personal.

I just like mine better.

Instead of the usual method, I cold brew here at home.

A few years ago, my wife gave me a carafe made for the process after watching the mess I made using a mason jar. I used to drop a cup of grounds into the jar, top it off with cold water and let it sit overnight. It required straining (the messy part), but in the end I’d end up with a week’s worth of extract for my trouble.

Thanks to Mrs. Newsletter, I now have a carafe that came with a mesh filter that makes removing the grounds SO. MUCH. EASIER.

Pour a little of the extract into a mug, add hot water and standby for caffeine!

Cold brewing makes for a smoother coffee experience. Takes the bitterness out and making coffee this way is said to make the morning mug less acidic. I think that’s probably true. In any case, it’s a concern for some of us who aren’t getting any younger.

All that is not to say I won’t visit a barista in a pinch. And I was in a pinch when I turned up in Charles Town this week.

Charles Town is a short drive from where I live in Martinsburg, in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. I don’t make it over there often, but I decided to visit after reminding you in Tuesday’s PCAS newsletter that David Hunter Strother died there 134 years ago this week.

Strother, of course, was a native of Martinsburg. But like Berkeley Springs, he also had a strong connection to Charles Town. And it was those connections which gave him extraordinary access to the treason trial of the abolitionist John Brown. The presiding judge was a friend and the prosecutor was his uncle.

Strother biographer Cecil Eby, Jr. says Strother covered the trial for Harper’s Weekly “almost without competition from other newsmen.” Security during the trial was tight. “Outsiders, including newspaper reporters,” Eby wrote, “were scrutinized carefully or were denied access to both Brown and the region.”

Guess it’s nice to know that preventing reporters from simply doing their jobs is nothing new.

Today’s journalistic ethics would likely have disqualified Strother from covering the trial. I mean to say it’s kind of a no-no to cover stories in which family members are involved. But it was a different era and by the time of Brown’s trial Strother was nationally known as the writer and artist behind “Porte Crayon. His celebrity and the relationships that made him a community insider gave him the kind of access that must have frustrated other news writers.

Strother was not only in the courtroom for the trial, but he was there when John Brown was hanged. He was even allowed to sketch Brown’s lifeless visage.

Wait … I was talking about coffee, right?

When I arrived in Charles Town, I parked my car just down the street from the courthouse where Brown was convicted. And after wandering around a few minutes I came upon Sibling Coffee. It’s an inviting shop and the staff seemed friendly, talkative and helpful.

I ordered my coffee black. And I ordered it small — because I fully expected to not be able to drink it all because — see above. While I waited for it to cool enough to sip, I ate a peanut butter granola bar that hit the spot. I also had a tasty yogurt parfait.

What can I say? I’m trying to shed a few pounds over here.

The coffee Sibling serves, by the way, is good as I make at home — probably the highest praise I could give it. It’s smooth with just a hint of bitterness. Good thing, because I had indulged in a little too much applejack the night before and really needed the caffeine.

With a good cuppa in hand, I left Sibling and walked over to the courthouse. There are benches on either of side of the ridiculously tall white doors, so I took a seat to finish getting caffeinated and tried to imagine where Strother’s office had been. Biographer Eby says he had “rented an abandoned law office on the courthouse lawn” in the months before his death. He had been planning to write a book about his time as a diplomat following the 1870s publication of his ten part series The Mountains and previously his Civil War memoirs.

Strother initially sought to remain neutral, believing he could cover the war as a correspondent, like many of my NPR colleagues who are rotating in and out of Ukraine right now. But he ended up taking sides, joining the Union Army as a topographer initially and eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General.

Strother spent seven years as U.S. Consul to Mexico. He kept a journal but never got around to wrapping his head around a book. Eby says he used his office to do “a great amount of thinking but little writing.”

And as noted here earlier this week, he died of pneumonia on March 8th, 1888.

In case you look for me on the radio, I’ve got the weekend off. Don’t much like working the time change. Getting up as early I do is tiring enough as it is.

As ever, I remain opposed to messing with the clocks.

Please do share this week’s PCAS. Forward this email to your friends and post it on Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t had very many new subscribers lately.

Also, I’m always open to compliments but let me know if you catch a mistake, factual or contextual.

And stay hydrated! It’s good for your kidneys and whatnot.

Originally published at on March 12, 2022.