The post title is the question of the day. If I may paraphrase an old quote from a previous post — where we asked, “How does the fool who knows nothing about wine impress his guests?” — the answer is: by buying the most expensive coffee they can find — along with a good story to tell about it.

Case and point with American wünderchef, Thomas Keller. In a press release this month: Chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Per Se establish one-of-a-kind coffee program [56kb, MS Word doc]. Yes, the man behind America’s most esteemed of restaurants — including Yountville’s The French Laundry and New York’s Per Se — has proudly announced to his customers that his restaurants will now offer Panama Esmeralda Geisha coffee roasted by the consistently underwhelming Equator Estate Coffees.

But how can you knock that? After all, at least they’re not pushing kopi luwak, right? Problem is that the coffee service at The French Laundry is well, uh, severely lacking compared to the otherwise lofty dining expectations and l’addition. (For example, their espresso scored lower than the Starbucks at SFO.) So rather than get educated, train staff, and elevate the craft (if not also chuck their superautomatic Schaerer espresso machine for something less suited for an assembly line), they take the lazy short cut of espousing the merits of “the most expensive coffee in the world” on their menus.

And to drill the point home that they have the whole coffee-as-wine thing confused, here’s a direct quote from their press release — from their master sommelier, a man who sounds like he clearly knows the difference between his Malabars and his Harars:

Paul Roberts, Master Sommelier and the Wine and Beverage Director for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group notes, “We’re delighted to have the opportunity to bring our guests such a rare and extraordinary coffee as the Panama Esmeralda Geisha. The coffee is a truly a gold standard, and a wonderful compliment to our fall menu offerings.”

Thomas Keller’s restaurants don’t have to brew the best cup in the world. But if they’re going to promote an image of coffee connoisseur savvy to match their prowess with food, they should at least have invested more time and thought into it than they spend on boiling an egg.

I can buy some Geisha at the Peet’s Coffee around the block from where I work; I don’t need a restaurant to do that for me, charge me $210 for the privilege, and then act as if they just made me a 1959 Château Margaux with their bare feet. I’m respecting Coi Restaurant more and more for gracefully not pretending to be something they’re not.

UPDATE: Oct. 31, 2007
Sasha Paulsen, Food Editor for the Napa Valley Register, tells the story of her invitation to the French Laundry for a grandiose sampling of their Geisha coffee: Napa Valley Register | Tasting coffee of the gods.

In the article, she recounts Mr. Roberts’ use of descriptive adjectives and his telling of the story behind the coffee’s/estate’s history — which curiously looks like a verbatim recitation of what was once posted on the Peet’s Coffee Web site. (The Web page has since been taken down as their supplies ran out.) What remains to be seen is if Mr. Roberts and/or Mr. Keller are capable of demonstrating any knowledge of good coffee beyond the most overhyped coffee in years, let alone the Peet’s Web site.