Yesterday’s Washington Post ran an article that pretty much embodied everything I despise about coffee: Coffee craze has everyone a bit nuts – Family Times – The Washington Times, America’s Newspaper. It’s the focus on all the sizzle and none of the steak. Apparently, few of us want to hear about what it takes to get the best single espresso possible in a ready and convenient location. Instead we’re inundated with stories about all the ridiculous frippery that comes disguised as “gourmet” (oh, do I ever hate that over-abused word) coffee.

The article pushes all my basic “annoy-the-hell-out-of-me” buttons, including:

  • The idea that good coffee must equate with a 17-adjective concoction of frothed milk, hazelnut syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry on top that is oh, about, 2% espresso,
  • Branded cafés opened by those purveyors of great coffee production, Kiss and Jackie Chan,
  • Yuppies bored with the wine tasting routine who have now turned to coffee cupping as their latest taste bud fad (I still reserve that cupping is mostly a nasty, brutish task that’s best suited for finding bean defects than for the enjoyment of coffee),
  • McDonald’s McCafé has been a repeat failure as dependable as the Sony Mini-Disc in most countries, save maybe Ireland, and yet it just won’t go away,
  • Starbucks has gotten bored with coffee and now is a media company wannabe, making book, CD, and movie deals,
  • Kopi Luwak press for those who must pay the ultimate for the über exclusiveness of everything, including coffee beans crapped out of an Indonesian civet (I say we forget the weasels and go straight for “celebrity blends” — starting this month with beans passed through the bowels of Tom Cruise).

The problem isn’t that a good cup of basic boring old coffee is such a rare breed these days. The problem is that society is easily distracted by anything beyond the simple merits of good coffee.

We probably owe some of that to all the people who really don’t like coffee to begin with and yet now have vehicles for coming along for the ride. We probably owe the rest to modern product marketing techniques.

I’ve mentioned my experience with orange juice. And you can’t even buy a toothbrush today without stumbling on the monthly patent war of marketing escalation: laser-guided plaque-interceptor technology is the only possible outcome where Moore’s Law of disposable razors predicts we’ll be using 14 blades by the year 2100.