Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Burnt Coffee, Pallid Tea


Recommended Posts

In one of my random walks around the Web, I came across a rather clever, crumudgeonly essay attempting to identify the distinguishing characteristics of American culture. The essay, which appears at Asia Times Online, the Web-only successor to the English-language international newspaper, is written by someone who signs himself only as "Spengler"; as far as I can tell, given the tone of his essays, this person is attempting to claim the mantle of a latter-day Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West).

Well, if America is in decline, apparently it has something to do with really black coffee:

2. Burnt coffee at exorbitant prices. The most popular cafe chain, whose name decent people do not pronounce, burns its coffee beans to produce what Americans mistakenly believe is an authentic European taste. Proper coffee, by which of course I mean Italian coffee, is bittersweet, not burned. Americans evidently hate the wretched stuff because they drown its flavor in a flood of milk, in the so-called "latte", something I never have observed an Italian request during many years of travel in that country. By contrast, Italians drink cappuccino, mixing a small amount of milk into the coffee and leaving a cap of foam. If Americans do not like it, why do they buy it at exorbitant prices? They do so precisely because the high price makes it a luxury, but an affordable one for secretaries and shopgirls.

The entire essay is in this vein, and eGullet Society members are advised to pay special attention to items 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9 on Spengler's list of the characteristic features of American culture.

After you've read it, won't you join me for the discussion forum on this essay? We will meet at the Olive Garden at 7:30.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Strikes me as an uninformed snob coughing up a bit of bile.

Thing is, the US is a huge market, and there is room here for terrible coffee, bad tea and oaky wine, along with lots of other options which might be more to Herr Spengler's ever-so-refined tastes. Were he not so busy looking down his nose at the things he disliked, he might have observed something he would enjoy.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wasn't aware I was drinking "burnt" coffee. So, what are the good brands/shops?

As for point number one in the article, I have long wished the US had an autobahn lane, especially on the vast stretches of interstate highways.

Edited by johnsmith45678 (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's amazing what will be published these days, but then this guy may be writing to his audience, whoever that may be.

It's not funny enough to be satire and his arguments are too weak to be taken seriously.

Keep moving, folks...there's nothing to see here.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Heh. The tone reminds me of a British coworker I have, who once declared (to my face) that Canadians who had gone to public school were terribly uneducated compared to Brits who had gone to 'public' schools.

Did I mention she's a vegetarian?

In Vietnam?

And complains when restaurants serve her tofu in meat sauce?

I wonder if I could have Anthony Bourdain fly in to kick her ass for me?

What I've noticed is living in Asia is that the way we consume coffee (and tea) is very different from the way it's done in North America. For example, Starbucks was huge in Korea, and you could never find a seat in there on a Saturday. Why? Because a group of students would order one round (usually green tea frappaccinos - puke) and sit with them all afternoon. Aside from the cost, which was a factor, coffee (and coffee or tea related drinks) was seen as something to sit and enjoy, not something you pick up in a gallon container on the way to work, slam on your desk, and slurp through most of the morning.

I will give them points for providing little hollow green stir sticks on their condiment booths, though, which finally made sipping my customary black coffee a tongue-burn free experience.

It's the same here in Vietnam. Nobody gets take-out coffee. The cafe is a place to go to relax, have a cigarette, sip your coffee, chat with a friend, and when you're done, go back to the office. Nobody gets take out, because the point of having the drink is have a break, not to suck down 42 ounces or whatever of milk and coffee. When I went home in 2004, I couldn't believe the size of coffees people were drinking. The small Starbucks in Korea was 6 oz. The cups here in Vietnam are comparable.

I went to the Highland coffee (a Starbucks wannabe) the other day to get a coffee before my class, as I needed a serious sugar and caffeine hit. I asked them on a whim if they did take out. The waiter's eyes lit up, like this was the chance they'd been waiting for for weeks. Minutes later, I was walking down Ba Trieu with a large plastic domed lid contraption, straight out of Seattle, slurping happily on my takeaway. (There was still only about 6 oz of coffee in there - the rest was ice!) I attracted a crowd. Men pointed at my cup. Women gasped. When I got to my building, the security guard (who looks on us foreigners as a special breed of crazy) asked me straight out,

"Why are you walking with your coffee?"

Edited by nakji (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It doesn't make much sense to single out Americans on the Starbucks issue. Starbucks has a great many shops WORLDWIDE! I checked on their web site and there are even Starbucks in PARIS! Oh the shame! Or does Starbucks serve different stuff in those countries with the customers with better taste?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It doesn't make much sense to single out Americans on the Starbucks issue. Starbucks has a great many shops WORLDWIDE! I checked on their web site and there are even Starbucks in PARIS! Oh the shame! Or does Starbucks serve different stuff in those countries with the customers with better taste?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It doesn't make much sense to single out Americans on the Starbucks issue. Starbucks has a great many shops WORLDWIDE! [snip]

It's getting to the point where I get pissed off when there's NO Starbucks on the corner! :laugh: And I go there maybe once a month, because they do burn their beans. (And I think they know it but geez, at this point, if they stopped charring them there'd be a worldwide revolt.)

The piece made me smile, I have to say. Maybe an American chef, food writer, or someone like that broke his heart? Maybe J&W turned him down for admission?

Look: if we tried to do things exactly as the Italians do, someone would be posting that we are wannabes. I'm sure I'm full of more to say on this topic, but I've only got one cup of coffee in me now. :wink:

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have always thought that Starbucks is really in the milk business, not the coffee business. Coffee is a flavoring in most of their insipid drinks that appeal to those with nursery palates..hot chocolate lovers, basically. No one who really appreciates coffee wants beans so burnt you cannot tell their origin, nor to have it so diluted and sweetened as most Starbucks drinks are. Professional coffee-tasters sample beans roasted to the approximate color of cinnamon so they can experience nuances of various beans.

I'd bet that a very, very small percentage of Starbucks coffee is sold as simple espresso or, for that matter, even black.

An interesting phenomenon: The Greek coffee shop I frequent is across the street from a Starbucks. More and more, I see customers coming into the coffee shop for breakfast or lunch carrying Starbucks coffee. Maybe the coffee shop owner should charge a corkage fee.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Any country is fair game for criticism.

No country can be held up as a model.

What is missing from this piece is any sense of humor.

Poking fun can be entertaining and informative.

However there is an undertone of pure nastiness in this piece.

One could respond with an equally nasty critique of European

countries (believe me there's plenty of ammunition).

That would be sinking to the level of the writer of this piece.

The writer driven by what? Anger, envy, some personal psychosis?-- uses

half truths and stereotype to make a case for what?

The nonsense about wines for eg is misinformed and idiotic.

Ditto the claptrap about our driving laws and habits.

What about coffee?

The real motivation for this piece is not any qualms with culture

it is entirely motivated by politics!

Uninformed and misguided political viewpoint.

And therein lies the real problem with this bit of America bashing.

The writer, if capable, could present his or her political viewpoint for

consideration or debate (with or without humor).

Instead, frustrated at the obvious inability to make a "case" --they resort

to blaming our culture or lack thereof. (if only "they" knew how to appreciate

a good cup of coffee--the world would be a better place.

The piece ends with some pure drivel about "America's encounter with Islam."

So

Given the political nature of the piece, I submit it is silly and wrong to try to address the comments about food and culture--it is to miss the point of the piece.

One can argue any political point of view--Americans do love a good debate.

The writer is an intellectual coward who has developed a dishonest theory to support a politically motivated position.

Perhaps an appropriate response to this piece would be to look at jellied eel and Benny Hill (British culture?) to explain away all of Britain's ills and bad behaviour.

I can't do it though--I love Benny Hill (the eel is another matter).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with the earlier poster who said there is something offensive about the tone of the article. It smacks of a common theme in which someone compares the best of their land to worst of another, and believes he is making a general statement about cultures.

Regarding Starbucks: I've thought about this a lot. :)

1. I mainly get their medium or small (er, grande or tall...) black coffee. These cost perhaps $1.60-$1.90, depending on location. Coffee any decent shop is the same price. This is hardly a luxury item.

2. I think their coffee is, generally, over-roasted for my taste. Burnt. But in many situations I find myself with a choice between burnt coffee at Starbucks and insipid, weak coffee at another place. I opt for Starbucks. It isn't that there are no other good coffee places here in Chicago (There are many), but the Starbucks are ubiquitous and the places that I prefer are not.

3. My recent travels to Europe suggest that Starbucks is just as common in many places there as here. Most interestingly, a trip to Oxford, England about 5 years ago revealed many places advertising "Seattle style coffee," which was essentially Starbucks style.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I honestly don't see Starbucks or bottled water as status symbols now days. Maybe in places like China, where they are new, and compared to local salaries very expenisve, but in the States they are both so ubiquitous at this point that the notion of them being seen as status symbols strikes me as a bit stale and silly.

Perhaps because I just finished grading a set of student memoirs from my summer school class--and the last one I read was written by a student who grew up in a housing project, who is now a custodian at my university, working full-time and taking classes part-time and proud proud proud to be the first person in his large extended family who can afford to own a car--I have to disagree. I think there are many people who still consider a $4 cup of coffee to be an enormous luxury, and therefore a status symbol in the way of all luxuries, whether a Lexus or a well-used Ford. The definition of "status" just depends on your circumstances.

As for the article itself--this kind of extreme snobbery always seems to me to exist for the sole purpose of getting people riled up. I think I'll just decline to give Spengler that satisfaction. :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The author needs a good caning (which I am sure is available in whatever genteel nation he hails from).

Sure, Italians make superior coffee - but ever try coffee in most other countries? (there was a long thread on the French boards a while back on why French coffee is so terrible - and believe me it is - very inferior beans and no idea how to make it).

As for the tea - most places leave the bag in it so you can brew to your desired shade. Bad wine in America - gee what about the Austrians using antifreeze in their's a while back, or the French who often import takers of cheap swill from N. Africa and label it as their own? Mega-malls - ever see a hypermart anywhere in Europe?? Slow drivers - look at the fatality rate in Europe for drivers- it is staggering. And on and on...

Get a grip.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perhaps because I just finished grading a set of student memoirs from my summer school class--and the last one I read was written by a student who grew up in a housing project, who is now a custodian at my university, working full-time and taking classes part-time and proud proud proud to be the first person in his large extended family who can afford to own a car--I have to disagree.  I think there are many people who still consider a $4 cup of coffee to be an enormous luxury, and therefore a status symbol in the way of all luxuries, whether a Lexus or a well-used Ford.  The definition of "status" just depends on your circumstances.

"Status displays" are not necessarily indicators that one is rich. I agree that to a hard-working person of very modest means such as your student, $4 is a lot to pay for what is essentially a frill, but for many people of less modest means who are nonetheless far from wealthy, a $4 latte is indeed a "luxury they can afford."

In which case, they purchase the item not so much to show off their wealth as to show off their superior taste and sophistication, much as "Spengler" used prose so acidic you could etch metal with it to show off his (alleged) superior taste and sophistication. Now, we all know--or ought to--that the relationship between taste and money is by no means linear, but there are enough people who confuse the two to make a bunch of companies very profitable, Starbucks among them.

(Relevant aside: I'm in the middle of the chapter in Tim Harford's excellent and surprisingly entertaining book The Undercover Economist in which he explains how sellers try to get different people to pay different prices for the same stuff based on how much they are willing to pay. Coffee shops figure prominently in his explanation, which is in Chapter 2, "What Supermarkets Don't Want You to Know." Another part of this chapter deals with the difference between what one pays at Whole Foods and what one pays at a conventional supermarket for many common grocery items--in many more cases than either WFM fans or critics suspect, it's zero or close to it. As this book is not available online, it really can't serve as the basis for a discussion here, but I highly recommend it to all of you, even those of you who don't give a whit for economics.)

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have always thought that Starbucks is really in the milk business, not the coffee business. Coffee is a flavoring in most of their insipid drinks that appeal to those with nursery palates..hot chocolate lovers, basically. No one who really appreciates coffee wants beans so burnt you cannot tell their origin, nor to have it so diluted and sweetened as most Starbucks drinks are.  Professional coffee-tasters sample beans roasted to the approximate color of cinnamon so they can experience nuances of various beans.

I'd bet that a very, very small percentage of Starbucks coffee is sold as simple espresso or, for that matter, even black.

An interesting  phenomenon: The Greek coffee shop I frequent is across the street from a Starbucks. More and more, I see customers coming into the coffee shop for breakfast or lunch carrying Starbucks coffee.  Maybe the coffee shop owner should charge a corkage fee.

maybe a "cuppage fee" or a "liddage fee"

You make an interesting point.

I believe that Starbucks has opened up coffee related beverages to a wider audience.

they are in competition with sweet shoppes and ice cream parlors as well as coffee outlets--deli's etc.

I also believe they have raised the level of overall mediocrity for coffee drinkers.

Most of those "coffee shops" and diners etc served pretty lousy coffee. starbuck's is a step up for sure.

Real aficionados of espresso could always turn to the few specialty outlets.

Most would agree that the roasts Starbuck's employs are too dark for their basic coffee.

Interestingly, not long ago I read criticisms of Zabar's and Citarella etc for roasting their coffees too LIGHTLY!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Spengler is correct regarding tea in America - it's swill.

I don't care for coffee, and drink tea at home and at the office. I use English tea (PG Tips or Ty-Phoo), but when I order tea in a restaurant, get a small pot of tepid water and a bag of Lipton or something that tastes like what they swept up off the floor of the tea factory, so I generally just drink water or iced tea, which we make quite well in America, surprisingly.

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Spengler is correct regarding tea in America - it's swill.

... when I order tea in a restaurant, get a small pot of tepid water and a bag of Lipton or something that tastes like what they swept up off the floor of the tea factory ...

Ever hear of the Boston Tea Party? :rolleyes::wink: It was over 200 years ago, but generally speaking, we're still not a tea-drinking country.

I think the article is intended as a piece of humor. Bad, terribly overworked humor, but still. The kind of stuff you hear so often that you have to roll your eyes whenever it comes up again (as it inevitably does). Then again, most of us who don't like it are Americans, so I guess he's hit his mark.

But I do think there's a difference between a status symbol and a luxury. (I see Starbucks as neither, BTW. At first they were a trend; now they're just there. Do you look twice at a person carrying a Starbucks cup?) I see a status symbol as being something you would buy in order to make a statement to others; but a luxury I see more as something you splurge on for yourself, for enjoyment, but recognizing that it is a splurge. So Starbucks may well be a luxury for some people, depending on what their financial situation is. But a status symbol? I don't think so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As for the article itself--this kind of extreme snobbery always seems to me to exist for the sole purpose of getting people riled up. 

Indeed. I thought it was mildly funny. But this sort of thing is really easy to write: just come up with a list of a half-dozen ridiculous & overgeneralized attributes of a given country, add a generous dose of snark, and act as if you've discovered a national character.

Still, one point should be addressed:

Proper coffee, by which of course I mean Italian coffee, is bittersweet, not burned. Americans evidently hate the wretched stuff because they drown its flavor in a flood of milk, in the so-called "latte", something I never have observed an Italian request during many years of travel in that country. By contrast, Italians drink cappuccino, mixing a small amount of milk into the coffee and leaving a cap of foam.

If the author had actually traveled for many years in Italy, he no doubt would have noticed the caffe latte. Not the same as the Starbucks version (needless to say, it's better), but it's mainly milk. And lots of Italians drink it.

Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Did I mention she's a vegetarian?

In Vietnam?

Why doesn't she ask the staff for advice on what dishes are ok if she's observing a fast from meat? It's not like Vietnam has no observant Buddhists... It should be trivial to present it in a culturally acceptable way. IIRC fish sauce isn't used in the traditional fast day dishes, nor is any other animal product.

Emily

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This indeed is a poorly written article, but he/she has a point about too heavily-oaked wines:

" Wood-flavored wine. Americans know as little about wine as they do about coffee. California winemakers throw oak chips into vats of fermenting chardonnay in order to simulate the effect of aging in oak barrels. That is true only for the cheaper wines, but the dearer ones taste just as woody. The American idea of a "big wine" is to suffuse cabernet sauvignon (properly used to produce a delicate wine) with the taste of oak. At best, American wines offer a soporific sort of smoothness, but never achieve the quirkiness, eccentricity and character which make European vineyards an enchanted realm. "

But, oh my dear, European vineyards are "an enchanted realm"???? :blink:

Emily
Link to comment
Share on other sites

But, oh my dear, European vineyards are "an enchanted realm"???? :blink:

My guess is that Spengler overlooked the displays of Riunite wine in Italian wine shops. (Andrew, back me up here. You can't tell me that this product is produced for export to the US only. BTW, "Riunite" translates into English as "United"--that's right, you're drinking United Wine! Sounds like a conglomerate, doesn't it?)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But, oh my dear, European vineyards are "an enchanted realm"???? :blink:

My guess is that Spengler overlooked the displays of Riunite wine in Italian wine shops. (Andrew, back me up here. You can't tell me that this product is produced for export to the US only. BTW, "Riunite" translates into English as "United"--that's right, you're drinking United Wine! Sounds like a conglomerate, doesn't it?)

I don't know about Riunite, but of course there's plenty of crap wine in Europe. Though it's crappy in its own special way. While there's bad industrial wine for sale at the supermarket, there's also bad artisanal wine: the owner of the corner vegetable market has a brother-in-law with a vineyard, and sells his lousy wine for 3 euros a bottle.

Still, it is fair to say that on the whole, it's easier and cheaper to get good wine in Italy than it is in the US.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...