Monday, November 27, 2006


“I like coffee, I like tea...”

Cup of coffee“...I like the java jive and it likes me.”

You know, you can mess with a lot of things, but don't mess with people's coffee.

Several years ago now, the cafeteria in our office switched from Maxwell House® coffee to Starbucks®. At the time, it created quite the uproar. We had an online discussion list for cafeteria issues, and there was much fuming by those who didn't like the change. "This stuff tastes awful!" "Give us back the old coffee!" And then, of course, those who were pleased with the change added their voices. "We finally have coffee that tastes like something!" "The old stuff was like dish water!" No one said anything about it without adding an exclamation point.

Eventually, the cafeteria management decided that they couldn't make most of the people happy with one coffee, and we have two coffee stations anyway, so they began to make both available, and things settled down. But not before someone posted a final characterization of the change: "Imagine," he said, "that someone stubbed out a cigarette in your coffee cup, and then filled it with coffee. That is what the new stuff tastes like!" No, whatever you do, don't mess with people's coffee.

In the early 1980s I used to work in an office area where they'd set up their own coffee maker, so people didn't have to wander down to the cafeteria. One of the women who worked in the area nicely volunteered to keep the supplies stocked — she didn't even drink coffee, but she didn't mind stopping to buy coffee, filters, sugar, and milk — and people stuck money in a jar periodically, to keep the fund going. It usually worked out fine. Once in a while, though, Shirley wasn't aware that we were low on milk, say, and it ran out before everyone had gotten his morning fix.

Ohhh, when that happened, one had better step aside! There were people at Shirley's desk shouting at her. "How could you let this happen? How can I drink my coffee without milk?!" She deserved verbal abuse for being nice and voluntarily keeping the supplies stocked 99% of the time? Hey, guy, just go down to the cafeteria and get your coffee there. It's not a big deal. Don't yell at Shirley.

But, well, well-meaning as she was, accomodating as she was, nice as she was... she messed with their coffee, and there was hell to pay for that.

I ramble about this because recently Janeen over at "«destinations» journeys of a restless mind" put me onto some Ethiopian stuff called Yirgacheffe MAO Horse Grade 2. The "MAO" part forms the initials of the guy who first shipped the stuff; "Yirgacheffe" is the town in Ethiopia whence it comes; I have no idea what it has to do with any horse. I scored half a key of it, along with a couple of other coffees (something from Kenya and another from Sumatra), and with an excited mind and taste buds hoping to be blown wide open, I brewed my first pressful in the office.

Unfortunately, I used the cafeteria's "hot" water, which wasn't hot that day, and I got a tepid light-brown mess that sank into the swamp. But the second attempt was more successful, and I see the point of it, yes I do. It has bold flavour without being harsh. The American mass-market coffees are too bland, like the old cafeteria coffee, and the alternatives are often too harsh and burnt-tasting, like the new cafeteria coffee. This Yirgacheffe stuff is just right, smooth and flavourful, with just a mild coffee bitterness.

Back to the cafeteria thing, though, and an example of how marketing works: When I do get the cafeteria's coffee I get the Starbucks, because the Maxwell House is just too thin and icky to my taste. When I said that to one of the cafeteria workers a while ago, she said, "Oh, we've switched. It's not Maxwell House any more, now it's The Gourmet Bean." He-he-he. Check the label, I replied. Under the larger writing that says "The Gourmet Bean" is much smaller writing that says "by Maxwell House". They can give it a fancier-sounding name, but it's still dish water.


Corey said...

Not only 'don't mess with it,' don't get between someone and said someone's first cup of the day!

Maxwell House :p

Starbuck's, two thumbs up! (French roast)

Fred said...

I loved your rant!

By the time I joined there were already two types. And indeed, I noticed a difference in the branding of the Maxwell House but no difference in the taste. I can tolerate that one, but I stick to Starbuck's.

You forgot to mention the espresso machine. I used to use that daily, but then they raised the prices a couple of times in rapid succession and it went from being reasonable to being pricier per unit than Starbucks, which says a LOT. Or maybe it's because just about the last time I got a cappuccino at work, I spilled it all over my laptop :)

Janeen said...

Glad you liked the Yirg. I think it's mighty fine. I got some of their Harrar (another varietal from Ethiopia) and didn't like it as much--much too earthy a flavor, and not as fruity as Harrar often is. I sure will miss hanging at Victrola once I move. *sigh*