Monday, August 17, 2009

Coffee Wars

Tim Horton's was the genesis of my coffee drinking. In my earliest days of imbibing of the "coffee bean" nectar, I ordered the "double double". As my palate matured, I moved to just one cream. Despite the history I have with Tim's, I have since converted to Starbuck's coffee. I realize that Tim's is a national institution, and I admire the way Tim's brings people together to talk. There is always a hum of chatter when I go into a Tim's. People always hold doors open. People are friendly and familiar. For some, Tim's is like Boston's "Cheers" or an old English pub, where "everyone knows your name."

But, I find that the coffee is too bitter. Very few people actually drink Tim's coffee "black"---it seems to need double cream, double sugar... or, I frequently hear, "triple triple".

Starbuck's coffee is, in my humble estimation, the best coffee available. It tastes authentic. Authenticity is hard to come by these days. The only problem with Starbuck's is the associated "snobby" image. I often see people sitting alone, peering into laptop screens, marking papers or reading books. No hum of chattering people, just softly playing jazz music in the background and the occasional squeak of bottoms on plush leather seats. The clientele seems elevated and superior. Not that BMWs can't be seen in Tim's drive-thrus, or that Chevys aren't seen at Starbuck's parking lots... it is just a general impression one gets. Starbuck's is for the elite; Tim's is for the common man. So, even though I prefer the common man venue of Tim's, I have a greater preference for Starbuck's coffee.

To add to the dilemma, however, is McDonald's. Here you will find very inexpensive coffee. In fact, I ordered a huge coffee and a muffin this morning for $1.93 (tax incl.). To make matters worse, the coffee is superb. I am not sure how authentic it is... (with McDonald's, no one can be certain what you are eating or drinking) ...but, it tastes almost as good as Starbuck's coffee.

In addition, the cup is well designed. It has an extra paper layer surrounding the cup, providing insulation for your hand and the coffee is hot to the last drop. My Tim's coffee is always too hot at first and then gets cold near the end. Not so with McDonald's coffee. The lid is large, like Starbuck's lids, but it has a convenient lift-tab over the hole, that actually stays open when you press it back. I find that Tim's lid tabs sometimes fail to stay open. You know what I am talking about. Most embarrassing. Everyone around you acts like an expert because everyone has had a million cups of Tim's coffee in their lifetime and have had relatively few problems. Even so, one in a hundred lids seems to malfunction. Inevitably, I tear the tab off and I am stuck with a sharp plastic bit digging into my lid. McDonald's design, on-the-other-hand, is made for the customer's supreme enjoyment. The high lid also means that your lips press against the rounded drinking hole rather then against the paper cup (a la Tim's). This is usually not a major problem, unless the Tim's employee places the lid opening over the cup-seam. You know what I am talking about. Your lip doesn't seal properly to the cup because of the seam and you dribble coffee on your shirt. Another problem with the Tim's lid is the "overfilled cup." I have spilt coffee on a number of occasions because of overfilled Tim's. This never happens at Mc'D's because of the high lid, and Starbuck's always asks "room for cream?", so they leave appropriate space.

In the end, I make coffee at home more often than not. It is cheaper and porcelain cups make the coffee tastes a whole lot better. I must add that I still go to Tim's occasionally. Canadian identity has a fragile existence, and a coffee shop founded right here in Hamilton by a hockey player is too Canadian to pass up. Besides, the doughnuts are excellent bar-none.


Anonymous said...

Ah Jeremy, Does this mean that I no longer need put 15 spoonfulls of expensive Star Bucks coffee in the coffee maker every Sunday and that Tim Hortons less expensive 10 spoonfulls will be ok, to advoid a "snobby Image". After all the door is held open at our "friendly and familiar" location, as well the "common man" is always welcome.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Well I wouldn't go that far, Brian... No need to be hasty! It is important to make both Tim's and Starbuck's fans feel welcome, no matter how "common" or "snobby" they may be!

I do look forward to Starbuck's Sunday morning. You do a fine job.


Barbara said...

I love that you are a exceptionally thorough a reviewer when it comes to coffee as you are when it comes to 20th century literature. Quite possibly my most favourite post ever because it is just so you. You failed to rate the coffee at my house. The location is a bit inconvenient, I do concede, but the pottery, price, and personal air should help make it worthwhile. Am I right?

Miss you and Laurie tons. Hug those kids for me.

(and the trick to keeping the Tim's tab properly held down is to open it right away. The longer you wait before opening it, the softer the lid gets from the steam. And then due to the resulting expansion of the tab clasp, it will not stay shut. Not even kidding.)

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Thanks for the tip about the Tim's tab. And, your coffee is splendid... Almost as good as the company!

On another note, I also feel I need to retract my statement about Starbuck's lacking "chatter"... I was in a Starbuck's a couple days ago with a former student and the place was packed with friendly visitors chatting away. All is not lost!


Louis Dauphin said...

You need to come by our home more often for some real coffee (and, yes, I left the quotation marks off the real for a reason... I guess you understand).

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Ah yes. Haitian coffee. Where to begin, my friend. Ripe coffee beans, harvested in the proper time, roasted by hand in the traditonal way, ground to perfection... I can imagine the aroma in the nostrils of my mind...

Are you inviting me over for coffee now? Why yes, I accept... If there is coffee in heaven, then I shouldn't wonder if it is your grandmother's Haitian brew!