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Place over taste: The case for bad coffee

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Place over taste: The case for bad coffee

Coffee anyone? Omega editor Matt Troher enjoys a cup of his favorite beverage, coffee

Coffee anyone? Omega editor Matt Troher enjoys a cup of his favorite beverage, coffee

Matt Troher

Coffee anyone? Omega editor Matt Troher enjoys a cup of his favorite beverage, coffee

Matt Troher

Matt Troher

Coffee anyone? Omega editor Matt Troher enjoys a cup of his favorite beverage, coffee

By Matt Troher, Downers Grove North High School

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I am a coffee snob.

I exclusively buy whole coffee beans, grinding them myself as I go. I wouldn’t touch anything pre-ground with a ten-foot pole. I use a French press to craft my morning beverage, and I look down on anyone who uses a percolator as their weapon of choice. Cream and sugar — who do you think I am?

I scoff at anyone who thinks Starbucks is the pinnacle of coffee (they burn their beans) or uses a god-forsaken K-Cup (would you at least think of the environment). I buy my beans fair trade and locally sourced, crafting one cup at a time with care. I enjoy the few little grounds that slip through the filter on my French press, and I describe each cup with the same tasting notes a master sommelier would use on a glass of 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon.

As you can tell, I take my morning beverage a little seriously. Some might even call me — go ahead, I know you want to — pretentious. But my favorite cup of coffee doesn’t come from the $16 bag I bought online. It’s not the organic, locally sourced, farm-to-table, fair trade artisanal dark roast that costs $8 a cup at the hottest coffee bar.

It’s the 50 cent cup of gas station coffee bought at 5:00 a.m. on your family road trip to Canada. It’s the hours-old coffee poured by the friendly waitress at a rusty diner that you and your friends stopped at during your post-prom excursion to Lake Geneva. It’s the complimentary hotel lobby coffee, that came from god-knows-where, that you drank on your trip-of-a-lifetime to New York City.

The best cup of coffee doesn’t rely on the taste, or the country of origin, or the brewing method. It relies on the circumstances that led you to drink that cup. Place over taste.

I don’t remember what brand it was, but I will always remember the cup of coffee I had with my friend Nick in the early hours of the morning on our backpacking trip in New Mexico. We carried the materials needed to make that coffee on our backs for over 80 miles, and that alone is more memorable than whatever third-wave new-age coffee shop you can find back home.

Coffee is a catalyst, it allows for things to happen; for old friends to reconnect and new lovers to converse — and the taste seldom matters. The hours-old pot of stale coffee is the kindling that keeps the conversation burning hours after dinner has ended. The best tasting cup of coffee is the one you drank at Christmas, surrounded by family telling stories.

Bad coffee is the world’s favorite comfort food. Coffee knows no borders. Everyone, everywhere, has their own special way of brewing a cup. But every cup — regardless of method — reminds them of home.

I find solace in coffee, that bitter brown beverage that reflects the world back to me. In the late hours of the evening studying for that big exam, coffee tastes better than ever. In the hotel lobby, surrounded by the closest group of 50 strangers I’ve ever met, coffee tastes better than ever.

It’s okay to have your pretensions in life, it’s okay to be a snob. Go ahead, have your passions and enjoy them with unabashed excitement. But don’t get bogged down in the details. Life’s too short to only drink gourmet coffee, or only listen to classic rock, or only read “the classics”, or to only watch Best Picture nominees, or enjoy anything with absolute exclusivity.

Go out and smell the gas station coffee.

This story was originally published on DGN Omega on March 15, 2019.

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