Foodie rag gone online, Saveur.com, recently published a series of coffee-themed articles in conjunction with the SCAA. One of the articles lamented American restaurants’ continued one-dimensional treatment of coffee: Nothing ‘Regular’ About It – Saveur.com.
“‘Regular’ coffee?! The appetizer alone rated five adjectives,” writes reporter Jim Munson. We’ve expressed this very same lament here a couple years ago. It’s preposterous to think of “wine” or “cheese” as singular, indiscriminate, sufficiently self-described substances on restaurant menus.
Given that American coffee palates have now had two whole decades to evolve beyond Maxwell House, and given that it has been almost 10 years since we first walked into a restaurant in Santa Barbara (unfortunately now closed) and were offered five different coffee varietals in French presses, what is the hold up?
And it’s not just coffee snobbery either. You can’t even walk into a supermarket today and buy basic “orange juice” without having to navigate 47 different options. Even something as straightforward as V8 juice now comes in a ridiculously confusing array of Low Sodium, Spicy Hot, High Fiber, Essential Antioxidants, and Calcium Enriched … not to mention V8 Splash, V8 Splash Smoothies, V8 V-Fusion and V-Fusion Light. (Please kill me now.)
The article goes on:
With the vast array of origins, blends and roasts now available, settling for a “regular” coffee is a little like asking for a generic bottle of “red” wine. Or, for your main course, maybe you’d like a nice plate of “meat”?
Too many restaurant coffee varieties down in Oz?
Meanwhile, earlier this week in Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald, we noticed an opinion piece that lamented Australian restaurants’ paltry tea options in the face of many coffee choices: Coffee has spoiled the tea party – Heckler – Opinion – smh.com.au.
Yet most cafes and restaurants have menus with endless variations of coffee. You know the usual trendy drinks such as lattes, mugacino, cappuccino, espresso macchiato and cafe con leche. But where’s the tea? If you are lucky there will be one or two types listed at the bottom of the blackboard – usually English breakfast or Earl Grey.
The writer even goes on to offer “10 simple rules for eateries,” where #1 is: “Offer the same number of teas as you offer coffees. A minimum of 10 is acceptable.”
At first glance, I wondered if this reflected a level of coffee savviness in Australia that’s lacking in the U.S. However, I would hardly consider the writer’s list of “the usual trendy drinks” as anything more than variations in preparation methods, or simple variations of steamed milk, than coffee varietals per se.
This likely reflects a bit of coffee ignorance by the writer that may not be all that different from what we experience in the U.S. (Especially given that Australia’s coffee culture is almost exclusively focused on espresso.) Meanwhile, we’ve had more than our fill of ten-teas/one-kind-of-coffee restaurants here in S.F.
It’s not rocket science…
But whether Australia or the U.S., it’s not rocket science for a restaurant to offer interesting coffee varieties that adequately finish a memorable meal. Four months later, and I still think back to one of my favorite coffee experiences of a simple French press of Harens Old Tree Estate at Merriman’s on Hawaii’s Big Island. No $11,000 Clover required. No special staff training. Just a fresh supply of good coffee.
Merriman’s is a great restaurant, and yet I don’t remember the food nearly as much as the coffee. And at a $10 price tag, that French press was far more memorable than bottles of wine I’ve had at restaurants for five times the price.
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