Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cahfee Cultchah

I'm a HUGE coffee drinker. When I was a teenager, and through my time in the Air Force, I used to drink several pots of coffee a day.

Note, that's POTS not cups.

I reckoned my consumption was something on the order of two gallons of coffee on an average day. Unfortunately when my UC became an issue in my mid twenties I had to cut down my coffee consumption a hell of a lot; but most days I'll still have something like a pint or quart of coffee (one or two 16 oz large mugs).

Now, for those of you not regular readers, I was born and raised in Boston, and the Boston area (all over the south shore). In Boston, coffee means Dunkin Donuts. They're utterly dominant, with at least five times as many Dunkins as Starbucks.

...and that's a GOOD thing.

My friend SeekHer (a conservative Canadian/Israeli jew, with an American wife, and 10 daughters; who makes me look like a gun fearing wussie) posted something on the forums today that inspired me:

SeekHer - 05 May 2007 03:29 AM

Here Starbucks are a rarity because our normal coffee shops come doughnut shops serve better coffee then they do and at half the cost…
The local coffee come doughnut shop he's referring to is of course Tim Hortons; the biggest restaurant chain in Canada (there are more Tim Hortons in Canada than there are McDonald's). Timmys is a bit of a national symbol in Canada (for good or ill), and is a huge part of Canadian pop culture.

I still think Dunkin Donuts has better coffee than Tim Hortons; but he's got a point. Either have better coffee than Starbucks; and have since the 60s.

If you order actual coffee from Starbucks (as opposed to an espresso drink) what you get is poorly blended (20% or more robusta; some blends over 50%) over roasted and over extracted crap.

Both Tim Hortons, and Dunkin Donuts give you smooth coffee of a reasonable strength (as compared to typical restaurant coffee which is essentially brown water) , that is bright without being too acidic, and has body without being too bitter. My only wish is that they would make it a bit stronger.

Now, I'm not saying this is great coffee. COmpared to the good stuff I brew at home, or you get from a really good cafe, it's bland and weak. But for breakfast coffee, or something in the middle of the night, I WANT smooth, and mild but still flavorful coffee, and it fits the bills (though like I said, I wish it were stronger).

What’s amazing to me is that in general, both chains have been able to maintain consistently good standards throughout their huge expansions (combined they make up 70% of the north American coffee market. Starbucks is about 20%, with the rest going to “everyone else"). Both chains had falloffs in quality in the early 80s; but the competition from Starbucks in the 90s drove both to bring their standards and consistency back up to where they were before the decline.

The only problem I have with Dunkins, is that smaller stores don't make their own donuts (yes, that's how they spell it), they have them trucked in from central hubs; so they aren't served hot, and they can get stale over the course of the day. Krispy Kreme has them all over on the hot and fresh scale (but their coffee sucks. Way too bright, and bitter without body or flavor).

Now I just wish Tim Hortons would expand more in the U.S. Right now, with something like 150 stores here, you can only get them in the north east and northern mid west (even better, start serving Tim Hortons coffee and breakfast foodin Wendys - which they own - and I'd eat at Wendys a lot more).

Seriously, Dunkins could use the competition.

Almost ten years ago I took my then new (now long time Ex) wife and her mother on a bus tour of Boston. One thing our driver pointed out was that there are 18 Dunkin Donuts locations visible from Boston Common and the public gardens; and that there is one spot (center of park street, between beacon and Tremont) where you can see 8 different Dunkins if you look in every direction.

And that was 10 years ago.

They first made their massive expansion in New England (they were founded in Quincy Mass, and are headquartered in I think Braintree), then they started spreading out.

Dunkins is planing on having 15,000 stores worldwide by 2015 and 20,000 by 2020; 14,000 of them in North America. They currently have 10,500 stores, 7500 of them in the US (actually less stores than Starbucks, but a great volume of Coffee sales)

When I moved back to Arizona from Ireland in 2003 Dunkin Donuts had JUST started moving in to AZ. There are so many New Englanders down here who were buying DD coffee beans and bringing them back it was ridiculous (this was before they sold it online). Every time you went back to visit family the request all your friends and neighbors had was to bring back bags of coffee (and Wise potato chips, and Ah-So sauce for some reason).

Now there are a half dozen within easy drive of my house.

Oh and I should note, I’ve been writing this while sipping a Dunkin Donuts “Great One” (24oz) hazlenut, light and sweet (one extra half and half, and one extra sugar). It’s what I have instead of breakfast. My body doesn’t like solid food before lunch time usually.

Of course like Tim Hortons, and Starbuks, Dunkins is apart of popular culture; at least in Boston.

There’s a whole ordering language for Dunkins if you’re from New England, but it’s a lot simpler than the “fritalian” bullshit at Starbucks.

What you need to remember is ordering a “regulah” (there are no “r"s at the end of words in New England) will give you a medium (16oz) plain coffee with two tablespoons of half and half and two heaping teaspoons of sugar.

A lahge regulah is a large coffee (20oz) with three half and half, and three sugar.

A “great one” regulah is the largest size (24oz) with 4 half and half, and 4 sugars.

If you order a small (12 oz) you are clearly a communist or a dirty hippy, and shouldn’t be served.

Ordering “light” gets you one extra half and half, “extra light” gets you two. “Sweet” gets you one extra sugar, “extra sweet” gets you two.

One inconsistency is that some stores add one more half and half and one more sugar by default (and give you two and four more for extra) when you order a “great one”.

Ordering “one and one” gives you just one tablespoon of half and half, and one teaspoon of sugar. “Two and Two” likewise.

If you order it “milk” you are supposed to get milk instead of Half and Half, but sometimes they screw that up (actually, most of the time in my experience); and they don’t have full cream.

That's OK though, because the only valid use for Half and Half is in coffee... well and sometimes in dessert making.

I admit, I have been disappointed in the past; because some stores outside of New England don’t teach their staff the “language”. In Boston they don’t have to, because the pissed off customers will make damn sure they get their orders right.

Anyway, aside from the cultural aspect of it, you know what the best part is though?

The price.

A Dunkins "Great One" is about $2 down here (it's a little cheaper in the Northeast where theres more competition). To get the same amount of a coffee drink I can stand from Starbucks (one of their lattes or Mochas, because the coffee is crap), I need to get a 5 shot Venti; which runs about $6.

Oh and for another $0.50 (or is it $0.70.. I dont even remember, but it's cheap) I can make it a coffee and donut combo, with actual donuts that are actually good; unlike Starbucks where I have to pay $3 for a seven berry nonfat scone or some such crap (to be fair, they have decent brownies, they jsut charge out the nose for them). For an extra $2 I can have a coffee and Sandwhich combo, which a respectable (though microwaved) sandwhich.

Can't get that at a Starschmucks.