(Now here’s an appropriate topic for this forum.)
I started drinking coffee in the mid to late 1970s, at a time when coffeehouses and higher quality coffee was something you rarely came across unless you lived in an area like Greenwich Village, or perhaps happened to work at or attend a university that happened to boast a decent cafe. (The first establishment I ever encountered that was anything like a traditional coffeehouse was the one in Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA.) Other than that, coffee was something you scooped out of a can from the supermarket and loaded into your Mr. Coffee drip coffee brewer. At restaurants, the coffee would often be a little better than at home, and at the office, usually rather worse.
It was all right then. In earliest childhood I loved the smell of ground coffee, although when offered a small taste, it was all I could do not to spit it out. Later, like most Americans, it seems, I acquired the taste and have enjoyed coffee all my adult life. The brands similar to and including the ones listed in the title were decent tasting if not terrific, perhaps because it was pretty much such mass-market brands that epitomized how coffee was supposed to taste.
Such was coffee in America, until about 1990.
As with so many others, it was about 1990 that I graduated to better coffee, partly through Starbucks but also through thoroughly enjoying the supernova-like burst of independent coffeehouses that appeared in West L.A. like mushrooms after a spring rain. It was supernova-like, because those small coffeehouses had nearly all vanished by the end of the decade. I enjoyed coffee even more when regional products came on the market, like real Yemen Mocca, Mocca Java, and premium beans from small regions throughout the global coffee growing belt. Notwithstanding all that, the national coffee brands found in the supermarkets still seemed passably good, even if it wasn’t nearly in the same league as Diedrichs Kenya AA or Costa Rica Peaberry.
I find the only way I can enjoy a national brand coffee is to load it up with milk and sugar, which I never used to do. Otherwise it tastes like the kind of coffee that comes out of a vending machine. A new can freshly opened, or rather, plastic container since most coffee doesn’t come in cans anymore, doesn’t even smell good now. The brew made from it tastes hard, flat, and above all cheap, in the worst sense of the last word.
So what I’d like to ask is whether the national brands have stayed about the same, or have they really been getting worse? Have the newer specialty brands like Starbucks drawn the more discerning coffee drinkers into their orbit, thereby forcing the older brands to descend to their new market level by sacrificing quality for economy? Or is it just that my palate has become accustomed to better coffee, and the national brands are the same as they ever were?