Leave it to the Australians to best capture the state of Big Coffee in America, as reported today on Melbourne’s The Age: There’s a war brewing, but taste is still the loser on America’s coffee front. The article points out America’s escalating obsession with quality coffee, but (IMO, correctly) notes how poor the baseline coffee quality level is in this country. (With no exaggeration, Australia has much higher standards for coffee and espresso in their country.) In effect, what we have in the U.S. is an all-out retail war for who can dominate the mass market for underwhelming, underachieving coffee — to win the hearts, minds, and dollars of those who believe good coffee is meant for lattes and paper cups.

In particular, the article takes a third-person perspective on the Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts celebrity death match. In one corner are the aspirational Starbucks drinkers, who are driven by a need to, ironically, express their individuality and non-conformity … and see Dunkin’ Donuts as too stripped down and lacking style. In the other corner are the Dunkin’ Donuts loyalists, who take pride in not being duped by fancy names (call it “Fretalian”) … and fancier prices for the privilege of stumbling over them.

And yet there’s a third party in all this, the spectators, who just want better coffee — regardless of the lifestyle image supposedly projected by their choice of where to drink it. For us, watching Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts duke it out is a bit like watching two inebriated women in an eye-gouging, mud-wrestling cat fight trying to settle the Miss Congeniality crown. The absurdity of the situation keeps us laughing. That is, until we want to take a break for a decent coffee and discover that our favorite café sold the business to one of these louts. And then we start crying.