Charles Harries

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Bad coffee

Don't be precious! It's nice to like nice things, but you're just a schmuck and you're not above unlimited refills on cheap IHOP coffee

"The Case for Bad Coffee", by Keith Pandolfi over at Serious Eats, is an oldie by writing-on-the-web standards (October 2019, before the pandemic & at least one whole lifetime ago, maybe two), but continues to read well and reflects another facet of my ongoing journey towards non-preciousness (which probably started in 2014 with #9 on this listicle of 30 tips for living, which in the intervening 8 years has aged really well, and about which I am long overdue for a blog post).

The non-precious approach is usually contrasted against the life's-too-short approach (e.g. "life's too short to drink shitty coffee"), which usually props up financially irresponsible decisions—especially among cyclists and coffee enthusiasts. Among whom I now count myself—since we got ol' Ghyll and my dad brought my 1980s Schwinn over from the States.

I think that "The Case" maybe overcorrects a little bit. "High-end coffee doesn't usually lend itself to [bonding experiences]," Pandolfi writes. I don't think that's quite true—some of my best memories of Japan, for example, are of incredible meals into which chefs put hours of care and fuss. Same goes for some terrific cocktails I had in Newquay a few years ago. Non-preciousness isn't about a disdain for high-end stuff; you can be just as precious about cheap coffee, cheap footwear, or cheap cars as any wealthy snob is about expensive variants.

Non-preciousness, instead, is about extracting the experiences out of the everyday. If Pandolfi's $18 bag of coffee wasn't giving him the same experiences that it used to—if it wasn't sparking joy anymore—then of course he shouldn't be spending the money on it. If a can of Maxwell elicits illicit thrills, more power to him!

The best cup of coffee I ever had was at an IHOP, with Sam, in suburban Orlando, at like 3 am or something. It was like a buck fifty for unlimited refills, and so good that I bought the thick-walled, thimble-sized IHOP cup that it came in. And I still drink coffee out of it.

My trusty IHOP cup
My trusty IHOP cup