From the Lowly Cup of Joe to Starbucks and Beyond
Ahh, the old cup of joe… Coffee in the USA is ubiquitous, so ingrained in the culture that it has taken on legendary status. Audiences all over the world will remember the cast of Seinfeld drinking coffee in the diner, as the aproned waitress came around to pour endless refills from a huge pot from a drip filter machine.
Quick and Dirty
Others will remember the cast of Friends gathered at their local Central Perk, the coffeehouse that functioned as a hub for their whole neighborhood. The meme-like phrase “the best part of waking up” took hold from a famous commercial, and I’m sure that any American alive in the late 80s and 90s could finish the phrase “is Folgers in your cup!” without batting an eye.
American coffee is so famous that there’s even an Italian-cum-pan-European drink called an Americano! American soldiers stationed in Italy found proper espresso too strong, and demanded that the drink be filled to the top with hot water to dilute it.
Bigger is Better
Thus was born the nearly global stereotype that coffee in America is worthless brown water, something you drink in huge quantities without the enjoyable flavor of a properly made cup. And in some respects this is true: in large part coffee in America is fuel, a trusty sidekick that warms your hand and provides comfort in its sheer volume and the amount of time it takes to finish a large cup. And when I say large cup, phew, do I mean it! Starbucks is currently offering a Trenta sized portion with a whopping 31 fluid ounces (almost a whole liter)! As far as quality goes, well some people swear by 711 and Dunkin Donuts, and McDonalds sells an impressive amount of coffee per day, too.
More interesting, however, are some trends that we’ve noticed in smaller, mom-and-pop style coffeehouses. Only in America could people get excited about things like kopi luwak coffee, the famous coffee brewed from the digested and, umm, well, excreted coffee beans that the Asian palm civet, a ferret like rodent, eats from the tree. Of course that wasn’t weird enough, and so elephant-dung coffee also became a fad.
The Good Stuff
But let’s focus on some of the, let’s say more pleasant things going on in the American coffee scene. One of the most remarkable things is the amount of people roasting and grinding their own beans. Taking the lead from small coffee shops that featured small-scale roasting, many people have taken to the craft at home, buying green coffee beans from a wholesaler and roasting them one cup at a time at home. The oils in coffee start to break down right after roasting, so this is the best way to make sure your cup is complex and intricate as possible.
Another interesting trend is “bulletproof” coffee, a drink copied from the branded Bulletproof, featuring premium coffee brewed with high-grade butter from purely grass-fed cows. For our daily dose, we’ll stick to cream or milk, but it sure is an interesting experience to drink buttery coffee.
One of our favorite trends was adopted with the rise of Pho and other Vietnamese restaurants. The trick here is a slow drip without a paper filter using extremely strong French roast coffee. The luxurious surprise is that it drips down onto creamy, delicious condensed milk. It’s then served either hot, or poured on top of ice cubes. Either way it’s simply divine.
America is a huge place, and, just like anything else in a country with 320 million people, people carve out niches, fads and trends come and go, and a version of coffee is invented to suit every single one of these personalized desires and trends. A great example of this is iced coffee, a drink popular in America but almost nowhere else on earth.
While we’re at iced coffee, no discussion of coffee in America would be complete without mention of things like Starbucks’ Frappucinos, or their pumpkin spice lattes, which are absolute hits in the summer and fall respectively. These coffee creations are completely outlandish, but, we have to admit, sinfully delicious ;)