Image via Men’s Cooking Manual
I have been a coffee drinker for as long as I can remember. I can remember drinking coffee after dinner with my family members when I was still in the single digits. I’ve tried to quit a few times and have always concluded that a life without coffee in it is not a life I’d care to live. I drink coffee every day, and I drink more coffee than most of the people I know. And yet, I confess, I’m kind of uncool when it comes to coffee. I don’t like the current trend towards single-cup drip coffee. I don’t buy whole beans to grind at home. And I kind of have a soft place in my heart for gas station/bad diner/ bowling alley coffee.
This Whole Single-Cup Drip Trend
Blue Bottle Single Drip Coffee, image via Dish a Day
I think it was probably about a year and a half ago that I started noticing all of my regular coffee shops moving away from the traditional pot-o-coffee and beginning to offer the single-drip cups. I didn’t really “get” it. I didn’t really pay attention to it. But it’s kind of blown up as a trend, hasn’t it? If you don’t love Blue Bottle in San Francisco then you’re at the bottom of many a turned-up nose. But I’ve given it a year or so and I still don’t get it.
I’m not saying Blue Bottle doesn’t taste good. I like it as much as the next person. It’s a good cup of coffee. But I continue to dislike the single-cup drip trend as a whole. Maybe I’m just too impatient. When I order a cup of coffee, I want the cashier to hand me a cup of coffee. I don’t want to stand in line behind thirty other cups that are being made on the spot before mine. And while I think it tastes good, I don’t think it tastes any better than a really good cup of full-pot brew. Sure, a freshly made cup of single-cup-drip is going to taste better than a pot that’s been sitting there for two hours just waiting for the barrista’s timer to go off and say it’s expired but a single-cup-drip that’s freshly made doesn’t taste any better to me than a full-pot-brew that’s freshly made. If a coffee shop is busy enough to turn coffee over quickly then a full-pot-brew should be fine. For me anyway.
Apparently, it is super uncool to say this. But I know how trends go. In five years or so, coffee shops are going to re-debut the traditional pot-o-coffee and market it as being “just as good as single-cup-drip but a whole lot faster” or something like that. So I may be uncool now but my cool days will come back around! It reminds me a little bit of how I didn’t have a TV when I was 19 or 20. It was so uncool then and everyone couldn’t believe I didn’t have a TV and wondered what I did with my time without a TV and thought it was some weird political or intellectual statement or something. It was a BIG DEAL that I didn’t have a TV. I still don’t have a TV. But somehow the world has shifted and that has now become one of many acceptable options on the spectrum of social coolness. I think my preference for whole-pot-coffee will end up the same way eventually.
The Headache of Whole Beans
Behind the Scenes At the Ritual Coffee Roastery
Recently I went to take a tour of where Ritual Coffee roasts their beans. It was super cool to learn about the process and see the roasting machines. And from all that I learned there I got the impression that this is a great local company that works hard to develop strong relationships with the farms from which beans are sourced as well as to use a level of quality control that ensures that their beans are the best of the bunch each season. The Americano that I had during my visit was definitely good. But when the tour leader asked if I’d ever tried their coffee before, I had to say no. The thing is, I’ve seen this brand’s beans at my local grocery store (Mollie Stone’s) but I don’t buy them because I don’t buy whole beans.
Anyone who is cool about coffee knows that you are supposed to grind your beans fresh right before you make a pot of coffee to get the best flavor out of them. You are definitely not supposed to buy pre-ground coffee beans. And I will concede the point on this one because I do think that coffee typically tastes better when you’ve just ground the beans. But I’ve owned a few coffee grinders in my time and I always end up giving them away to Goodwill because I just don’t use them for more than a few days before they get shelved. Did I mention I drink coffee every day? It’s part of my morning ritual. I enjoy it. And I don’t enjoy having to dig out the beans and grind them before I can start the coffee to enjoy that ritual. Although I think that freshly-ground beans make better coffee, I don’t think that the coffee is so much better that it’s worth having to grind my own beans.
So I buy ground coffee, not whole bean coffee. And not only is that uncool but it also means that I end up buying cheaper uncool brands of coffee because they are the only ones that generally offer ground in addition to whole-bean.
Good Times with “Bad” Coffee
Diner Coffee, image via the 12:21 Project
I’ve tried many, many different kinds of coffee over the years. And yet I’m just not a coffee snob. I mean, I don’t like burned espresso. I can tell when my coffee has been sitting around for too long. There are definitely brands and brews I prefer. But in general, I think coffee is coffee and I’m not too snobby about it. In fact, there is definitely a soft spot in my heart for lowbrow coffee.
I think this one is a nostalgia thing more than a taste thing. I’ve taken a lot of road trips where all-night driving was fueled by gas station coffee. I have sat in many midnight diners downing cheap coffee while having intense and not-so-intense conversations. I have had coffee in places that probably have yet to hear about this whole single-cup-drip trend. And there is a part of me that not only enjoys that coffee but sometimes yearns for it.
This is kind of the same thing as Taco Bell tacos. I don’t really eat fast food but I do love Taco Bell tacos. I think they’re delicious. I do not, however, think that they are good tacos. They’re clearly not tacos like the kind my friends’ moms make at home or the kind that you can get at a great burrito spot in The Mission. They’re not good tacos but they are good fast food. They are good for what they are. And cheap-ass coffee is kind of the same way. It shouldn’t pretend to be anything different. (On that note, McDonald’s coffee was way better before they started this whole McCafe thing trying to be cool …)
The “Right” Coffee Shop
A Starbucks I went to in Buenos Aires because it sold larger cups of coffee than any other spot did
This has gotten me thinking about the cool places to get your coffee. When I was eighteen I got a job at a brand new Barnes and Noble that had opened up in Tucson, a Barnes and Noble that also had the distinction of being the first place in the city to offer Starbucks coffee. This was a huge deal and we saw our share of coffee snobs who were super excited to finally see a Starbucks in the city. We also took a lot of flak from people who didn’t think that this big chain should be coming into the city, etc. etc. I’m sure you know the argument. It was interesting to discover how political it could be to buy a cup of coffee.
There’s still a lot of talk about where you get your coffee from, especially in this city, I suppose. (See blogs like this one for the general consensus.) I’ve had way too many discussions here about buying local vs. buying from chains, Peets vs Starbucks, and so on. While I usually have coffee at home, I’ve certainly been known to buy my coffee out at various places. Within a few blocks of my house there is a Starbucks, a Peet’s, Fraiche which sells Blue Bottle, a local place (Royal Ground), A Tully’s, La Boulange and until recently a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I’ve been a customer at all of them. There’s also Jane which is newer and I haven’t been there yet although for no particular reason.
My decision about where I’m getting my coffee considers the following factors:
- Proximity to where I am and where I’m headed. Yes, I will choose the coffee shop on this corner over the one across the street simply by location at times.
- If I want to eat something else. (Fraiche for yogurt, La Boulange for Breakfast, Royal Ground for lunch).
- Ambience if I’m going to be staying there to read or write. (Oddly the Starbucks is the coziest, followed by Royal Ground).
- The line or general crowdedness. When the Coffee Bean was here I often chose that over the other two on the same corner because it had the least people (which I suppose is probably why it closed).
- Who I’m meeting. If I’m meeting someone for coffee then it needs to be a place where we can linger to talk. Often this actually means going to a restaurant in the neighborhood rather than just a coffee shop even if we’re just getting coffee.
- More than coffee coffee drinks. I am usually a plain old regular coffee drinker. But if I want a “fancy coffee” then it’s usually Starbucks for a Caramel Macchiato. If I want an iced coffee, it’s a toss up between Starbucks and Blue Bottle at Fraiche, both of which do a mean iced coffee.
Can I Get Some Cool Points?
Can I redeem myself with some points for coffee coolness? Let’s see:
- I can typically discern the difference between what is considered “good” and “bad” coffee even though I don’t necessarily agree.
- I live in a neighborhood with all of those different coffee shops – including a place that sells Blue Bottle.
- I am comfortable drinking black coffee although I do typically add cream.
- I’ve toured the Ritual coffee roastery.
- I’ve done the coffee tasting at Ma’Velous coffee and wine bar.
- I do kind of like latte art.
- Even though I buy ground coffee what I get is a step above Folgers and two steps above instant. Although I will drink Folgers, and in a pinch instant, if it is morning somewhere and no other option is available.
- Um, I’m blogging about coffee?
Truth is, I don’t really care if I’m cool or not. I don’t drink coffee to be cool. I drink coffee because I like coffee. And besides, you’ll remember me when this single-drip thing goes away and all of the hot coffee shops are selling huge pots of ready-made coffee!