You can make coffee hot or cold, weak or strong, and even good or bad. But one thing you shouldn’t make coffee is scary. And what’s making coffee scary today — in a way that mysterious substances such as Jamba Juice‘s “immunity boost” only used to scare us — are con artists who now target coffee with health claims as varied as weight loss to Viagra lattes.

It’s probably too much to ask of our species to evolve beyond the days of carnival barkers hawking health tonics. Today’s appeals are much the same — just replace the outright fraudulent health claims of yesteryear with today’s more modern implied health claims, “backed” by the medical-research-du-jour on single molecules or ingredients “as seen on Oprah” and the subject lines of countless spam e-mails. (Açai berry colon cleanse, anyone?)

Farmers Market? Or grade school science fair? Painted wall behind Bean Island

Which brings us to a newer café in the Metreon called Bean Island. Perhaps fittingly, its name — when combined with the promoted health claims of its coffee roaster — suggests the location of a sinister, science-gone-wrong, H.G. Wells horror novel.

Bean Island replaced a former Starbucks kiosk next to Chronicle Books as part of the Metreon’s post-recession retail space scramble. The Metreon, once under Sony branding, has since resorted to filling their vacant space with things like the sad, sprawling, flea-market-like Island Earth Farmers Market — and their switch from a weak Starbucks to Bean Island appears to be part of that shift.

Approaching the Bean Island kiosk Chronicle Books nearby

The café itself is by no means comfortable, as any seating is limited to the “mall food court” in front of you. But what disturbed us most about this café was its over-the-top health marketing pitch from its roaster. The coffee, from SoCal’s The Bean Coffee Company, comes emblazoned with a snake-oil-like “100% organic antioxidant rich coffee” come on. There is even signage telling us that their coffee has “500% more antioxidants” than regular coffee.

Perhaps anti-oxidants are like inflating your car tires: if a little is good for you, a lot can only be that much better. But we can imagine that if this were 20 years earlier, the people behind The Bean would have been selling oat bran shakes.

Even if we could possibly stomach coffee that’s sold like a pharmaceutical, what we cannot tolerate is coffee of meager quality — and this is where Bean Island particularly fails. If you’re going to make the delivery mechanism for our medicine so inferior, please — just hand out syringes and skip the coffee.

The Bean Coffee Company and their health claims If 500% is even better, just how good would 50,000% be?

The problems started with the single-group Astoria machine they first used here — which they did at least recently replace with a two-group Bravo. But while the shot sizes got smaller with the machine switch, they still serve it out of 12 oz paper cups.

The machine upgrade also seems to have completely obliterated what little crema that was once there. The body is still thin with the smaller pour size, and it has flavors of primarily smoke and tobacco (how ironic for coffee sold as a health elixir) — and no sweetness nor roundedness to the cup to speak of.

The result is a place that’s no better than the Starbucks kiosk it replaced, but with a lot more health claims. Coffee that is almost as annoying as the nearby electronic train whistle on a kid’s ride.

Read the review of Bean Island.

Bean Island's two-group Bravo machine The sad Bean Island espresso



UPDATE: Sept. 2, 2009
We honestly cannot make this stuff up. Just after we hit “submit” to publish this review, we received this e-mail — more evidence of what’s completely sick and wrong with much of coffee marketing today:

—–Original Message—–
From: POM Wonderful [mailto:xxxxxx]
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2009 10:36 AM
Subject: Hello From POMx Iced Coffee

Hey Greg!

My name is Blue, and I found your blog as I was looking for sites that
show the love for coffee and trying out new stuff. I think your site
has an interesting take on the matter, as well as a great design and
look, and I’d like to start a conversation with you about it.

I work for POM Wonderful, and I would love it if you would try our
newest product. It’s called POMx Iced Coffee, and don’t worry – it
tastes nothing like pomegranates, because, well…that would just be
weird.

Instead, it’s got POMx – an all-natural, ultra-potent antioxidant.
Plus, since it’s coffee too, you get all the benefits of the
antioxidants found in POMx plus a great caffeine pick-me-up. We like
to call it “The Healthy Buzz,” since it’s the rich taste of iced
coffee with a healthy twist.

If you’re interested in trying it out, shoot me an email with your
mailing address, and we’ll send some for you to try out. Go crazy with
it – use it as a cocktail mixer, add it to a dessert recipe, or drink
it straight. Let me know what you think!

Have a buzzy day!

Blue

POM Wonderful