Every time we think about how far we’ve come with the mass cultural awareness and appreciation of specialty coffee in this country, we’re slapped in the face with reminders of how far we still have to go. One perfect example of this is the sorry, antiquated state of the coffee house review — whether in newspapers, on TV, online, or even by bloggers.

It’s been more than a decade since the popular proliferation of Starbucks, and yet everyone from the food editors at big newspapers to local bloggers still approach reviewing coffee bars as if they were gas stations. Sure, we get plenty of information about what they charge for Corn Nuts, bathroom cleanliness, if they carry six-packs of Fat Tire beer, and the freshness of their nachos … but why would anyone in their right mind comment on the quality of their gas? Or at least that seems to be the logic.

Meanwhile, newspaper readers apparently can’t get enough smack talk comparing Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks coffee. And yet our society is more critical and discerning about the quality, variety, and flavors of cat food than it is about coffee.

CatFoodRatings.com got your tongue?

If only it were just the espresso backwaters — towns that greeted the opening of their first hometown Starbucks like the arrival of the Pony Express. (For a textbook example from today’s Florida State University newspaper: Wake up and smell the coffee – Arts & Life – A guide to local coffee shops in Tallahassee. Please, tell us more about pre-packaged macaroni & cheese and walks around the lake.) But recently even New York magazine openly admitted they were befuddled on how to review a coffee bar.

Last week, the New York Times — provider of detailed food and wine reviews for decades — could only go far enough in their review of the new Blue Bottle Cafe to obsess over the price tag on a coffee brewer. But turn to TIME magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year for an opinion, and you still can’t get a straight, useful answer. Yelp reviewers, for example, proved yet again that they aren’t concerned with the quality of the coffee as much as employee attire, paper to-go cups, and garage ambiance (what the ?) — or that they are more discriminating about their gasoline than their coffee.

Coffee isn’t the new wine … it’s the new gasoline

CoffeeRatings.com is in its fifth year of publishing on the Internet, and yet we’re surprised that we are still one of the few resources out there that has given this subject any service. It’s not like we had to invent the SCAA coffee tasting criteria or the IIAC espresso tasting cards either — all of this has existed for years prior. We keep reading about how coffee is supposed to be the new wine, and wine has reviewers and ratings in spades. So why are we all still brain-dead about coffee quality?

Can someone else please pick up the ball here and help lead us out of the coffee Dark Ages? As much as we might try, we can’t do this all ourselves. We can barely cover most of San Francisco. Because if we’re going to be expected to drop $4 for a double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato in Anytown, U.S.A., is it too much to ask for some thoughtful evaluation of the coffee quality?