This Is Not a Metaphor for Anything

25 years ago, let's say, you couldn't get good coffee in America: only Folger's, Maxwell House, or instant. Hipster college towns and European imports notwithstanding (International Coffees, anyone?), the average cup was bad; so bad, in fact, that people didn't really know what they were drinking was substandard.

Then came Starbucks, and the return of coffee culture (Cheers being replaced by Cafe Nervosa in Frasier and Central Perk in Friends would be representative), and it was possible to have good-to-great coffee almost anywhere.

In the early 00s, Starbucks switches over from barista-led espresso machines to automatic ones. The caramel machiatto is a runaway success.

Now: a divide between coffee snobs and everyone else. The rise in popularity of single-cup coffee makers, whose most notable feature is the willingness to pump increasing amounts of water through the same amount of grounds, and whose flavor profiles range from "bold" to "extra bold" because otherwise you can't taste the coffee,* concurrent with the rise in 'coffee' drinks as milk-and-sugar delivery vehicles. You can get a good cup of coffee, but you probably have to make it yourself, or seek out a niche coffee location.

Are we better off now than we were? By how much, exactly?

*The only exception I've found are the Starbucks k-cups, which taste exactly like Starbucks coffee. Whether this is a good thing is left as an exercise for the reader.


rosebriar said...

I make mine at home unless it's basically an emergency. But I can't say I'm not a milk-and-sugar-delivery-vehicle person. Just add "caffeine" to that list. Then again, if after that, even I can tell the difference, then perhaps this has gone pretty far.

Katherine said...

Sorry. I'll ditch the Keurig too.

Nicholas said...

Well... one-cup coffee makers solve two of the old problems--how do I keep my coffee from burning? what if I don't want to make a full pot or know how much coffee I'll drink?--but at the expense of quality: you won't ever get a terrible or undrinkable cup, and you know more or less what you'll get before you brew (which is important, since the range of brands and styles is... impenetrable, at best). It's questionable advancement if you want the best coffee, but if you don't drink enough to care, it's a much better solution.

I am also all in favor of milk-and-sugar delivery vehicles, and mixing caffeine with other things. But I like my coffee to taste only like coffee, generally, in part due to my increasing aversion to milk (my appreciation for Asian food of various stripes appears to be linked to its never making use of dairy products).

Katherine said...

Increasing aversion to milk? Try genetic inheritance. Both your parents are lactose-intolerant and it appeared by age 35. Something to consider.