February 2008

Monthly Archive

7-Eleven Promotes Fresh-Brewed Coffee

Posted by on 07 Feb 2008 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends, Quality Issues, Restaurant Coffee

This morning we came across an article in Convenience Store Decisions (how often have you heard that in a sentence?). The convenience store chain, 7-Eleven, has launched a new, multi-million-dollar marketing blitz this month, emphasizing the “guaranteed freshness” of their coffee: Convenience Store Decisions – 7-Eleven Promotes Fresh-Brewed Coffee.

Before reading this article/press release, we weren’t entirely sure who to blame for inventing “to-go” coffee. Second only to perhaps the percolator as the worst atrocity committed upon coffee quality in the past 50 years, 7-Eleven proudly claims the invention of to-go coffee some 40 years ago. In the process, they helped proliferate the dreadful paper coffee cup and turned the coffee-drinking ritual into something akin to a water stop in a long-distance race. (Shouldn’t we just be dumping disposable cups of hot coffee on our heads to wake up in the morning?) 7-Eleven also gave us the Super Big Gulp® — which epitomizes the “bigger is always better” cultural mentality that has helped make us obese and tolerant of extra-long, over-extracted bitter espresso shots.

Oh thank heaven for 7-Eleven recognizing that their coffee needs help

However, 7-Eleven’s coffee freshness campaign at least raises public awareness of a major problem with retail brewed coffee. It may not be the one-minute-old, custom brew from a Clover machine. But then who is going for a cup of Guatemala Cup of Excellence San Jose Ocana to go with their 40-oz Miller High Life, a package of Slim Jims, and a SuperLotto Plus ticket?

Using taglines such as “Our coffee’s fresher than your average Joe” and “Guaranteed fresh or we’ll brew it new,” 7-Eleven says they plan to educate coffee drinkers about the chain’s commitment to quality. Sound like something new? Well, check out this 7-Eleven TV commercial from 1980:

Nothing says “fresh coffee” like Bunn warmers.

But wait until coffee drinkers ask about the freshness of the roast. We all know that pot sitting on the burner is a recipe for bitter taste bud death, but what about roasted coffee that has been oxidizing for weeks, leeching its flavor out into thin air as it sits in inventory? Or the residue of stale coffee oils imparted by brewing equipment that has been either poorly maintained or infrequently cleaned? Going down that freshness path can be a double-edged sword if you plan on only going part way.

Favorite Bay Area monument: what we've long called, 'Father Serra holds up a 7-Eleven'

Ernesto Illy, Chairman of Coffee Company, Is Dead at 82

Posted by on 06 Feb 2008 | Filed under: Café Society, Roasting

News has been slow to hit the States, but the New York Times finally ran a story this morning on Dr. Ernesto Illy, chairman of Illycaffè and one of the world’s most notable espresso enthusiasts, who died Sunday night at the age of 82: Ernesto Illy, Chairman of Coffee Company, Is Dead at 82 – New York Times

I don’t know what it is about reporters at the Times, but they can’t seem to hold on to any of the bright ones. Just as their story last month on the new Blue Bottle Cafe could only focus on the price tag of their siphon bar (“At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee”), today’s obituary opened by only being able to describe Illy coffee as “expensive”:

Ernesto Illy, who as chairman of Illycaffè, maker of an expensive brand of coffee, was renowned as a scientific perfectionist of coffee and especially as an evangelist of espresso, died Sunday in Trieste, Italy. He was 82.

If there isn’t a rampant shortage of descriptive adjectives among New York Times reporters lately, one wonders if their obsessive focus on the cost of coffee reflects a lot of reporter resentment over pay scales at the Times these days.

Meanwhile, the Illy Web site has been paying a nice tribute to the grand doctor: Illy – Homepage.

When clueless medical journalists attack

Posted by on 02 Feb 2008 | Filed under: Coffee Health, Consumer Trends

We should all feel thankful that, once in a rare while, the confusing morass of pop medical journalism is broken by the occasional intelligent voice of informed reason. Last month, the media had a feeding frenzy over a lone medical study linking caffeine to increased risk of miscarriage: Pregnancy Problems Tied to Caffeine. Today’s New York Times published a doctor’s rebuttal to this study, admonishing the media for their unbridled circulation of unmerited medical scares: Coffee and Pregnancy – New York Times.

The inexcusable state of medical journalism is a long, old rant of ours: rooted in the media’s egregious lack of knowledge or understanding of the scientific method, statistical analysis, and comprehension of the holistic health implications for any one-off, myopic study. Without any real capacity for this, the media simply spits out whatever medical research comes at them. An unquestioning public then treats this flawed information as gospel. The bloggers spread it. The general public responds with exaggerated binging or purging alterations to their diets. And then we complain that we don’t know what to trust when the next reported study comes along.

Peter Klatsky wrote the New York Times:

As practicing obstetricians, we are concerned about the extensive reporting of a small study that linked caffeine with miscarriages (“Pregnancy Problems Tied to Caffeine,” news article, Jan. 21).

Unfortunately, findings like these generate more media coverage because of the interest and fear they generate, rather than the quality of the evidence (this study has profound methodological limitations).

A more robust and better designed study was also released this month that found no association with coffee consumption and the risk of miscarriage. Sadly, the press ignored this study while every major news outlet aired the less rigorous, but frightening findings.

Together this practice scares our patients, misinforms the public, and places physicians in a difficult position in counseling our patients.

The result is a freaked out public that now worries that their double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato may as well be a dose of RU486 for inducing the abortion of their fetuses.

Sweating to the Small Stuff

Not that we feel a reason to defend coffee or caffeine. More to the point, we feel a reason to defend reason. And for some reason, the obsessive preoccupation with coffee in pop medical journalism remains a hot topic even after hundreds of years of safe human consumption of the beverage.

Meanwhile, in the past couple of decades we’ve witnessed the American diet overtaken by unprecedented, massive doses of high-fructose corn syrup and other processed foods. All of which has been been linked to our obesity epidemic and implicated in the first-time decline of the average American’s life expectancy.

But never mind that. Keep an eye on that morning cup of coffee. Clearly, that’s our real concern. Now please pass the corn flakes.

‘Healthy coffee’ found to be toxic

Posted by on 01 Feb 2008 | Filed under: Coffee Health, Consumer Trends

Many of you are probably more than already aware of this, but the latest trend in consumable marketing is something of an unholy marriage between food staples and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. It’s not just juice smoothies that promote mysterious “immunity boosts” anymore. It’s also things like fortified coffee.

And what’s with all this “energy boost” crap these days anyway? People used to plow fields and carry water 12-hours a day. When did we become such impotent, spineless wusses in need of beverages marketed like alkaline batteries?

Coffee has been safely consumed in moderation for centuries; yet some marketers cannot resist the temptation to tamper with it under the false pretense of “healthier living”. So it was little surprise to read the news today from Malaysia, where an instant coffee marketed as a “health product” (it claimed that it contained “natural herbs and ingredients” such as gingko biloba and ginseng) was instead discovered to be laced with toxic chemicals: The Electric New Paper, Singapore – The Electric New Paper News – Toxic chemical found in instant coffee packets.

Available on Malaysian store shelves for about a year, undercover agents discovered that the coffee was laced with synthetic sildenafil nitrate — the active agent in Viagra. Someone must have read our old Coffee Sugar Sex Magik post.

Must we repeat Michael Pollan‘s mantra?: Never trust a food product that makes a health claim.

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