A Failed Experiment in Coffee

Until this morning, I had never had coffee before in my life. At least, not that I can remember. After my experience this morning, I recognize that any previous experience with coffee on my part might have been so traumatic that my brain, in a fit of self-preservation, blacked out all memory of it.

Some background: I don’t know why I never took up the coffee habit. My parents both drink it. My grandfather drank it. It would seem natural that I would, but I never did. Maybe it was the smell. Maybe it was the fact that I was perfectly happy getting my caffeine and sugar from Coca Cola. Whatever the reason, I never tried it–until this morning.

This morning’s experiment came about because I’d read quite a few articles that stated if you were trying to cut back calories, you should cut back on soft drinks, but coffee was a perfectly fine substitute. No sugar, but caffeine. Mostly water so there isn’t a whole lot of calories. All said and done, coffee is probably a somewhat healthier choice in the morning than the Red Bull that I normally have.

So I got small coffee this morning. I could have gone to Starbucks and spent $4 on a cup, but I decided to at least be economical. I went to McDonalds and spent $1. Now, one could argue you get what you pay for, but I have a hard time believing that there is a broad spectrum in overall taste when all you are talking about it boiled water and ground beans1.

I drank the coffee black, because that’s how my grandfather drank his, and besides, adding sugar would start back down the road I was trying to avoid. I waited until the coffee cooled below the boiling point so that I wouldn’t damage my tongue, and then I took a sip.

The coffee tasted exactly how I image hot rain-water would taste if it had been sitting in rotting sewage for a few days on the grease-stained pavement of some festering alley.

“You should have added sugar? Or perhaps a little cream?” I can hear you suggesting. I suppose I could have given that a try, but I imagine it would have tasted like hot-rain water  sitting in rotting sewage, in which someone had spilled a few drops of milk, or a pack of Sweet and Low.

I tried a second sip, and a third, and could bear it no longer. I tossed the coffee, and dashed to the store to pick up a Red Bull and a coffee cake. The Red Bull never tasted so good.

But I was disappointed. I wanted the coffee to taste good. I had imagined it would be thick, like hot chocolate made from milk instead of water. But it was as thin as water. People describe coffee as “mud.” From where this description comes, I have no idea. Melt a dozen Hershey bars, and bring the result to a boil, and you have “mud.” What I had was the bile-like gruel you bring up after vomiting your guts out four or five times until there is simply nothing solid left in your system.

So while I can now say that I have indeed tasted coffee, I know that I wasn’t missing anything. At least I gave it a shot. Now I need to look for some other alternative. I wonder if there’s anyplace around here that sells hot chocolate?

  1. I’m not saying some tastes are better than others. But I make the analogy to beer. There are all different kinds of beer flavors, but if you don’t like beer, you don’t like beer.


  1. Good morning Jamie. First, I have to say kudos to you for even giving coffee a try. I think if you would have tried a coffee from Dunkin Donuts the outcome could have been different. Secondly, scientist also claim that the caffeine in coffee enhances your memory. I have to say at this point in my life I find this to be untrue. My memory is decreasing each day. Why don’t you try black tea as your alternative of the Red Bull? It’s full of antioxidants and has more caffeine than coffee. Besides you can’t kill a cup of tea. It comes out the same every time. Good Luck .

    1. Lesa! Hi! I have considered trying tea (it is what Kelly drinks) but tea makes me think of being sick, like toast with jelly. I suppose I should give it try since it has been decades since I last gave it a try. Still, I can hear my grandpa’s snicker and reproach at the thought of drinking tea over coffee. Maybe tea (or coffee) laced with Dewers? 😉

  2. McDonald’s coffee is awful, and really only for people who already have the habit and are there for the caffeine, not the taste. I also disagree with the beer analogy – until I hit my mid-20s I only ever drank pretty cheap, mass-produced lager with a metallic aftertaste, and drinking different beers was an eye-opener.

    If you’re really into the idea of coffee and prepared to try again, find a good local cafe with a friendly barista and tell him you’ve never had (good) coffee before and you would like a recommendation.

  3. I’ll second the “McDonald’s isn’t real coffee” sentiments. Real, freshly-ground coffee isn’t that bad. It is strong, it can be kind of bitter, but if it’s made correctly it can be very smooth like strong tea. Very complex, woody flavors… you won’t get those from instant coffee.

    Can’t hurt to give it a shot. My favorite is dark roast made in a French press. It’s very smooth and not bitter at all.

  4. McDonald’s coffee isn’t that bad at all. If you really want to have a thick, dark, flavorfull cup of coffee then try an espresso. I love it. It’s like mainlining caffein. I started drinking coffee when I was 12. And, yes, I drink it black.

  5. You don’t eat Chef Boyarde and complain spaghetti is awful. You don’t drink McDonalds coffee and expect a flavorful experience (it varies from McDonalds to McDonalds – there’s one on Jermantown Rd near my office where anything with coffee in it has a heavy, rich flavor that makes other McDonalds coffee taste like dish water). Given where you live, roughly speaking, I know some coffee connoisseurs that might be able to suggest some local shops if you’re interested. A good cup of coffee, made right, can be wonderful. It might also be worth checking out fresh tea if you’re really looking for something with a mild caffeine kick that doesn’t have the additives.

  6. Jamie,

    That’s kind of like saying its beef so a quarter pounder should taste about the same as a steak done on the grill. Putting cream (not milk) makes it taste better for me. A Large coffee at Starbucks is $2.29 not $4. How much is red bull?

    Then we could get into the whole calorie debate. Why are you trying to cut calories? If it’s to be more healthy, lose weight, then there is a lot of evidence that it’s sugar and glucose producing foods (carbs) that you should be worried about. At the turn of the 20th century Americans ate less than 5lbs of sugar per person per year. Now it’s well over 100 lbs. think there’s any correlation to the poor health of Americans?

    Seriously, go to Starbucks and try the blond roast or pikes roast with half and half.

  7. I’m going to go with the tea recommendation. I love black tea. It’s not going to be thick like hot chocolate, but the tannins give it definite mouthfeel.

    My husband’s a coffee drinker, and I’ve occasionally had a sip of what he’s brewed — far different from the stuff my dad used to drink. All coffee isn’t alike. It’s not for me, though — I only like coffee if you mix cocoa powder into it.

    Oh, and I’m not a beer drinker, either, but there’s a world of difference between a double IPA, which is very hoppy (and in my opinion, much too bitter) and a nice creamy oatmeal stout.

  8. I never liked coffee either. My wife got me started with mochas, and then I slowly moved into other types of coffee drinks. Now I can drink it black (yes, depending on what kind it is!)

    Ditch the Red Bulls, those things are like cancer drinks, coffee is going to be way better for you.

  9. Jamie! McDonald’s was definetly not the best choice. Far away from Italy Starbucks might be the best suggestion for starting your coffee romance. Go for a tall Latte. Should be smooth enough for a beginner. I’m looking forward to your next steps on the long journey to an Aeropress… Greetings from Germany, Franziska

  10. Jamie, listen up, this is important. McDonalds was a really bad choice and I’m afraid (apologies to my American friends) but Starbucks is no better.

    As an earlier correspondent said go to a good local coffee shop, ideally get a recommendation, and get a small Americano. It should taste smooth, not bitter, and thick like you expect. No milk. Adding milk really is like adding lemonade to beer, you get quite a nice drink but it isn’t beer.

    Be aware once you’ve had good coffee there’s no turning back.

    Have fun!

  11. I’d also recommend a local coffee shop, but only so you can support a local business. I’m not a fan of coffee either; in fact, I avoid caffeine as much as I can. It’s a nasty, toxic substance whose short term benefits are far outweighed by it’s long term effects. (Source of bias: I had cluster migraines growing up and after going blind for 2 weeks once found that one of the ways of getting them under control was eliminating caffeine from my diet. The first 30 days sucked, but I felt way healthier once the withdrawal symptoms went away. Getting the migraines under any relevant level of control took a few more years, however, although not having caffeine in my regular diet did make an immediate impact.)

    As for the beer analogy, I agree that it’s similar in that there’s a wide variety of tastes, but not in that if you don’t like beer you don’t like beer barring anything other than a gluten allergy. The right beer with the right food is like the right wine with the right food (and maybe even the right coffee with the right food, although my experience doesn’t include a lot of coffee.)

  12. I fear that my response has unveiled my cyberstalking ways. I couldn’t let this one pass! Coffee, like most grown up beverages, is an acquired taste much like wine, beer, whiskey. You can’ just drink it black the first time. Of course you hated it! That would be like skipping corona and going straight to a 20 year scotch. All it will do is burn your throat! You can’t appreciate it. Now, I feel you have been chastised enough for your choice of coffee. Just be glad you didn’t spill it on yourself! While I never had the pleasure of meeting your grandfather, I do know of your love and admiration for him. I am guessing he drank his coffee black because he lived in a different time without fabulous things like lattes and cappachinos. I also don’t think he would approve of your red bull habit, in the morning no less! Yikes! I do not think there is anything in there that actually grows on earth. My suggestion, the next time you are in Italy, give coffee another try. You may be surprised at how complicated the flavor can be. BTW, I miss you and do stalk you regularly. 🙂

    1. Shannon!! Well, since you came out of stalker mode just to set me straight, the least I can do is give a better coffee a try. I like things thick, like hot chocolate made from milk, so maybe a cappuccino is the way to go for me? P.S.: Dan and I were talking this weekend and both of us mentioned how we missed you, too. 🙂 So happy to see you pop up here!

  13. Kudos to trying to cut back on the sugar in Coke. No need to suffer, though, with black coffee. A teaspoon of sugar is only 16 calories, and skim milk is minimal as well, so if you add a little sugar and milk to your coffee you are still way ahead of the number of calories in Coke (or Red Bull). You could also try Rock Star No Carb energy drink. I love it much more than Red Bull and calories are either 0 or very minimal (can’t recall offhand).


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