Let me start off by saying that I’m not a coffee expert. I’ve been drinking coffee for nine years, and I only took it with cream and sugar for three months when I was starting out. I drink mochas, lattes and frappachinos, but those are all in a different category than coffee to me.
I am not an expert in what makes a good coffee great. I understand how different regions have different flavors (and have gotten better at telling where a bean came from just by its taste), and I can have basic conversations about how you’re drinking a roast (when the coffee’s flavor comes from how the bean is roasted) or you’re drinking the bean (when the coffee’s flavor comes mostly from the bean). But my understanding of coffee is limited.
But I do know what I like about coffee and what I hate about coffee culture. Being an avid drinker of coffee has given me insight into the mysterious black liquid of a non-technical sort. As someone who has worked as a journalist, a college student and a freelance writer, I like to think I’ve downed more than my fair share of coffee. As such, I’ve welcomed some trends in coffee and shaken my fist at others.
So, as someone who loves the drink, let me share some of my perspectives on the coffee culture.
1. This notion that there’s a “right” coffee shop atmosphere is completely wrong. There are days when I feel most comfortable at the tables of my local Starbucks where I can find an outlet for my computer, complete my work and eavesdrop on a pair of suits discussing the latest trends in whatever industry they work in. There are other days where I feel the need to abandon the hustle and bustle of life and slip into one of the booths of my favorite local shop, even though my local shop doesn’t have Internet and the chairs and tables are awkwardly placed.
My point is that no one shop has it right. I love the corporate vibe some shops give, but I also love the organic and alternative vibe some other shops give. It all depends on how I feel, and that’s how it should work for you.
2. Big name shops can do coffee well. Ever have a cup from Peet’s? Tully’s? I like these coffees, and I’ll say they stack up to what most local coffee houses can brew. Sure, my favorite cup comes from Cafe Roma, but I smile just as big when I have a cup from my favorite large chain.
That’s not to say all big shops do it right. My eyes always get slightly wider when I drink a cup of “Pike’s Place,” and not because I enjoy the flavor so much.
3. The best cup of coffee is the one in front of you. I’ve drank instant coffee on two occasions, and I am not ashamed to say I’ve done so. Both times were because there was literally no alternative. The first time, I was at a beach house leading twenty other students through an orientation for two days, and there wasn’t so much as a Dutch Brothers within 20 miles of where I was. There was, however, a corner market with Folgers instant coffee. And as bad as it tasted, it was a thousand times better than nothing. The second time was when I was teaching in South Korea. Again, I couldn’t find any “real” coffee, but I found packages of the instant stuff, and that got me through.
My point is that if you are too good to drink a cup of coffee, even when there’s no alternative to what’s in front of you, then you don’t love coffee.
4. Appearance is nothing. Quality is everything. One of the best cups of coffee I ever had came from a gulf war vet. He spent the war making coffee for his commanding officer from a machine when they were in the office, and a sock when they were in the field. He worked at a big coffee shop, sported a crew cut and dreamed of working in accounting when he finished his degree. He also poured for me one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.
You never know who is going to be a good coffee brewer just by looking at them.
(Sorry to Sprite if I sort of ripped off one of your more famous catchphrases.)
If you agreee, have something to add or think I don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to leave a comment. I love discussion and I’d love to hear your insights, especially if you know more about coffee than I do (which is likely since I know virtually nothing).