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A Manly Cup of Coffee

April 22, 2019

It’s Monday! The weekend was long. There was lots of eating. Perhaps there was some drinking in there too. 4/20 happened to fall on Saturday, and now that recreational marijuana is legal just across the border in Massachusetts, maybe more people took part in the day’s festivities. Actually, I saw a fascinating promotion of 4/20 from Ben & Jerry’s which was rather unexpected, but very important to think about.

While weekends are theoretically a chance to relax and catch up on the sleep missed over the course of the week, more often than not, I find them to be exhausting. Not only did we have a Passover seder on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday I was the parent on duty to accompany our son to the cubing competition at the Albany Capital Center.

Thank god for coffee.

I grabbed a cortado from Stacks on Saturday, which helped restore my will to live. On Sunday the coffee at the City Beer Hall brunch helped to balance out the free mimosa that came with the spring omelet. Actually, that coffee was so potent that after a second mug of it I considered having a full glass of the dark and stormy Nine Pin Cider just to help bring me back down.

Coffee is necessary for a lot of people, of all stripes, to help make it through the day. And today, I wanted to talk a little bit more about that.

Most people don’t start drinking coffee straight up, without any cream or sweetener. No. It’s usually quite the opposite. Heck, on mornings when Little Miss Fussy is dragging, I give her a tablespoon of cold brewed coffee concentrate, mixed with whole milk, and Fox’s U-Bet.

On my own coffee journey, first I removed the sugar. Then I walked away from the cream.

Let’s be clear. I don’t begrudge people their cream or sugar in coffee. In fact, I think those two additives are great for counteracting flaws that you may encounter when getting a cup of coffee out and about. But I still stand by my assertion that good coffee requires neither, and should at the very least, be tried on its own before adding anything supplemental.

But back when I started to drink coffee, the suggestion of black coffee was met with a common refrain along the lines of, “it will put hair on your chest.” The implication was that this was the manliest way to take your coffee. It was right up there with drinking whiskey neat, or enjoying tequila without a chaser.

Those three examples illustrate the idea of consuming something coarse and enjoying it without anything to soften to experience.

That’s what it meant to be a manly drinker.

Recently I found myself sitting at a booth in a local Stewart’s convenience store for longer than usual. And while I was waiting for my son to finish his extra thick chocolate  milkshake, I spent some time transfixed by what was happening over at the coffee station.

Big burly laborers were picking up their afternoon coffee. That part was not strange, unusual, or noteworthy on its own. However, I watched carefully as these tough looking men prepared their drinks.

So. Much. Sugar.
So. Much. Cream.

We’re not talking about a teaspoon of sugar to counter the bitterness of the brew. The sugar dispenser was totally inverted, and held above the drink for what felt like an eternity. I questioned whether or not the liquid could even hold that much sugar in suspension. But with a fist full of stirrers, that fellow gave it his best shot.

What this man made was nothing less than the pumpkin spice latte of convenience store coffee. Sure, no flavored creamers were used in the production of the drink, but I think you get the gist.

Which leads me to believe that there are lots of coffee drinkers out there who don’t actually like coffee. And given the current innovations surrounding beer these days, it feels like there is a large population of beer drinkers who don’t actually like the taste of beer.

Some time in the future, I’d like to set up shop in a Stewart’s with some paper, a pencil, and a stopwatch to do a little old fashioned field work. How are people preparing their coffee, and how does this change based on demographic or psychographic indicators. Because this isn’t the kind of data that’s available from sales charts.

However, it’s a good reminder why Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are so damned popular. Sure, they sell coffee, but the coffee they serve is largely just a blank canvas for fat and sugar.

And that’s a damn shame. Because enjoying great coffee on its own terms does not actually require feats of strength. Three of my favorite coffee nerds in the Capital Region, Ron, Matthew, and Ryan might be bearded or scruffy, and they may enjoy sports or the great outdoors, but they aren’t exactly tough guys.

I think where I’m going with this, is that these ideas of manliness are just dumb. And it’s clear, that as a society, we’ve got a sugar problem that’s spiraling out of control. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get a little more cold brewed coffee and get on with the day.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ewan permalink
    April 22, 2019 11:33 am

    I think that (part of) the rationale is that the addition of cream and sugar to an unknown cup of coffee regresses it to a known mean. You will not get excellence, but you may be more likely to get something above your drinkability threshold.

    If you drink it black, then by the time it is at the right temperature it is too late to adulterate should the cup prove to be not good enough to stand alone. Which leaves you with potentially no coffee. This is a sufficiently aversive outcome that it drives minimaxing.

    Yes, I am developing a theory of coffee behavioural economics off the cuff here. Feel free to cite me.

  2. Eric Taub permalink
    April 22, 2019 11:47 am

    I gave up on sugar a long time ago, and haven’t missed it. I do occasionally indulge with maple syrup, though.

    It’s funny. Back when I would regularly use a French press, I never added milk. It was smooth and fine without it. Atherwise I still need milk of one variety or another.

  3. April 22, 2019 2:15 pm

    Daniel, you’re right, but I think you’re missing the point.

    It’s not (just) coffee (most) people want to be sweet, they want everything to be sweet.

    This related to the sweet and spicy journey I’ve been on lately. It’s a pairing that’s been under my radar for a very long time, mostly because most sweet/spicy dishes are super sweet, with little heat. When I realized the combo is best when it’s much more spicy than sweet, I fell in love with it.

  4. April 22, 2019 7:46 pm

    You are making a Market Research 101 mistake, which is assuming all Stewart’s customers are the same. Here in Saratoga they never put sugar or creamer in their coffee. Heck, they don’t even use cups.

    • April 22, 2019 7:48 pm

      And they get doughboys.

      Somewhere in the post I suggested that more research is required. Was that you volunteering to take a shift up in Saratoga county?

      • April 24, 2019 10:17 am

        Ok I will do that. I find myself at Stewarts fairly frequently. Probably the best spot for seeing burly workers is the store at Weibel and Lake. Will report back, or not.

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