Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

November 29, 2009

Is Starbucks Instant Really Bad or Is It Just My Eternal Irritation With Starbucks?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:30 pm

I’d like to get some feedback on this because I can’t make up my mind whether I’m poisoning myself. I never thought I’d drink instant. Reminded me of mom’s acrid Nescafe. But it was the end point of a tortured evolutionary process. First I’d by fresh ground pounds of coffee and make it at home, drink three cups at a time. Several times a day Bad for nervous system.

Then I found that the bagged coffee often tasted stale, and I wrote a couple of columns in The New York Observer about my fights with S’bucks managers (used to be prissy martinets, better now) over the issue of returning stale beans. Anyway I feel I can claim credit for them starting to put sell-by dates on their coffee after my hostile columns pointed out the problem, but I still would get whole pounds that were not fresh tasting.

So then big switch (I know you’re finding every detail fascinating, but you know, it’s blogging and I want to hear your stories in just as much detail). I decided that to cut down on coffee drinking I’d only drink cofeee AT the S’bucks across the street where the fresh brewed stuff was almost always, well, fresh. I’d order the drink they called a “misto”–regular coffee with some hot steamed milk. Three bucks with tip. . Expensive but good and it cut down on coffee drinking.

Then a twist in my sobriety. My girlfriend started me on lattes. I’d get a triple grande no-foam whole milk latte. Five bucks with tip! It was good, it got me racing back to work where after 15 minutes of energetic keyboarding I’d want to take a nap. (the hotmilk vanquishes the expresso) Expensive in more ways than one. You start drinking whole milk lattes you put on whole pounds of weight.

So this fall they introduce “Via” their instant. I was dubious. I still am conflicted. If you drink it right after you pour in the boiling water (and only drink the dark roast version) when it’s piping hot it actually has a clarity and sharpness that remind you of a good donut shop coffee. But just for that one instant. Maybe that’s why they call it instant. But then by the time you’re half way through it begins to taste like micronized cardboard. Sludgy and awful. I’m not sure how or why, but it makes you hate yourself for drinking it. True, it allows you to stay home at the computer rather than break up the rhythm of work with a trip across the street and the reading of many periodicals instead of working.

Now I don’t know what to do. That one instant of clarity, of taste, of caffeinated uplift versus the self-loathing by the time you finish the cup thinking: why can’t I have a better life? There’s probably a lesson here.

Efficiency expediency, frugality (seventy five cents a cup) versus caffeinated depression, up and down at the same time. Anyone else have this experience? Any advice?


  1. Face it, coffee is as addictive as cocaine or meth. And, as Mel Brooks said when he tried to kick coffee, it gives you gas, especially when you get older. I have a terrible digestive system, but I gotta have a cup in the morning. I brew it myself one third of the time, drink instant one third of the time, go out for it one third of the time. Best solution is to go to a coffee specialty shop (not a chain), if which they have alot in the East Village. There’s a great one on 12th and Second, also St. Mark”s place and Second. Chain places like Dunkin and Starbucks add sugar to their brew even when you don’t request it because it leavens the flavor. Go to a specialty store, sample varieties, take some home (instant and beans), keep it in the fridge for freshness and make a game out of dicking around with different varieties. That way you won’t fixate on a friggin latte very day like an exec longing for the luncheon martini. But, it’s a bad habit, killed Balzac and didn’t help Laurence Sterne.

    Comment by charlie finch — November 29, 2009 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

  2. Coffee may produce gas but it is absolutely wonderful for your physical and mental health. Coffee drinkers are less likely to commit suicide have heart attacks or go dotty.

    I only use the Starbucks for after dinner, for my morning coffee I stick to the Folgers grounds that my parents drank, I never touch an instant if I can avoid it. And I have mine with milk to keep my teeth strong.

    As for the few extra pounds brought on by dairy products, don’t sweat it. Go to the gym and hoist some steel.

    Comment by MonkeyShines — November 29, 2009 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  3. I drink starbucks when I travel because I know what to expect from their in-store brew. When in NYC at home I do what Mr. Finch does… buy from the best… Joe, has several locations and a great selection of very fresh beans. Porto Rico also has been consistently good over the years. Gimme! is also great.
    I do not know where you live, but am guessing if you have to make a trip across the street to a starbucks to get the best coffee around, you are either somehwere in Midtown, Upper East, or Upper West.
    Take a trip downtown and buy a few bags from the places I mention. put them in the freezer and use within a few weeks.
    There is enough good coffee in NYC to avoid daily starbucks or anything instant (my god!).
    I always brew my own and if I need to get out of my house I take a Thermos full of my stuff and sit in a park or people watch in the middle of broadway.
    I also rarely drink lattes for the reasons you mention… warm milk negates the espresso and the extra fat is not worth it… I treat myself to a latte or capp. on Sunday mornings when I allow some pastry into my diet.
    good luck. a coffee lover and writer such as yourself should not be as tormented as you are in a city like NYC. hop on the train and try a few new bags.

    Comment by bryan — November 30, 2009 @ 7:31 am | Reply

  4. As an old Orleanian, I like Cafe du Monde coffee with chicory, available in canned form in NYC. Coffee is technically a cherry not a bean so I guess you re drinking chicory cherries in the city that care forgot

    Comment by charlie finch — November 30, 2009 @ 8:05 am | Reply

  5. First: why are you drinking that Starbuck’s swill? I live in DC where there are relatively few independent coffee houses. However, one can generally rely on the whole bean selections at Whole Foods. And of course, you should buy whole beans and invest in a good coffee grinder.

    Second: I agree completely with with the first third of Charlie’s recommendations but not with parts 2 and 3. Wake up and brew yourself a lovely pot of coffee to drink as you go through the papers.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 30, 2009 @ 9:47 am | Reply

  6. While we’re at it, how many antidepressants and other pills is that bugeyed lunatic Nancy Pelosi on? The “New York” magazine cover story gave it away when its perspicacious writer Vanessa Grigoriedas mentioned that Pelosi doesn’t drink even though she and her husband operate a Napa Valley winery, a dead giveaway that Pelosi can’t mix the Zinfandel with her pharmacopia. Between her, the fight fixer Harry Reid (whom David Broder recently eviscerated) and Warren Harding in the Oval, I am ashamed to be a Democrat. JFK, Mansfield and Sam Rayburn had their faults, but they were colossi compared to these lobbyist blowing political pygmies!! Maybe Pelosi just drinks alot of coffee to look like something out of “Starship Troopers”

    Comment by charlie finch — December 1, 2009 @ 5:06 am | Reply

  7. The Christmas bold is pretty good, kind of flat and stirring. It’s appropriate for the Advent season and ‘here we go again’ (mileage on where we are going may vary). Incidentally, I am eternally grateful to you for mentioning Quest for the Historical Jesus in your Hitler book. Such a fascinating and unknown (to me) explored puzzle Schweitzer presented.

    Comment by Michael — December 1, 2009 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

  8. The Christmas bold is pretty good, kind of flat and stirring. It’s appropriate for the Advent season and ‘here we go again’ (mileage on where we are going may vary). Incidentally, I am eternally grateful to you for mentioning Quest for the Historical Jesus in your Hitler book. Such a fascinating and unknown (to me) explored puzzle Schweitzer presented.

    Comment by Michael — December 1, 2009 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  9. Living in WA means there’s a java shack on practically every corner. Coffee is the only thing that fights the sleepies in dreary, dismal-seepage Washington state.

    Comment by Delia — December 1, 2009 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  10. I am a barbarian. I know it. I embrace my barbarian-ness. Growing up in The North, I became inured to (wait for it, you guys in the Great Cities of the Plains), Powdered Milk.

    And at my age, I am concerned about osteoporosis. So. I brew coffee, the cheap kind (you will see why), add a teaspoon of Fry’s powdered chocolate (no sugar there), add a tablespoon of Dried Powdered Milk, stir in some fake sugar, and… voila. The morning is now OK!

    Once, while in Toronto, I had to share a house with another woman. I was truly, sincerely SHOCKED when she used Real Milk while baking something. And then, I found it is almost impossible to find powdered milk in Toronto stores. Funny, that.

    Comment by heathermc — December 8, 2009 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  11. Heather, My father made us drink powdered milk exclusively during the cold war so that his family would not ingest Strontium-90 in regular milk. Watch for “Fleet Street Murders” review in the mystery section of this Sunday’s NY Times Book Review, Marry Christmas, Charlie

    Comment by charlie finch — December 10, 2009 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  12. I hate instant coffee. Some people say that you can drink it if you just think of it as a special kind of drink, but not coffee. But what would be the point of that?
    Anyway, why don’t you buy good, freshly ground beans and make you own coffee in a small presser? Say a half litre presser, which would give you two cups?
    I drink good, strong, black coffee by the litre, and I do get palpitations, but that’s a small price to pay, I think.
    A tip: You may get bad/harsh-tasting coffee if you do not allow the water to cool slightly before pouring it on the ground beans. Ideally, it should cool to about 96 degrees celcius. In practical terms that means: take the boiling electrical kettle and wait while you count slowly to ten. Then pour it onto the ground beans in the presser or in a filtre. If the coffee turns out less aromatic than it should be, you let the water cool too much.
    The explanation is: If the water is too warm, too many of the bitter compounds are extracted. If the water is too cold, too few of the compounds are extracted.

    Comment by Ulla Lauridsen — December 15, 2009 @ 3:12 am | Reply

  13. Oh: And do keep the ground beans in an air-tight container in the freezer (ideally), og in the fridge. Never pour the ground beans out of the bag and into a container, as that will oxydize the fatty acids (which are the compounds growing harsh). Put the bag into the air-tight container. There is no need to thaw out the ground beans – they are powdered and dry, so just scoop them into the presser or filter and put the rest back in the freezer or fridge.
    It’s not nessesairy to refridgerate if you use up the ground beans within a week of opening the bag, but, as I said, do NOT pour them out of the bag they came in, as that will ruin them almost instantly.

    Comment by Ulla Lauridsen — December 15, 2009 @ 3:22 am | Reply

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