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Sit Down and Have a Cup of Coffee

February 18, 2010

Just last month I confessed that I actually drink Starbucks brewed coffee more than a serious coffee lover should.  The truth is that I’m not the coffee snob I would like to be.  I appreciate world-class coffee, and it is an incredible pleasure to drink it, but most days I drink stuff that is far inferior.

That is coffee confession number two, but I’m not quite ready to get into that yet.

One of the biggest problems with coffee shops, regardless of whether you prefer Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s, or even Blue Bottle, is what happens when you order coffee to go: your coffee is unceremoniously poured into some form of disposable cup with a plastic lid.

While I know I should care about the overuse of precious natural resources, landfill capacity, and carbon footprints, the thing that galls me most is that these things are a crime against coffee.

First, the lid.

The lid always has a hole to drink from.  And that is really the point.  One orders coffee to-go so it can be consumed on the run.  Unless you have some preternatural sense of balance, a lid is an absolute necessity so you don’t get soaked with piping hot coffee.

But wrapping your lips around a hole in a plastic lid is just wrong.  For starters, the aroma of the coffee gets trapped in the cup.  Yes, you may taste something when you drink your coffee, but it is a fraction of what you would taste if those aromatic coffee particles were also traveling up your nasal cavity.

And I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time not scalding my tongue when drinking from the plastic lid.  My only guess is that it has to do with the physiology of the mouth, and that normally one’s lips get an early sense that coffee is too hot, which sends a message to the brain, “Take a small sip, dummy.”  With the plastic lid, the lips only sense cool plastic, and thus the tongue gets treated to the river of burning java.

Second, the cup.

I would like you to try this sometime at home.  Make a pot of coffee and pour two cups:  one into a paper take-out style cup (sans lid) and the other into a porcelain cup, with an ample brim and a thin, rounded rim.

Eating and drinking should be acts of pleasure, not merely sustenance.  When the other senses are engaged, they heighten your enjoyment. Disposable cups do nothing to enhance the experience of drinking coffee.

Luckily there are some cafés that have porcelain cups on hand, should you be savvy enough to ask for one when you order.  But not all of these are nice.  Some are way too big and thick and chunky.  Others will be cracked or stained or dirty.  Which is why it is a rare treat to find a place that takes pride in its drinks and in their service.

I understand that sometimes one just needs a quick pick me up, and the drive-thru must suffice.  Or that sometimes you just cannot wait for that shot of caffeine while walking to the office in the morning.

But consider this a reminder that in the name of efficiency, you are missing out on a potential source of deep pleasure.  It doesn’t take that long to drink a small cup of coffee.  Grab a seat, ask for a proper cup, smell the coffee, and enjoy.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2010 10:54 am

    Funny you should mention clunky, chipped cups. I only drink my coffee and tea out of one of those clunky, chipped mugs. I have a lovely set of white porcelain cups from Pottery Barn but I must, must have my morning coffee or tea out of my Bronx Zoo mug, complete with raised tiger and not one but two half inch chips on the side.

    It’s a sentimental thing.

  2. Afsal permalink
    February 18, 2010 1:34 pm

    I totally agree. I got really into euro-style espresso last summer when I worked next to a snooty italian place where you could order espresso in a cup at the bar –try that at Starbucks or Peets – they just don’t have the little cups! :(

  3. February 21, 2010 7:13 pm

    When I was in Poland last year, I found it hard to find to-go coffee. Most places will only serve coffee in a real cup. There were a few times I found this annoying (it’s my New Yorker sensibilities kicking in,) I also sort of appreciate it. I like being reminded that you should take a few minutes out of your busy day and just chill out, drink your coffee sitting down.

    I noticed the same thing in Italy too.

    In New Paltz, there was a coffee shop I loved — and frequented — where you could choose which mug you wanted from a shelf on the wall. I loved that.

  4. October 13, 2010 11:47 pm

    I’d heard before of the part lids play in scalding drinks, but finding out that they do indeed lessen taste is a relief. Although I hardly drink coffee, I often buy chai and hot chocolate at my university and have noticed the huge difference in quality between the flavourless ref drinks, which are served in take away cups, and the delicious, flavoursome, aromatic drinks served at the library cafe, where they are given in porcelain and glass mugs respectively.

    Being able to smell the aroma of something you are eating or drinking really does influence how it tastes to you – same as if you plug your nose while eating, many foods taste significantly blander!

  5. June 22, 2013 11:05 pm

    Now there is FoamAroma . . . The Lid. ( Like drinking in the shop from an open mug, but on the go with no squirting hot liquid on your arm.

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