Coffee Fail

As an astute individual once affirmed, ‘in America you can buy bucket-sized cups of coffee in any flavour you like other than coffee-flavour’.

I recall a story from a bloke with whom I used to kill the lonely hours of my many hostel graveyard shifts. He was a seasoned world traveller and had found himself stuck with a North American female, who after dragging him kicking and screaming to a generic Starbuck-esque coffee sweatshop, ordered herself a ‘lite Hazelnut Mocha-Frappa-chino with cream, three pumps of chocolate and the order to brew this abomination to precisely 160 degrees’.

At any respectable café back in Melbourne, it is part of a self respecting barrista’s job to punch people who think this is acceptable. Contempt on principle aside, when you start depth charging thickened cream and shots of chocolate into your morning cup you can pretty much forget about your drink being ‘lite’. Semantics won’t shed your muffin top.

This tirade of choice encouraged by sweat-shop caffeine peddlers renders the transaction less about enjoying good coffee, and everything about how sugary and sweet you can bastardise an otherwise fine, reasonably healthy beverage.

As the reign of Starbucks and equivalents have come to soil the earth, the more I empathise with Frasier and Niles Crane’s dad Marty. I, too, hate what 'they’ve' done to coffee.

I had anticipated that New York might be different, that there might be hope for America in the heart of its most bustling, most diverse city, that lady liberty might burn her torch not just for the disenfranchised and impoverished, but for desperate lovers of a good cup. I had envisioned that contrary to the hopeless predicament rife throughout the rest of the country (barring certain precincts of the West Coast), fine, blood-coarsing, aromatic, delicious coffee might be discovered, downed and lived by daily.

My optimism was foolish.

With the exception of a handful of spots - Cafe Angelique in Greenwich Village (former haunt of the Fab Four in their heyday), and a cosy wood floored Hipster crib in Willamsburgh, most of the coffee I’ve come across has been arse awful.

Weak and watery, quantity over quality, a thousand combinations of possibility and rarely a sensation of happiness at the end. Certainly very little feeling of prolonged stimulation. If not sweet, cream dripped and foaming, then it’s weak as black piss.

A good coffee can make or break your day. The variations on what makes it good from great, tolerable from terrible are subtle. Coffee making is a complex, applied art requiring human skill. Relying on a machine to churn out decent brew before mutilating it with cream product is recipe for a good slapping.

A good morning coffee must be blacker than pitch, muddier than Irish bog. It should grab you by the beans, make you buzz and erupt internally on that first divine mouthful. If black, milky warmth doesn’t singe like a river of dark, hot zeal through your veins, then you may as well throw it away, or at someone.

I miss Melbourne coffee, a place where coffee is never ‘plain’, and rarely is there ever a terrible one. So many mornings in the States I have craved a strong flat white and instead been forced to sit multiple rounds with a filthy drip filter. It has been tolerable, but my heart longs for what it knows and loves. The coffee of home. The real deal.

Thankfully my old lady came to the rescue yesterday and sent over my new pride and joy, an Italian Stainless Steel stovetop number.

It might only make a cup at a time, but that one cup has more power than an entire pot of drip feed and leaves me wired for the better part of the day. You can keep your drip feeds and your frappa-crappa-moka-loka-lite-white-tight-delite hot jizz in a jumbo cauldron. I’m all about the quality and the extent to which it makes your eyeballs buzz.

Wake up America. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Get some decent, dignified, unabashed Joe in your system and learn about it


Paul said...

It is a testament to good old Melbourne that all the starbucks have closed down, even at the airporty. Hurrah!

Good speed in your efforts in to locate the finer coffee establishments in your new burg. Make a google map!

Tom said...

amen to that.
what the hell were they thinking when they invented a venti (20oz) coffee?

wibo.blog said...

Bang on mate.
We counted 84 Starbucks on Broadway alone when we were there, each as bad as the rest. At some points you could spot 4 of the monstrosities from where you were standing.
When I arrived back recently I drank five a day for a week, so desperate had i been for that old familiar taste and kick.
Glad you have found some kind of a solution with the home remedy mate!

Anonymous said...

you said it buddy. amen. i am pretty tame as coffee drinkers go but i found myself ordering 3 shots in my capuccino at Starbucks in the states and wondering what the world was coming to. Even then i wasnt truly satisfied. Can you imagine what look a Melbourne barrista would pull if you ordered 3 or 4 shots in your coffee? Makes me smile just to think about it.

Anne said...

Suffering the same in good old Shepparton, SP. However, my housemate and I found a tiny little slice of Melbourne, where the guy plays good tunes (no country and western, or Star FM - Shep's Nova equivalent), and the fairtrade goodness puts a smile on my dial every time... Thankfully I'm only 2 and a half hours from Degraves Espresso...