No Sweetener For You (Do Coffee Shops Go Too Far?)

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You can divide coffee shops, these days, into two categories: those pushing the sugar (Starbucks, The Coffee Bean, Dunkin’ Donuts) and those scorning the sweet stuff. Most of us start out in the former camp–I began my coffee-drinking habits with Frappuccinos–and migrate to the latter camp, the independent coffee shop where the beans are of the finest quality and the baristas glare at you if they see you shaking Sweet N’ Low into your iced macchiato. That glare, though, isn’t necessarily encouraged by coffee shop owners: at most of the indy coffee shops I frequent in New York and L.A. (Joe, Gorilla, Commissary, Intelligentsia) sweetener is offered up in a myriad of forms: blue, pink, white little packets and a big bottle of simple syrup to address your iced coffee drink needs. Last week, however, I visited a coffee shop that L.A. Weekly just named Best Coffee Shop 2013–Handsome Coffee–and discovered that sweetener isn’t offered in any of its forms. No pink packets, no blue packets, no sticky syrup bottle. If you want sugar in your coffee, you’ve got to go somewhere else.

Reactions to this fact are fairly divided among people that I know. Tien Nguyen, who selected Handsome as the Best Coffee Shop 2013 for L.A. Weekly and who you’ll hear on tomorrow’s podcast, explained that Handsome’s not denying you sweetener, they’re just not offering it because they don’t think the coffee needs it. Celebrated pastry chef Gina DePalma, on the other hand, reacted on Twitter this way: “My response to this policy contains an obscenity. That’s why I’m saying it in my head.”

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The abruptness of this policy didn’t jar me as much as it might have if I hadn’t experienced something like it elsewhere. But my local coffee shop, Cognoscenti Coffee–which Tien named Best New Coffee Shop in 2011, so maybe Tien is the mastermind behind all of this!–doesn’t offer simple syrup for iced coffee drinks, though they’ll add a squeeze of honey or agave to an iced latte before they shake it. When I complained about this on Twitter, New York Times coffee guru Oliver Strand echoed Tien’s sentiments about the coffee not needing the sugar. So I took to drinking my iced lattes–(actually, I order iced cortados because there’s less milk)–with no sugar and found Tien and Oliver to have a valid point. This particular coffee, with its delicate flavors and aromas, would get swallowed up by sweetener. Same at Handsome where the sugarless coffee drink allowed me to really taste the coffee. I get it. The policy is there to open your eyes to the coffee’s true flavor. But does that make the policy right?

Well, as I say in the podcast, how you feel about this policy probably says something about how you feel about government. For those who think government is too big, who resent the idea of being told which doctor to go to or how large your soda should be, this policy will be an outrage. Personal freedom is the hallmark of a free society and if I want to put sugar in my coffee, damn it, no hipster barista is going to stop me. Hell, I’ll bring my own simple syrup in a flask and to hell with them!

Those who don’t mind government intervention, however, who see the good of a benevolent hand guiding you in the right direction might not have as much of a problem with this. Heck, those baristas sure know a lot about coffee and who am I to argue with a policy that’s meant to further my enjoyment? And sugar’s not good for me anyway, so may as well try it without. Bottom’s up!

Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I think it’s ok for a coffee shop to suggest that you not sweeten your coffee–maybe with a sign or by keeping the sweetener behind the counter–but by absolutely denying customers the right to sweeten their own coffee, they’re going a step too far, bullying their customers into submission rather than pointing their customers in the right direction. And, honestly, having had these lighter roasts with their floral notes over-described on bean bags as “pear-like” with “a whisper of licorice,” I prefer a strong, dark roast contrasted with a hit of sugar (but only in iced drinks; I take my warm coffee drinks without sugar except for traditional brewed coffee, then I do add sugar and milk). But why am I hiding that fact in parentheses? That’s my own personal coffee-drinking style and I should be allowed to express that style wherever I go without being judged.

Someone, though, compared it recently to asking for ketchup at a fine restaurant. And if you think about it that way, I can see why these baristas who spend their days living around coffee would take such offense at someone like me adulterating the coffee with sugar. Which is why I don’t think Handsome should change its policy: there are so many good coffee shops out there, it doesn’t matter if the rules at some of them aren’t democratic. When it comes to which ones to patronize, the choice is yours.

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68 comments

  1. Coffee = beans + water. It’s too expensive to buy in a coffee shop on principle. I say make it at home and put whatever you like in it. Handsome Coffee would be doing their customers a favor by not only handing out sugar and cream, but whiskey as well. At $3-4 for beans and water, the availability of these handouts might — might — justify the price.

  2. I have given up sugar in my coffee. I enjoy the flavor of the coffee much more now (opting for heavy cream on occasion).
    Let’s compare: I LOVE wasabi. But not every sushi can stand up to wasabi.
    I suppose the same could be true for coffee; not every coffee can stand up to or is meant to have sugar.

  3. I usually have my wasabi in between bites. Kind of like pickled ginger. A palate cleanser, not a game changer.

  4. You should also consider that everyone doesn’t taste the same thing when they drink the same cup of coffee. My mom and I are MUCH more sensitive to bitter flavors than my dad–guess who takes what in their coffee?

    I totally agree that it’s the shop’s decision, and that I’m free to spend my money on shops that actually sell coffee I’ll drink.

  5. It’s like Hotdog stands here in Chicago that have no Ketchup on the premises. They know how their products should be consumed, and you have to comply if you want to eat there.

  6. Why not just have a sign over the sweeteners suggesting that you skip it this time? You can educate people without being obnoxious and making your customers feel like idiots. Presumably the type of place that would do this is cashing in on the cachet of being elitist jerks.

  7. I think it’s up to the establishment what they chose to serve. It’s really as simple as that. It’s not like we have the “right” to have sugar available at all coffee houses. Although i bet the people working there get tired of people asking where the sugar or sweetners are.

  8. So funny that you wrote about this! I have this thought ALL of the time. I live in San Francisco which is home to its fair share of hipster coffee shops that look down upon the colorful little packets of sweetener. I appreciate the quality coffee and their passion behind their product – but girlfriend needs her splenda or truvia. I usually just always keep some in my purse just in case, (you never know when an emergency will arise). But I fall in line with you — i’m right in the middle! There’s no right or wrong way to drink coffee — it’s meant to simply be enjoyed. Love that you put this thought to voice though – I think many coffee lovers have experienced this and aren’t sure what to make of it. Thanks for sharing! xo, Caro

    http://caroproject22.blogspot.com/

  9. Do you mean Proof? Because Cogniscenti in Culver City does have simple syrup, and is not coincidentally my favorite coffee shop in the city.

    Also, I love sugar in my coffee AND big government so take that, your theory!

  10. They are THE WORST. So pretentious, so so so annoying. So many great espresso joints in LA now, we don’t need these guys. Blech.

  11. I serve coffee at my shop and I offer sweeteners when people ask. I much prefer people enjoy coffee without sugar. One thing you haven’t mentioned is that coffee roasting and sourcing in years past was not as advanced as it is today. It’s like comparing standard wine grapes from fifty years ago versus how small wine producers make the stuff today. Coffee is seeing a similar change in how it’s grown and sourced, as well as roasted. Consumers are slow to change because they don’t realize this, and that’s on the cafes and roasters to really show that (not necessarily teach it). Ultimately consumers will have to taste the difference, but when sugar is plentiful, how is that possible? So I just ask once, and if people want cream, sugar, whatever, hey they paid for it, it’s on them. But I’ve found that a lot of people, once tasting the coffee black, realize how good it is on its own. That, I think, is the right direction. I always chuckle a little when i try to tell people they’re buying a cup of coffee that costs around $25 a pound…and then proceed to douse with cream and sugar.

  12. (Uh-oh, I feel a rant coming on….) Of course they’re welcome to serve coffee however they like and we can buy it or not. However, the problem to me is the attitude that it’s “meant” to be served that way, or it’s somehow ruining the coffee to put sugar in it. There are plenty of countries where it’s customary to drink very sweet coffee–do they fell like these people need educating as to the proper way to drink coffee? Ugh. Like you said, I just want coffee the way I want it without people getting all judgey on me. I once took a friend from out of town to Intelligensia in Venice for coffee, and when she asked if they could pour a little extra hot water into it (because it was too strong for her), they just flat out refused. Said no. I couldn’t believe it. She just dumped the coffee and left.

  13. It seems odd that her response to not getting any hot water (which even for me is a little weird) is to dump it. I’m sure the coffee wasn’t god-awful or anything. Would you ever take premier cru burgundy and make sangria with it? well, you could. Might not be the best way to use that bottle. When people make vietnamese coffee, it’s low grade, cheap, pre-ground robusta with chicory mixed in…it’s like worse than box wine. But hey, I love a cup of vietnamese iced coffee when I eat spring rolls or bun bo hue. It’s all about context. You wouldn’t order a glass of vintage champagne at a michelin-starred restaurant and ask for a sugar cube to cut the dryness, would you? I’m not comparing these coffee shops to michelin starred restaurants, but the thing they’re trying to accomplish is really highlight the quality of coffee that so many people, farmers, buyers, roasters, and baristas, have put into ensuring a great tasting cup that could stand on its own as a beverage. People get really really personal with their coffee when someone tells them to drink it a certain way, and I’m not sure why. We don’t get as touchey when it comes to wine, cocktails, or beer (though, invariably people still want to mess with those products too). A $3-4 buy in isn’t as bad as a $12 cocktail or a $8 beer, right? Just try it. Unfortunately having a massively long sign explaining this whole point of view is impractical. So, I say shops should just tolerate it. That’s what I do.

  14. by the way, Zach Brooks aka Midtown Lunch is a prime example of the cream and sugar thing. And heck I serve it to him like that all the time.

  15. Hi Trysha and Kirk – awesome point, not every sushi can stand up to wasabi but you can sure as heck put it on the side if you want to in any sushi resto. I know I can go to any other place to get coffee with sugar, but as a customer service industry, aren’t coffee establishments in the business of serving the customer? I AM THE CUSTOMER. I WANT SUGAR. How much dollar value is coming off your bottom line to have sugar stashed under your counter for paying customers to have if they want it. If you are in the business of trying to teach the masses about the gloriousness of coffee, perhaps open a coffee appreciation club? – or even have a ‘no sugar’ day if you want, but the line “they don’t think the coffee needs it’ is coming over all Snob City Central to me. “we only serve people who we think are worthy of our offerings” Bah-Bowwww – no deal. It’s like salt or pepper in a restaurant. Sure, you may not need it, but it’s there if your own palate requires it. Ya know?

  16. I don’t see the fuss at all. If you’re going to Handsome, and you know in advance their policy on sweetener, bring your own. Same if you love the Father’s Office burger and ketchup, bring a small packet or two of Heinz.

    On another note, these high end coffee places like Handsome and Intelligentsia could just try a little sweetness (pardon the pun) and be nice to the customer instead of dickishness.

  17. No, this has nothing to do with how you feel about government. How you feel about this is related to how you view customer service. Denying sugar is as patronizing and inappropriate as Father’s Office forbidding ketchup. The customer is always right, not the snob who owns the place.

  18. You don’t see the fuss in having to bring your own condiments? Seriously? Plus the goons at Father’s Office would throw you out and and ban you if they caught you with a ketchup packet. That place is the worst.

  19. My question is, why does anyone care how someone takes their coffee? You may find it offensive or ridiculous for someone to ask for hot water to water down a too-strong cup, but for the consumer, IT WAS TOO STRONG. Instead of dumping it out, she should’ve asked for a refund, & then informed the manager that she wouldn’t darken their doorstep ever again.

  20. i think putting parmesan cheese and redpepper flakes on a pizza is a better comparison than ketchup at a fine dining restaurant. Contextually because they are more day-to-day instances where most people don’t even think about it, but if you look to the diehard fans/purists, they would definitely look down on it/discourage it.

  21. Just wanted to add i’m not sure I would go to a place that didn’t offer sugar for coffee. It’s a bit pretentious, but it’s still really their choice.

  22. I love your analogy and you’re absolutely right. I feel strongly about the government regulating my personal life in any way. I also would NEVER patronize a restaurant that dictated condiments ;p – I also hate when they don’t have salt on the table – seriously? I don’t always salt my food, but I don’t want to have to ask for it if I find your seasoning bland.

    But I do realize that on the flip side it’s like complaining that there’s no hamburger available at the vegetarian restaurant up the street – they can serve what they wish, I don’t have to eat there. Sadly that doesn’t work with the government . . . though Tahiti looks nice . . .

  23. And did you see the example in the article of the coffee drink shaken up with milk and ice? Where is your awesome pure estate-sourced coffee there? To be honest, when I buy coffee from you, or anyone, I don’t care about your preferences as to how I consume it – I care that it’s made well. And yes, that there is sugar available so that I can sweeten it.

    I agree that the caffeine-flavoured milkshakes that Starbucks specialise in hardly deserve to be called coffee, but I don’t need some sanctimonious wanker behind the coffee machine coming over with the judgementalism because I sweeten mine, whether it’s “frappe” style, or the ristretto I prefer when the coffee is decent.

    If I had various kinds of drip or syphon drinks with delicate coffees, sure, milk and sugar would be a travesty, like in oolong tea. But I don’t buy those coffee styles, so no need for “education” there. And I don’t think anyone ordering those styles would need to be educated or snarked at either.

    I agree that cafes can use discretion as to what they promote, though. To be honest, if I walk into a cafe and see more than 3-4 syrup bottles (if any), I turn around and walk out again. So do with not offering “creamer”, or whipped cream or the other crap that people dump into their coffees – if they want a milk drink, that’s what they order at the counter. But sugar is standard, and goes all along with the history of coffee consumption. And if it weren’t there, I wouldn’t drink coffee at all.

  24. I enjoy good coffee, but I need the sugar to enjoy it. Apparently for “super tasters”, coffee is often way too bitter to consume, but sugar helps that – I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that was going on for me.

    I wouldn’t put milk and sugar in syphon or delicate drip coffee, but I don’t like those styles – just like the fact I don’t like black unsweetened (hot) tea.

    I had a disagreement with a barista just the other day, when he said they were pouring a Guatemalan coffee and a something-else. I went for the something-else, and explained I don’t really like exclusively Guatemalan coffees – they’re very bright and citrusy or fruity. I like my coffee to be more chocolate/caramel/spicy. He swore he’d make a coffee I’d LOVE (it was a strong latte), so I said I’d give it a go. Sure enough, I had a too-bright fruity coffee that I had two mouthfuls of and left.

    Luckily I’d been to the place many times and knew and loved most of their other roasts. But if it’d been the first time, I doubt I would have returned. Why ram things down people’s throats when they know their preferences.

    I agree cafes can sell what they’d like, and if I ran one, I would have two flavoured syrups at the most, and the only milk products available would be those we are using behind the counter for the lattes/caps/etc. But for sugar, it’s so basic, why would you not, unless to make a very pretentious statement?

  25. I disagree with the notion that the consumer owes it to the farmer, the grower, or the barista to drink coffee a certain way. Coffee shops work on a very basic premise: a customer exchanges money for coffee. The farmer, the grower, or the barista gets money in exchange for coffee. The customer does not owe the shop any more then the appropriate amount of money.

    As for the larger issue: coffee shops can do whatever they want. Customers can either accept that and buy the coffee or walk down to Dunkin’ Donuts and get coffee there. No reason to make it more complicated then it needs to be.

  26. I do kind of agree with you…I don’t like Handsome’s policy or the attitude at Father’s Office. Packets of sugar/sweetener are very portable and discreet, same with ketchup packets. It’s so dark and busy inside both Father’s Office that you could add ketchup without anyone noticing or caring. Thrown out and banned is a little exaggerated. Every restaurant/coffee shop has their peculiarities and there are 1000’s of choices in L.A. I choose not to drive from Santa Monica to the Arts District to be subjected to Handsome’s pettiness.

  27. It’s ostentatious, yes, but ultimately the decision of the business owner, just as it the consumer’s decision to purchase coffee from a more flexible purveyor.

    P.S.- I’m a server in a fine dining establishment. When someone asks for ketchup, I certainly think nasty things about them in my head, but all the same, I bring them the damn ketchup.

  28. I think you meant “pretentious”. Ostentatious refers to objects or behavior, usually vulgar, intended to attract notice.

  29. You know, there are a lot of kinds of coffee. I’m in the “third wave” school of espresso and espresso drinks. Really well made espresso is not bitter, nor does it need sugar. Similarly, a cappuccino shouldn’t come in “sizes”, it should come in a cappuccino cup. The common experience in the US is of the corporate coffee chain, with a mocha-frappa-something-unpronouncible in a giant cup with an italian-sounding but non-sensical name. Those come with loads of sugar. As do vietnamese coffee, cuban coffee and many others and they’re good in their own way too. But I really love a single-origin espresso, properly pulled, no sugar needed.

  30. While I don’t think Handsome’s policy is the best or ideal, people’s outrage and vitriol regarding that policy borders on insane. No one is forcing you to go there! That’s what so bizarre. If you don’t like the policy, go somewhere else. It is no one’s intent to make people feel like idiots. If people feel like idiots, then it’s most certainly their own insecurities. I’ve heard this rationale trumpeted with alarming frequency: “they treat us like idiots!” No, they don’t, YOU are responsible for how YOU feel. Seriously, think about that. Feel comfortable with who you are. To get this worked up about a coffee bar not having sugar is pretty unhealthy.

    A lot of people refuse to think of coffee as anything other than a commodity, which is fine, but don’t deride people who like to treat it like something precious. Everyone has something like that in their lives (and if you don’t, well, that’s a bummer).

    Finally, that government analogy is totally asinine. You could make the argument the other way: they are FREE to serve coffee the way THEY want. They are not telling anybody what to do! No one is being forced to go here! If this place was government-subsidized and poor people had coffee stamps that were only accepted here, then I would agree, but that’s NOT the case!

  31. If you want commodity coffee, stick to Folgers. Coffee is INCREDIBLY inexpensive compared to every other specialty beverage. People have been conditioned to think of coffee as a sort of “right;” it’s just an integral part of their days. So people then get mad when it costs too much. If you need coffee to stay awake, just stick to the cheap stuff. Don’t complain about the expense of quality stuff.

  32. This is such bizarre thinking. Why must the customer always be right? Some customers are colosally insecure, so all of their decisions must be reinforced and they must always be told they are right.

    There are instances when the customer is always right. For example, if you are renovating your home, getting your clothes tailored, at Chipotle, etc. But there are some places where customers WILLINGLY go, that they are not always right, and they have to accept that or just not go to those places.

  33. That customer did try it, though. How else would she have known it was too strong for her? I can understand asking someone to try their coffee a new way if you opened your store to serve that specific way of drinking coffee to people, but if a customer tries it and doesn’t like it, that’s that. Coffee shop employees shouldn’t tell people their tastebuds are wrong or stupid. It’s mean.

  34. I avoid sugaring particularly good coffee on those rare occasions when I can get it, and tend to sugar most others, but hey- you’re describing businesses who are there to exchange a product for money. How they choose to offer that product is entirely up to them.. Anyone who doesn’t want their product, taken as offered, is free to not give them money. Or indeed to carry a little box of sugar or bottle of simple syrup (I’m sure you don’t need to put it in a flask) to add to their product as desired.

    My problem with this article, really, is summed up within this sentence: “by absolutely denying customers the right to sweeten their own coffee, they’re going a step too far”

    But they are not in any way denying customers that right. They’re simply not offering additional sweeteners for free, and may not be carrying sweeteners for sale either. Where did this idea come from that you have a “right” to free additives when you buy a cup of coffee? It’s conventional for cafes to offer them, yes, but that does not translate to a right.

    If you’re going to a coffeeshop that doesn’t offer sweeteners and you want some sugar in your drink, put it in your bag or pocket on the way out the door. The business’s right to offer their product as they see fit and your right to consume your drink with a little extra sweetness can coexist quite peaceably. How can this be described as “not democratic?” Go ahead and “express your coffee-drinking style” as you please, and if anyone sees fit to be “judging” you over something so trivial, just be glad you’re not them.

  35. It’s beans and water. Some coffee is better than others, sure, but it’s still beans and water. I laugh when I hear things like “fine coffee”, “gourmet coffee”, blah blah blah. It’s like getting snobby about ball point pens. It’s beans and water.

  36. You could make that argument about literally any food or beverage product. Why are you even on a website with the word “gourmet” in it? Even if it includes the qualifier “amateur.”

    Wine is just grapes. Beer is just malt, hops, and water, etc. Bourbon is just corn and an assortment of cereals.

    Additionally, it’s an incredibly ignorant and uneducated opinion. If you choose not to learn new things, then that’s your prerogative.

    That’s fine if that’s your opinion; it just seems strange that you’re here. You have all the trappings of a troll.

  37. Never called you a name. Reread it if you must. I took a respectful position, and asked a genuine question. It has nothing to do with being on a “high horse.”

  38. Well I guess I’m just too ignorant and uneducated for the likes of you. I’ll go back under my bridge and drink the dishwater.

  39. Never heard that term. I don’t have a TV either. However, I didn’t intend to make people angry. I just don’t think coffee is on the same level as wine. I can appreciate it on its own terms, but if I had a choice between coffee and say lemonade, or even quinine water, I’d skip the coffee.

  40. You know, this coffee culture of yours is VERY weird to me (I’m from Europe). To us Coffee = time + friends. Sorry guys…

  41. We’ve been tasting too much of the over-roasted coffee that our expectations are stuck tasting the bitter aftertaste. The truth is, coffee is a seed, not a bean. And with different cultivations and harvests, the seeds hold different flavours when roasted. Ever had roasted almonds, the amazing aromas of pine cones? Well coffee, in theory, is the exact same composition. The only difference is the way you brew it. You can have espresso (High pressure extraction), syphoned (slow consistent extraction), drip (Intense slow consistent extraction), and the crap that people think is coffee, filtered. You think that wine is gourmet and expensive for a reason? Well, if you put grapes in a bucket and seal it for 3 months you can produce your own wine, but coffee has to be grown in high altitudes to achieve there potential flavours, then they are harvested, dried and roasted. The roasting time varies as each variety is different. The same can be said about wine, each variety of grapes have different fermenting times. So in a way coffee should be as expensive as wine, wouldn’t you say? The only difference with the two is that one contains caffeine, to which nearly everyone gets a reaction to, but achieves tolerance overtime. But wine contains alcohol. Now we all know how much it costs to bottle alcohol. But coffee has to be made fresh, has to be brewed to order. To me, $3.50 a cup sounds like a bargain.

  42. Wow…who would have thought this topic would inspire such passionate debate?

    I think a no-sweetener policy starts with the assumption that a) your customers are too uneducated to make the decision for themselves and b) everyone’s taste buds are the same (when in reality we know that there are vast differences in terms of the flavours people perceive, never mind enjoy). It’s kind of like saying you’re going to open a coffee shop that caters to people who are like you, rather than people who like coffee. Seems a bit odd to me, and not just in terms of maximizing your market opportunity.

  43. Nobody is bullying anyone. Customers can go somewhere else. I’m in firm agreement with the sugarless coffee shops. If you’re ruininig it with sugar, go to Starbucks, and you can get the same taste without wasting good coffee beans.

  44. Sorry about what? Ok, you enjoy coffee a certain way. Congratulations! Not sure what Europe has to do with any of this.

  45. Given this pretention, I’m pretty sure those coffee shops don’t want you there, either! Part of the chachet of indie coffee shops is the type of people who frequent such shops. If it keeps people with simpler tastes out, I’m not sure they’d be against it.

  46. I’m all for gourmet coffee, but I agree with this guy. I can brew Jamaica Blue Mountain or Kona at an amazing quality at home for cheaper than what I pay for a random blend at most coffee shops.

  47. This is such a silly comment, I don’t know where to begin. This discussion isn’t about “random blend[s] at most coffee shops.” This is about high-quality single origin coffee at specialty coffee shops. Did you even read the article? What does your comment have to do with it?

    Also, you are more than likely drinking blends if you’re drinking Jamaica Blue Mountain or Kona. Those are gimmick coffees. They are mostly unregulated, and very few if any contain 100% certified Kona or Blue Mountain. Respectfully, you’re being swindled by buying that stuff. Additionally, if one concedes that you are drinking 100% Kona coffee, no one in the industry would argue it’s better than some of Guatemala’s and Panama’s finest offerings.

    Finally, do you realize you can buy other coffees and drink them at home? Your comment is so baffling on so many levels.

  48. This comment says everything I want to say. The government analogy only shows the limited understanding of what goes on in people’s politics. I don’t like government intervention which is exactly what the people are trying to do to coffee shops like this.

  49. Are you familiar with the term, “niche market?” I’m not even arguing that’s what this is (although it might be), but maybe they are not so concerned with maximizing their market opportunity as they are with providing a product they think is really special the way it is.

  50. Absolutely, and if they can make a go of it based on that niche market, great. I was just a bit concerned about the principles behind it, which could be what I’ve described above, or it could be more about marketing their produce as elite and exclusive, which to certain type of customer, would make it more desirable. Either way, it makes me uncomfortable. Luckily I don’t live there so my discomfort is purely philosophical. :)

  51. That’s valid, but I don’t think it’s about elitism or exclusivity, I think it’s just being passionate about what they do. Many may disagree with me on this, but I think it’s somewhat analogous to beer and breweries. Breweries often have tasting rooms where you can taste their beers as they are, no additives or supplements. Some people might think, “Of course! That’d be crazy otherwise,” but those same people might think it’s crazy not to have sugar available to add to coffee. How do they not see the disconnect in this logic? Because they have been conditioned to perceive coffee as a right, a necessary morning ceremony, not an indulgence. People can argue all day long about coffee being “just coffee,” while beer is totally different, but they would be betraying the simple fact that some coffees are wonderfully complex and versatile and improbably delicious without adding anything to it. People want to reduce it to “beans and water,” which fine, I already mentioned that beer is just hops, malt, barley, and water (of course I’m not arguing beer recipes are as simple as coffee; beer is much more complex in its brewing methods and often times involves more ingredients), but people neglect to acknowledge how crucial water quality is to coffee. Water is the primary ingredient, in the sense it makes up most of what’s in the cup; so, naturally, superior water quality is imperative.

    People may remain unconvinced of the correlation between coffee and other beverages, but they’d be dead wrong to dismiss coffee as not a premier specialty beverage. People are definitely NOT wrong in preferring it a certain way, that is totally fine! But, it is unfair not to acknowledge coffee’s potential for deliciousness and elegance. That is a refusal to be open-minded. Drink coffee how you want, and let others drink it how they want. What is cool about America (and tons of other countries, I might add) is that you can find coffee done the way you like it pretty much anywhere. You don’t have to go somewhere where they don’t do things you don’t like!

  52. Absolutely. And I’m not suggesting that they should change their business model in any way. I suppose what it really comes down to is my resistance to the idea that one individual or organization should determine the “right” way to do anything. If history has taught us anything, it’s that “right” is highly dependent on timing and context. We only serve margarine with our toast….

    The risk, therefore, in espousing he right way to do something is that one day you may be proven wrong. Again, not suggesting they should change what they’re doing…it’s just an interesting thing to think about.

  53. Having worked at a coffee shop that keeps their cream behind the counter (and maybe reluctantly hands it over), I understand what it is to want people to experience the art in coffee. As a barista, you begin to taste the subtle difference between pouring too fast and pouring just right, etc. Two cups of the same beans with the same basic prep method can taste completely different. Coffee is amazing in its versatility when you have the privilege of working with really quality beans.

    BUT I also believe that coffee is a context thing. For me, black coffee and creamed coffee represent different things. Black is for work, for a Saturday with a scone, for studying, or for tasting. But coffee with cream and sugar is nostalgic, the stuff of saturday mornings visiting my parents and reading the newspaper, or Thanksgiving night with dessert, or something to sip when it’s cold outside. As much as I hope people journey into and understand coffee, I don’t think you should deny people the context they choose to drink it in, whatever that is for them. Coffee (for me, and maybe for others) is not just about caffeine or utility. It’s very much psychological, comfort; it fits in different forms into different compartments of my life, and that includes how I choose to dress it up or not. I say let ’em sugar their coffee.

  54. I used to think along similar lines until I worked at a coffee shop that took the time to really train us in coffee quality. We made every cup by hand. It’s amazing how two cups side by side, same bean, same basic grind, same preparation method can taste very different because you didn’t pour the water correctly. In the end, coffee may be beans and water, but more importantly, it’s how you extract the beans with the water. Things like water quality, water temperature, pouring method (more movement rubs the grounds around and extracts more flavor), extraction time (too much = bitter, too little = weak), and filter (thicker will bring out brightness, thin or none will allow more oils and body) allll affect the way a cup of coffee turns out. It’s not everyone’s thing, but the people willing to pay $3 or more per cup aren’t doing it for nothing.

  55. Nope, I meant ostentatious. As in, the coffee shop is insistent on attracting notice to their superiority, and does so in a vulgar way.

  56. When I used to sell coffee, we’d get requests for Kona or Blue Mountain, but rarely due to the taste. Instead it was “cause that’s the best / most expensive”.

    I think it comes from when the majority of the market was robusta – back then, pretty much the only arabica blends available were Kona or Blue Mountain. My great-grandmother loved Kona coffee – but I don’t think she had any other options.

  57. And wine is just grapes – what’s up with that? I can buy grapes at the supermarket! And steak is just cow meat, I can get a burger at McDonald’s for 99 cents!

  58. And wine is just grapes – what’s up with that? I can buy grapes at the supermarket! And steak is just cow meat, I can get a burger at McDonald’s for 99 cents!

  59. I like my coffee as I like my humor: black and bitter. I mean, no sugar. But if I buy a frapuccino, I like it sweetened. Whatevs, dude. If denying the sweet is driving you mad, just… go to another coffee shop! Duh!

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