Although the hyperbolic headline of this article from 1963 was completely unwarranted, it wouldn’t feel too out of place these days in the Bay Area, where coffee is considered sacred in a time when the idea of a $5 16-ounce coffee is far from preposterous.
Whether it began the coffee renaissance in this country is yet to be determined, but it certainly raised eyebrows. Yeah, that cuppa’ jo was just a nickel. Sure, couch fishing spoils could put a pep in your step. But was it worth it? Was the gut rot, the headache, the wonton destruction of taste buds and the horrible breath really worth that nickel? Would caffeine lovers in 1963 have been willing to shell out, say $.25 for a coffee? Still one coin, but substantially more expensive.
To some, coffee is like gas: an irreplaceable necessity of modern life. No matter the cost, it will be consumed. But unlike gas, its quality varies greatly. Directly oppositional to gas, cheaper the brew, the bigger the frown. But that doesn’t mean a more expensive cup equals greatness. Once the basic need for caffeine is met, coffee becomes an artisan food. Just think of all the work that goes into making it: harvesting the cherries, discarding the fruit, drying the beans, roasting and then grinding into a powder to be steeped in hot water. And each of these steps influences the flavor.
Gas is not like that. Gas is a “yes or no” process, meaning “will this make my motor run, yes or no?” Companies like to pretend theirs is better, with special additives. But that’s like toting what kind of milk or sweetener is in one’s coffee. That doesn’t matter if it’s all the same stuff. But coffee is not gas, thankfully.
There is a definite difference between Intelligensia coffee and McDonald’s. There’s a difference between Flying Goat and Starbuck’s, mainly that Goat’s French press coffee has depth with notes of fruit, flowers and chocolate while the Bucks’ has the flavor profile of an dirty oven left on all day.
Maybe it’s the feeling of coolness from typing on a Bluetooth keyboard connected to my phone, maybe it’s the cheerful folk music in this cafe or maybe it’s the second-cup optimism kicking in, but I’m really glad we will never again have to see a headline containing the words “forced” and “swill.” At least not with regard to coffee.