Bad Coffee > No Coffee?

urlAcclaimed-director and coffee lover David Lynch was once asked to explain his obsession with the beloved brown brew. He responded by authoring an op-ed piece on The Huffington Post‘s blog entitled “Obsessed: Coffee” (of course he did). In this post, he makes a bold statement (no pun intended): “Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”

By all accounts it certainly does seem that David Lynch does have a borderline unhealthy obsession with coffee; started drinking it at an early age, has several cups per day (at one time in his life, apparently, he was known to have upwards of 20 cups of instant coffee per day), even went so far as to tie his name to a coffee. I recently saw an ad for David Lynch Signature Cup Organic Coffee, by the way. It doesn’t really make one want to go out and buy the coffee, unless one prefers their cup with a bit of cream, sugar, and unadulterated paranoia.

I share Lynch’s said “obsession” with coffee. I love the stuff. The difference between Lynch and myself, though, is that coffee’s function in my daily routine isn’t completely utilitarian.

Don’t get me wrong – I need that first wake-me-up cup of the day just as much as anybody else. If I don’t have a coffee first thing in the morning, within an hour or two of waking up, I get headaches, I can’t focus, I feel groggy. And, when those times come, and I’m in a real pinch, I was once known to go to a fast-food or corporate coffee chain drive through. And I’d squint my eyes and grimace my face and force myself to slowly sip a tall Caffe Verona and an hour or two later, I’d literally feel sick.

This recently happened when some friends and I decided to “meet in the middle”, in a town where none of us were from, and we tried to think of a place where we could hang out and talk without spending a lot of money. Of course, being the Western suburbs of Chicago, the only option was Starbucks.

I had a water.

This happens when I visit my parents in Central Illinois and the only decent coffee roaster/shop is an hour away – I’m forced to drink my dad’s K-Cups or Folger’s or Maxwell House. Then I have to dump so much cream and sugar in the cup I might as well be drinking milk with a little bit of sugar in it. (That’s how I decided to create a travel coffee kit with a Hario Slim Mill, a kettle, a V60, and a bag of beans.)

But, hey, bad coffee is better than no coffee at all, right? Or is it?

I’m not so true it’s true.

In the Words of Stephen Leighton…

url“Life is too short for bad coffee.” That’s how London-based HasBean founder, Stephen Leighton, signs off his coffee vodcast, In My Mug. And I think that accurately sums it up.

Life is too short for bad coffee.

Coffee is finally getting to the level of wine fines – a place in the culinary world that craft beers had to fight tooth and tail to claw their way to as well. Never before has there been such a scrutinizing focus on really high-quality coffee, business transparency, farming and processing standards, roasting practices, and even barista skill sets. Never before has high-quality coffee been so accessible and user-friendly.

There are very few acceptable reasons to opt for bad coffee over good coffee nowadays, so why are still settling for bad coffee?

Addiction

I think there comes a time when we have to look at our consumption practices. If we’re subjugating ourselves to consuming bad coffee just because we can’t instantly get our hands on good coffee, there may be a bigger problem afoot – we might be battling an unhealthy caffeine addiction.

Worse yet, we might be falling prey to Stockholm Syndrome – gradually coming to actually enjoying drinking bad coffee because of the quick fix that it results in.

Just like anything, coffee should be consumed in moderation. If you’re drinking fine wines or craft beers just to get drunk, you’re not a connoisseur, you’re an alcoholic; if you’re chain smoking American Spirits for the nicotine fix, you’re no different than somebody chain smoking Camels; and if you’re chugging Stumptown or Kuma or Passion House or any other specialty coffee brand just for the sake of drinking coffee, you might as well be drinking gas station or Starbucks or K-Cup coffee.

Because, for you, it’s no longer about the taste or even the experience – it’s all about the fix. In all seriousness, if this is you, consider cutting back, quitting all together, or seeking out some sort of professional help because you’ve already fallen victim to caffeine addiction and that is a very serious thing that can result in a lot of very serious health complications.

Laziness

As I said, really good coffee has never been this accessible in history. I feel very confident in that very broad statement. Because it’s very true.

For one thing, the Third Wave revolution has resulted in locally-owned specialty roasters in every single U.S. state (unverified – please correct me if I’m making too big a leap, Dear Reader – but it’s got to be true), so there’s always coffee (relatively) nearby. This isn’t the 90′s, after all, where specialty roasters were only located in NYC, Chicago, L.A., Seattle, or Portland!

Furthermore, being able to order coffee on the Internet makes it all the easier to obtain it. If you live in a city or a town that doesn’t have a coffee shop with great coffee, order it from the Internet and make it at home. Or, do what I did – make yourself a coffee travel kit; mine is perfect for camping, the office, a weekend at my parents’ house, or even in a traffic jam. I once made an Aeropress of CREMA on the way home from Nashville in my car. As long as you have access to boiling water (and if you live or work anywhere near a gas station, you always have access to boiling water), then you can make coffee literally anywhere.

So the whole idea of “I only drink bad coffee when good coffee isn’t in my immediate vicinity” is kinda sorta of another way of saying “I’m too lazy to make coffee.” If you love really good coffee, you’ll do what it takes to get it.

Lack of Education / Lack of Care

I know I’ve said this at the Table before, but one phrase that drives me crazy is “Coffee is coffee is coffee.” If you’re a regular reader of the Table, I think it’s safe to assume that you don’t share this viewpoint – the Table, after all, attracts a very small demographic of specialty coffee industry professionals and a couple of my relatives. But there are those who really believe that “coffee is just coffee”, and while they can taste the difference between a K-Cup and a slow pour, they just don’t care.

Growing and processing standards don’t matter, trade practices don’t matter, roasting style doesn’t matter, brewing device doesn’t matter, company doesn’t matter, barista doesn’t matter – the brown liquid goes into a paper cup, I doctor it up with a ton of cream and sugar, I drink some of it, leave it sitting in the car for a few days, then dump out in the street when I get my next cup and it’s all the same to me.

This is the equivalent of eating a filet mignon at a five Michelin Star restaurant then eating a hamburger at McDonald’s and saying, “Beef is beef is beef.”

What Do You Think?

I recently took to Twitter and Facebook and asked for your opinions on the subject with hash tag #badcoffee; here are some of the replies I got:

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