Coffee - Good, Bad and Ugly

I will admit it - I am a bit of a coffee snob.

I prefer my coffee brewed from dark-roasted beans I have ground fresh for the current pot. (I will admit that I currently get my dark-roast already ground, but that's because Carol gets her espresso in bean form and until I get my own grinder, I get the ground.) I prefer my coffee brewed very strong - I once described it as strong enough that a spoon will stand up straight. Hyperbole, I know. I also drink my coffee black - I rarely (perhaps 1 out of every 1,000 cups) add milk or sugar. I am known to add a bit of Sprecher's Root Beer syrup from time to time - don't knock it until you've tried it. I was skeptical, but that flavoring has made it into regular weekend rotation in my coffee cup.

I have been drinking coffee ever since I was about 15 and on a deer-hunting trip with my dad and Roger Kane. We had forgotten to pack hot cocoa mix (neither Dad nor Roger drank cocoa) and I had to make do with coffee. I learned I love the stuff.

I have traveled on business somewhere between occasionally and "road warrior" over the past 22 years. Since I rarely begin my day without a cup of coffee, I initially saw the existence of in-room coffee makers as a real boon. No more having to find the local equivalent of (earlier) McDonald's (which still makes a decent cup) or (later) Starbucks to get my morning infusion.

However, in-room coffee in any hotel or motel in the world has to be the worst beverage ever concocted. I say "concocted," because nothing this foul ever happens by accident.

This assessment is not borne of a couple of trips to the other side of the state and an occasional stay in a Motel 6. I'd say I have a fair sample to draw upon. The unfortunate conclusion of my research is that the problem (and the only way you would not see it as a problem is if you do not drink coffee) is widespread to the point where, if it were a virus, we would call it a true pandemic.

Why can't the people in charge of providing coffee and makers to the world's hotel rooms taste-test their own products? Almost all of the stuff I have tried would have to be significantly improved just to reach a rating of "vile."

As I sit in my room this evening at the Doubletree Westport in St. Louis, I look at the Wolfgang Puck coffee maker I tried this morning. Ol' Wolfie should know the bad brew being foisted upon us in his name. Bitter, watered-down and lifeless are the most printable adjectives I can think of. I'm not sure the tools I have at my disposal would be enough to attempt to correct the problem.

I even brought my own coffee maker and coffee so that I could have a decent cup in the morning. I started doing that a few years ago when I drive to a remote location (ever try getting a coffee maker through baggage check? I haven't.). Even the commercial stuff in most business offices locations is drinkable. It's good, strong and decent. Worth $5 a cup? Not even Starbucks, Caribou or any of their ilk produce coffee that good - heck, I'm not sure coffee that good exists anywhere in the world. No, the office stuff is usually a cup of regular joe - just the way I like it.

OK, except the work situation in which I found myself many years ago where there were two factions - weak coffee vs. strong coffee. The weak coffee proponents could never figure out (even after reams of data and even a few bar charts) that one could take strong coffee and make it weaker by adding some hot water. A coffee americano in barrista-speak. No, I always had to guard the coffee I had brewed, lest someone from the other team casually pour it down the sink instead of just watering it down to the point where they wanted it. Ever try to make weak coffee stronger by removing water? While one can remove the water, the act of boiling already-brewed coffee releases some pretty unpalatable chemical compounds into the solution, making a weak, bitter liquid more bitter and interesting only if you have the right chemistry lab in which to study the results.

The hotel stuff barely qualifies as a beverage (implying it can be safely consumed), let alone a decent cup of coffee.

I have reached the point where I will complain about this every time I check out of a hotel - to remind them that ignoring such an important touch to the point where the output is vile is far worse than not providing it at all... which some hotels have begun doing.

So, tomorrow when I check out, I am going to complain. Will it do me any good? (I'll be back in twelve days for another visit.) Unlikely.

But maybe, just maybe, someone else down the line is going to benefit from my speaking up and letting them know that you can't wrap poo in gold foil and call it precious.

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