Care for a little light reading? Permit me to publish the below essay on coffee that I penned during the weeks I was studying for the Bar Exam as part of an inchoate series I titled The Bar Missives.
“This is the good stuff,” Joe said as I entered class this morning. He was holding a 24 ounce cup of java. “Is that gas-station coffee,” I asked. “Ha, better: truck-stop coffee.”
We all know that’s true, don’t we—if you want a jolt of energy you can’t go wrong with truck-stop coffee? Of course we do. Truck-stop coffee sits atop the coffee hierarchy, looking down on boutique brands of coffee and regular ol’ gas-station coffee. Here’s why. Truck-stop coffee exists for only one purpose: to keep truckers awake. Truckers: that indomitable group of men who mount their steel horses to deliver, inter alia, our potato chips, beer, FISH (as so identified on all trucks hauling fish, check it out for yourself), and gasoline. They’re a rugged bunch, truckers—wearing caps that sit up a bit too high, ever using some form of tobacco, working in the word “niner” whenever possible, and constantly asking that most perplexing question, “you got your ears on?” Yes, my friends, the coffee designed for truckers isn’t that watered down drivel from Whataburger, nor is it labeled with some fancy moniker like Sumatra, Yukan, French Roast, or the like. No, trucker coffee needs no label.
Gas-station coffee is next. It’s no accident that the coffee pot at the gas station is immediately across from the Pennzoil display; when ordering gas-station coffee, it’s important to keep that in mind. 10W-30, 10W-40, etc. is how a real man orders coffee at the gas station. Interestingly, like Pennzoil, the strength of the coffee someone orders at the gas station will be directly related to the type of engine in the driver’s car. So for a person driving a Matrix, he’ll want to get his coffee from the cappuccino machine (probably 1-E-4 for large cappuccino with sugar). Whereas the Ford pickup driver will poor his coffee from the black-rimmed pitcher, and will most likely ensure that he gets some grains.
The next rung on the ladder of coffee is that of the standard coffee shop, this includes Starbucks and the like. One might be tempted to place this coffee further down on the list. But that would be the product of a bias against coffee-shop coffee, and not the result of careful scholarship. Many people are scared of coffee shops, some find them emasculating. Indeed, they can be. Why must the barista always be some androgynous twenty-something with spiky hair and skin that’s a little too supple for a boy, but hair that’s a little too dirty for a girl? They’re always donning the requisite brow-ring and those discs in their ears, you know the ones we used to make fun of the African tribesmen for wearing while we watched those National Geographic specials on PBS. There’s a chance he’s wearing makeup. He’s never wearing any D.O. for his B.O. Nevertheless, the coffee’s good—dang good. And the true coffee-shop connoisseur knows that one does not have grains in one’s coffee (silly gas station people), one has dregs. The baristas look down on truckers and gas-station coffee drinkers. But they do make a pretty good cup of joe.
I should add here, that coffee ordered from a sit-down restaurant will fall into one of the above categories, depending on the establishment. Are you at a Denny’s or an Oxford Street? If you’re like me, and wary of ordering coffee in a restaurant because you don’t know what kind they serve, there is a way to quell your anxiety. Before you enter the restaurant, look at the cars outside. If you see anything you might describe as a rig, you’ll get truck-stop coffee. If you see more than four cars that are in any of the following categories, you’ll get gas-station coffee: 1) Volkswagen Super Beetles (original models), 2) 1980’s model Oldsmobile or Buick that looks like the owner’s dentist and car-detail shop might be owned by the same person (that’s a genteel way of saying that both the car and the driver have bling in the grill), and 3) cars without catalytic converters (with the exception of old Jeeps, as in the original).
Lastly, you have fast-food coffee. Fast-food coffee is bad, real bad. It’s not even coffee, really. No, it’s some sort of laboratory-created concoction reminiscent more of Dr. Jekyl’s brew, thereby bringing out the cad in all who drink it, than of anything worthy of the title “Java.” They brew it too quickly, like the coffee grounds (if that is really what they are) are being castigated for some evil tortious conduct of which only coffee can be guilty. Furthermore, because fast-food chains operate on economies of scale, they often skimp out on the grounds, thereby making weak coffee to boot.