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ISSUE 120 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/14/2007

Coffee ratings puzzle

By Margaret Wade
Arts Editor

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cup of joe. Java Coffee. Would you like fries with that? In a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times, writer David Colker responded to the March issue of Consumer Reports; which reported that a coffee taste test concluded that “McDonald’'s beats Starbucks in coffee smackdown.” The March issue of Consumer Reports urges readers to “try McDonald’'s, which was cheapest and best.”

How did the clown win? Coffee was once an exotic beverage imported to Europe from the Muslim world, but these new fast-food strains of the bean perform at Styrofoam cup standards. The scent is the most important feature, because it reveals the quality of the coffee before it even touches your lips. How can anyone drink Java with the overpowering aroma of French fries in the air? Why buy coffee at a burger joint over an emporium that specializes in brewing coffee?

The price difference between Starbucks and McDonald’'s is only 20 cents, yet the ambience is worlds apart. Starbucks promises an environment juxtaposing European refinement with fast-paced American efficiency, marked by acoustic music, java aroma and leather couches. Starbucks replenishes its coffee every hour with a commitment to quality, unlike its competition. Soon Starbucks coffee shops will outnumber stop signs, but at least Starbucks brews its coffee strong, with Seattle-based pride.

McDonald'’s can’'t escape its fast-food king image, where children pelt each other with Play Place balls and adults scramble for the latest teeny beanie babies. McDonald’'s coffee may appeal to the unsophisticated palette or the penny-pincher, but it will never surpass Starbucks in terms of ambience. A Turkish proverb states, “"Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love."” When I ventured into McDonald’'s to sample the recently acclaimed substance, I stared down into a flimsy cup: the beverage was so clear, I could see straight to the bottom. Using the Turkish rating system, McDonald’s failed 3 out of 3.

There is more to coffee than economic value. I drink coffee for the experience, not purely for the caffeine. If the dollar sign is the only value indicator, it makes the most sense to brew your own coffee, where you can choose your beans and control the strength to your taste. However, the social institution of meeting a friend for conversation over a cup of coffee provides so much more than $1.55.

According to the World Resources Institute, Norway consumes the fourth most coffee per capita in the world. Having coffee with friends is a Scandinavian social institution. The Swedish even have a verb, fika, which means “to take a coffee break.” Northfield provides a variety of coffee shops for your daily grind. Oles flock to the Cage to warm up with a cup of caffeinated goodness between classes. The Pause now serves specialty coffee drinks with the arrival of an espresso machine this fall. Caribou provides a Starbucks alternative, infused with Minnesota nicey-nicey, where you can get cozy in the North Woods cabin décor. Goodbye Blue Monday's Coffeehouse serves as a bridge between Carleton and St. Olaf. Student and community members always occupy the retro collection of furniture. The Ole Store provides a friendly atmosphere where Oles curl up on cold days or gather outside when the weather gets warm. James Gang Hideaway was recently awarded the distinction of “Best in Southern Minnesota” and provides Blue Monday’'s with a little Division Street competition. Visit them all--just don’'t go to McDonald’s!

Staff Writer Meggie Wade is a sophomore from Ames, Iowa. She majors in English and in French.

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