coffee: hurry up and wait
I know this is sort of a Generation X and New Coffee Generation blasphemy, but isn’t it a bit weird that we have an entire industry devoted–mostly–to selling brewed coffee?
Not that I don’t partake as much as the next person1, but I guess it’s just one of those examples where the convenience seems better, but often it’s not, is it? Compared to making coffee–not espresso–or using a Keurig at home or in the office, it’s not really any faster, it’s certainly not less expensive. In fact, I used to use “Visit to Starbucks” as a unit of saving money: “If I don’t go to Starbucks (or out for coffee) 4 times this week, I’ll save $X!”
And the experience has become a bit like microwave popcorn. Something you didn’t know could be so fast is then suddenly never fast enough. Coffee shop lines are often backed up to the door, there’s always someone ordering as if they’ve never heard of coffee before2, and there’s often the awkward dance of just ordering a quick coffee–which means you stand near the register and grab it–versus waiting for a more complicated drink and standing among the crowded masses by the counter and hoping there’s no one else with your name or worse–if they don’t use names–that someone who ordered after you doesn’t have the exact same drink and tries to reach for it first.
So why don’t we make our own coffee more often? I’m no slouch when it comes to making my morning brew. Because it’s me, I get all fancy with it, using a milk frother to get a little height and foam, brewing darker roast or espresso blend coffees, and if I do it at home, I don’t even have to put on pants!3 Honestly, my main mental block for making coffee at home–usually on a timer with even less effort–is that I don’t like carrying a travel mug back and forth on the metro. They don’t fit well in my bag or coat pocket and I always feel like I’ll spill it and be responsible for that next family of subway rats or roaches.
It can’t be the cost, since coffee shops are generally more expensive. It might be the perceived time savings, although that’s pretty dubious. And I know coffee has fallen into that category of “modern convenience” where our brains gloss over how easily we might do something on our own and just pay someone else to do it. It’s just become one of those innocuous things, I guess. But when I see folks complaining about Starbucks (which people do, a lot) I think, “Why don’t you just make your own coffee?” which, in terms of effort, is far easier than telling people to make their own food–which can also be cheaper, but that’s for another post.
I honestly miss the coffeehouses of my college days, where you didn’t go because you needed a quick fix, but you wanted to hang out with friends, read a book, pretend to study, etc. I never would have dreamed of making my own coffee then because going to Yianni’s Cafe was much more fun! I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone refer to going to Starbucks as “fun”. Not that there aren’t other coffee houses in DC, but it’s definitely different now that I have a job. On my telework days, by the time I get to coffee places, there’s nowhere to sit. And on the weekends, by the time I get to coffee places, there’s… nowhere to sit. So there’s that.
1 Full Disclosure: I bought the anniversary espresso mug but it paid for itself in less than two weeks and gave me “free” espresso beverages all January long. I even put up with carrying the mug back and forth for “free” drinks.
2 This also applies to McDonald’s and similar fast food joints. There’s a picture of nearly every item available, yet when that person gets to the register, they’re completely dumbfounded.
3 Seriously, not having to put on pants for something is like the ultimate decider as to what makes one activity better than another.
4 These sites would also be awesome to have in the background during a conference call.