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January '03: Taxes

February '03: Coffee

February, 2003

Large Coffee, Hold the Crap

I don't go to Starbucks very often; if you've seen my "Death to Chain Restaurants" page, you probably know why. But when I do, I just want a coffee, usually a big one. It's getting harder and harder and harder to get that, which is why I'm writing about coffee shops this month instead of beer. Get used to it: mostly I'll talk about beer, when I don't, I'll usually talk about whiskey, but I might talk about other drinks, maybe even wine. Just so's you know.

So, coffee. I'm not a coffee drinker, I'm a coffee abuser. When I drink coffee, I'm either bone-cold and there's no soup around, or I'm on deadline with 3,000 words to go and all I want to do is curl up and hibernate. That's when I double-dose the Melitta and fire up an oversized mug of 220 volt java. I put enough dairy in there to take the edge off and gulp it, then have another. In twenty minutes my synapses are firing like the pistons in Mel Gibson's supercharged V-8 Interceptor in Mad Max, and I'm cranking it out so fast you can see the screen move. I use coffee.

But cursed as I am with this thirst for variety, for interesting flavors in my food and drink...I can't just shove the stuff in my veins. My brother-in-law started that horrible process by saying "The Kenya AA is really good." Damn. I had to try it, and then I was off to my local micro-roaster (Bucks County Coffee, good stuff) to get more, to try the Jamaica Blue Mountain (overrated), the Kona (good, but not complex), Sumatra (probably my favorite: low acidity, heavy flavor even in normal roast), Yirgacheffe (giving Sumatra some serious competition), Guatemalan (holds up with the best flavor under severe filter cone overload on those really dozy days), and the finer Colombians (more robust). 

I do espresso sometimes (we don't have a pump machine, but it's coming), but I don't do "cuppings" or French press or any of the more esoteric stuff, like at cask ale level in beer appreciation...yet. I just drink it hot and fresh with a good dose of milk. But I like good coffee, fresh-ground and very freshly brewed (and strong enough to taste), and I like the differences in the different blends. I assume -- and that's a big leap, I know -- that people who are buying coffee at Starbucks and the little Bucks County Coffee kiosks and all the other multitude of javaterias that have sprung up in the past 20 years are also interested in the differences in the different blends. 

So why can't we get them? I am so damned tired of going to one of these places and seeing a "choice" of one real coffee, a decaf, and a flavored coffee. Decaf? Look, if you're drinking coffee and you can't handle caffeine, you're a sorry humanoid. Have a fruit juice or a glass of hot water and get the hell out of my way, I need to get a good hard jolt and get back to work. Flavored coffees are disgusting, the raspberry wheats of the coffee world. They stink up my coffee-drinking atmosphere. If you're drinking this crap, you don't really like coffee, you're just eating low-calorie candy. Get the blend and have them put some syrup in it, for God's sake.

Because if we could get rid of you decaf-drinking, hazelnut-huffing drones, maybe we could get some real variety on the hi-test pump! If I want that zing of Kenya AA, I'm just not going to settle for Costa Rican Fair Trade, no matter how political I'm feeling, and why should I? I want at least three real caffeinated non-flavor-tampered javamatics pouring every by-God morning. What's so hard about three? Bars have adjusted to the variety of beers out there.

Even if I could get that, I'd still have to get out the machete and hack my way through the cutesy menu. Latte, grande, vente, cappucino, espresso, you'd think coffee was made out of mozzarella and fatty pig meat and came in a big bottle covered with straw so college girls could make candle holders out of it. Where did our tradition of coffee houses come from? ENGLAND! So can we please order this stuff in English? If they want their milk steamed, just let me hold it for half a minute, it's going to be bubbling over.

And don't get me started on Starbucks and sizes. Grande. That sounds big, right, kind of like 'grand?' Well, it means medium at Starbucks. 'Large' is ordered by saying 'vente.' What, it's large because they blew it full of hot air? But get this: the only English word is what they call a small coffee: tall. TALL is SMALL? What ever happened to Large, Medium, and Small? We know what they mean, the damned servers know what they mean (I know, because I always order that way and they haven't gotten it wrong yet), why can't they write it that way? 

It's because the marketers have this all figured out. They know you aren't going to pay $2.50 for a cup of coffee. And why should you, you're not an idiot. But they realize that if they dress up the coffee, call it vente and latte, and sell chai and fresh-squeezed juices and biscotti in the store, and call the servers "participants" or hell, I guess you are an idiot.

Can the crap, super-server: gimme a large coffee, the Ethiopian blend. What? You only have the Stop Globalism Now Honduran Estate blend today? Oh, well, have a nice day. I'm going to the doughnut shop. At least they admit that all they have is one kind. 

Remember, class. It's not about coffee. It's about choice. You have the money, you make the decisions. If your local coffee shop won't give you what you want, go somewhere that will. Tell them about it. 


Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: October 31, 2003