19 Jun The Rise of the Coffee Connoisseur
WE GOT A NEW COFFEE MAKER RECENTLY FOR OUR BREAK ROOM.
The machine it was replacing had dispensed 30,000 servings of coffee in two years, and it was starting to require more maintenance. We decided it was a good time to try to sell it while it still had value—kind of like trading in the family car before the mileage got too high.
That’s a lot of coffee. We probably drink more with this machine than we would if the coffee didn’t taste so good. On the other hand, I believe it is better for our productivity because the staff is less likely to take time off work to run to Starbucks to get their coffee fix. When did good coffee become a need instead of a want? It wasn’t that long ago that coffee was a commodity that you bought in a grocery store, and your choices basically boiled down to Hills Bros. versus Maxwell House. People have become so sophisticated in their appreciation of good coffee; it’s not uncommon to hear friends engage in vigorous debates about the superiority of one coffee house versus another.
In my grandparent’s day, coffee was generally prepared with a percolator. Boiling water would slosh around inside a closed vessel and through a basket filled with ground coffee. There was a sight glass in the lid to monitor the progress of the brew. The product tended to be bitter. In the 1970s, the country saw the introduction of the first Mr. Coffee machines, and soon everyone replaced their percolators with drip coffee machines. The improvement in taste seemed to inspire a quest for more and more advances in coffee enjoyment.
At some point, coffee went from being a tonic to drive away drowsiness to a beverage that was savored for its own sake.
You know the rest of the story. Starbucks opened their original coffee house in Seattle in 1971. They weren’t the originators of the coffee house, but they were extremely successful in the way they packaged it. They joined the other coffee houses that were springing up all over the country. Almost overnight, a nation of coffee enthusiasts accepted the new standard and reconciled themselves to the added costs. What used to be a minimal expense had now grown to equal what a lot of people used to spend on their entire lunch.
From 1995 to 2000, consumption of specialty coffee in America rose 700%, according to AccuVal, a business valuation company. In the last 15 years, the growth curve has leveled off, which means that the market has matured but is holding steady. I think it’s safe to say that specialty coffee has become part of the fabric of our society.