If you’ve noticed the sound of crickets around here lately, you’re not the only one. Sure, we’ve been quietly plodding along at updating our espresso reviews. But the media coverage on coffee over the past few weeks has been boring and uneventful. That is until this week, when we came across two examples of how café openings have arguably become a new checkbox for big consumer marketing campaigns.

It's not just coffee - it's a plug for a set of DVDsThe first was the London opening of Central Perk: Friends cafe Central Perk pops up in Soho | thelondonpaper.com. If the café name is familiar, it’s because it is modeled after the fictitious café from the NBC TV series “Friends“. Coincidentally, this café opening has been timed with the 15th anniversary of the show — and with Warner Brothers’ release of the series on a new DVD box set. (The last time I was in New York for work years ago, I stayed at the Hotel Chandler and wondered why they didn’t make a cheesy boutique hotel chain named after each of the show’s characters.)

'Sacre bleu! Merde sur mon ordinateur et ma tasse!'That same day, we also learned about a new café opening planned for Paris next month: Microsoft To Open Cafe In Paris To Build Windows 7 Buzz (Pics). Yes, Microsoft plans to open Windows Café on October 22 — the same day as the public launch of their new Windows 7 operating system. Our derision of French coffee aside, we have to imagine we’ve already tasted the Blue Screen of Death in coffee form. But perhaps bad coffee is a new concept where Microsoft plans to “embrace, extend and extinguish”. (Or maybe they’re just hitting back at Sun’s Java?)

A new trick for an old dog

In the past we’ve reported on a number of cafés opened as temporary exhibits — not to mention some back-alley cafés that did their best to qualify as performance art. But what’s different here is that the café is just another vehicle for event marketing — not unlike wild posting campaigns or employing attractive, undercover actors to talk up client products in a bar.

Because the logistics of opening temporary cafés have become easier, and because marketers have become more desperate to find new ways to attract consumers’ attention, we may see more of these café-as-marketing-vehicle launches until enough of us are saturated with it. And given that the primary purpose of these cafés is to sell DVDs or software, we suspect the coffee to be pretty poor. (We’ve already had enough poor coffee from cafés that primarily promoted music and movies.)

Of course, our society has quite a history of promotional fads. Decades ago, TV actors were expected to release musical albums as part of the personal publicity campaigns arranged by their agents — regardless of their musical talents and the pain inflicted upon their fans. Today politicians appear on “Dancing with the Stars”.

Though here at CoffeeRatings.com, we still prefer the idea of advertising on the back of the deranged signage of SF’s legend of eccentricity, and heir to Emperor Norton, Frank Chu. As a man who knows where the local TV news cameras will be long before their cameramen do, you cannot get better media placement than that.

Frank Chu knows his coffee too