This is a large, illuminated sign on the edge of the parking lot for a 7-11 store on
North Lamar. Blvd. The "sell" is for the cup, the "closer" is the
description of the coffee.
There was a time in Austin when the best cup of coffee in town was at an all night diner called, Holiday House. The large and dowdy restaurant was just on the edge of the UT campus and served as a respite from days and days of bland, dormitory/cafeteria food. At least at the Holiday House you could get reliable eggs and pancakes. The coffee was more or less the American standard at the time: almost "see through" and with all the punch of a loofa. The nice thing about American coffee in the 1970's is that one needed to drink lots and lots of it to get any sort of adrenal buzz and that prodigious intake kept most college students well hydrated... But the real reason it was "the best cup of coffee in town" is that it was the only cup of coffee in town. At least at the odd hours of the day.
Since that woeful decade we've mourned the demolition of the Holiday House and most diners in our town but we've seen a blossoming of coffee shops, coffee houses and coffee kiosks everywhere. In my neighborhood there are two Starbucks facilities in one shopping center. And both are always busy serving increasingly strange coffee drinks that are moving further and further away from the pure idea of coffee as I know it. They offer a wide assortment of sugar-rush caloric time bombs, laced with espresso coffee shots. Where Starbucks fails mightily is in their interpretation of drip coffee. Traditional coffee. They've developed a new science of consumer coffee addiction. They roast their beans for their primary drip coffee offerings for too long. The "burnt" beans increase the flavor load to the tongue (and not in a good way) while actually decreasing the caffeine content of dark roast coffees. The lower dosage of caffeine builds traffic and sales as the serious coffee drinker must ingest more and more coffee to get the same attentive buzz we got from more artistically roasted beans.
Most of the coffee shops provide a good service; a place to park and relax while compulsively checking e-mail and one's favorite websites. I see them as rest stops for the trendy and consumers who believe they are buying a more sophisticated and higher quality cup of coffee.
In my same state of anthropological delusion I always thought of Starbucks as being the coffee of pretension and relative affluence and, in constrast, always thought of coffee served at 7-11's, convenience stores in general, gas stations and McDonalds to be the coffee of the working class. People who, by necessity or choice, wanted decent coffee but at a more affordable price. I presume that this segment of the buying population were habituated to the taste of a more traditional, American style coffee. But now my universe of imagined, coffee drinking gerrymandering has been turned upside down by this sign I stumbled across yesterday.
The cup is nice, I am sure. It's good to keep coffee hot. Most addicted coffee drinkers prefer it that way. But I fail to understand where styrofoam has failed in that endeavor. The real story is contained in that round ornament just to the left of the cup. "Nicaragua Single Origin Coffee." And its additional message conveyed in the green logo at the bottom of the ornament: "Rain Forest Alliance Certified."
Since when did "budget/convenience" coffee drinkers become discriminating about the source of their coffee? Since when did mainstreamers develop a realization about single origin coffees? What is next, Kona coffee at McDonalds? Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at Exxon? Have we hit a tipping point at which we, as a nation, are hellbent on upping everyone's game when it comes to coffee?
I'm curious to know if this is trending in other regions. I understand that most places have a wild surplus of coffee shops and most cities of any size have somewhere within their borders that just nails good coffee, but is an elevated coffee awareness becoming as universal as the cellphone?
Please report sightings of coffee appreciation mutation in your region. Document it, if possible.
What will Starbucks do when they lose their "hipster/trendy/first arrival" status? Their latest remodels have made the stores louder, meaner, less well lit and less comfortable (the LED pinlighting is egregious...) and I wonder if this will push customers toward more welcoming competitors.
I think Michael Johnston has the right idea. Become your own master brewer. At home. But it's kind of nice to see that, when on the road, there are more and more chances that a good cup of coffee is on the route.