Might the Coffee Nerds Be Right?

It must be said right up front: coffee is a utilitarian beverage that exists mainly to wake you up. Therefore, treating coffee as some delicate wine-like treat that can only be appreciated by a select group of gourmands is absurd. Or is it?

It is. It really is. Imagine, if you will, a 25 year-old professional barista sidling up to, say, a middle-aged construction worker on his way to work at 6 a.m.—a construction worker who has been drinking coffee for longer than said barista has been alive, and who actually needs the coffee for a physical purpose. And imagine that barista looking that construction worker dead in the face and telling him, "You don't understand coffee. You don't appreciate coffee."

I submit to you that any whippersnapper who could truly feel comfortable saying such a thing is a profound asshole.

I also submit to you that the difference between the world's most expensive cup of coffee and a cup of Folger's that I make in the morning in my shitty drip coffee machine is really not that much, when you get right down to it. They both taste like coffee. Maybe the good coffee is 20% better tasting than the average coffee. Fine. That's not a respectable margin upon which to base an entire lifestyle.

I believe these things to be true. And I drink enough coffee that I will enthusiastically argue these points with anyone, until I run out of coffee. Still... you hang around a god damn place like New York City long enough, with all its prosperous coffee bars and roasting operations and tastings and cuppings and staggeringly credulous news stories, and you wonder, hey, with all this ruckus, might these off-putting and obsessed coffee snobs be onto something?

“When the morning shift comes in at 5:30 a.m., they’ll cup the coffees,” said Mr. Morrissey, who won the prestigious World Barista Championship when he was working for Square Mile Coffee Roasters. “Then they’ll pick how to make it. It’s not that one brewer is better than another brewer. It’s that they might decide, ‘I’m loving the toffee notes in this, I bet it’ll be awesome in a Cafe Solo,’ ” he said, referring to a kind of brewer...

“Sometimes you want a heftier cup,” Mr. Morrissey said. “Other times you may want to celebrate other characteristics of the coffee, the more floral notes, the delicate acidity.”

Mmm... no. If I sat around all morning meditating upon the feel of one pair of socks on my feet versus the feel of another pair of socks on my feet, I'd have some flowery things to say about socks, too. But from a more reasonable perspective, I'd still be wasting my life, meditating upon a single mundane and rather superfluous item. "Yeah, he's a sock guy. He's really into socks. Knows tons of sock trivia," people would say, politely. "We're really trying to find him a date. Do you know anyone? No?"

I'm sure the coffee is good and all though.

[NYT. Photo: Kevin Tao/ Flickr]