King of the Cafe: Why Coffee Is, and Always Will Be, Superior to Tea


Image Courtesy of BBC Good Eats

By Garrett Farrell

Allow me, if you will, to paint you a picture. The year is 1687; you and some of your compatriots are enjoying a cup of coffee in The Grecian Coffee house, a mainstay of the Fleet Street neighborhood of London for almost thirty years. You and your friends are debating hotly contested issues of the day in philosophy and mathematics. Eventually, after months of debating these issues, a gentleman from among your ranks produces a treatise on the matter. 

Built upon months of boiled bean juice, this treatise would define modern physics for centuries, and the man who brought it forth would come to be recognized as the single greatest luminary of a millenium. That man was Isaac Newton, and he brought humanity into the age of science on a cup of joe.

Last week, my friend Christopher Carey wrote an excellent piece on the merits of tea when compared to coffee. While my colleague’s argument has merits of its own, and tea is certainly a respectable draft, there are numerous issues I take with his argument. 

First, in regards to his argument that the average coffee drinker consumes frilly, watered down, and sugary beverages as opposed to a classic cup of coffee, recent surveys show that roughly 35% of all coffee drinkers take their coffee black, while roughly 52% of Millenials do not consume “gourmet coffee (i.e. cappuccinos, lattes, etc.)”.

And to his point that these drinks are no more than a distant cousin to coffee, I say poppycock. Though versions of these drinks that are served at Starbucks have distanced themselves somewhat from their origins, the core recipe for these drinks has remained the same, and is rooted in espresso, which is simply a stronger form of coffee. The need to abate the extremely strong flavor with steamed milk and other complementary flavors is natural (note, the need to abate a strong flavor does not imply a bad flavor: ever had pure vanilla extract?)

Similarly, I find his notion that the relative lack of variety in types of coffee compared to tea precludes customized tastes laughable. There are numerous ways of customizing or flavoring a cup of coffee, whether the coffee itself is flavored, or by milk and sugar, or even by the method of preparation. And to those who would say that these methods still do not produce the variety of the 20,000 types of tea, I will happily agree with you on that. I have many times said that variety is the spice of life, but as with any spice, too much of it leaves an overbearing taste that ruins the dish.

Now, I feel that I have said enough about Christopher’s argument, so I will lay out my own. First, coffee shops have been a cornerstone of culture for over 400 years. Though the nature of a coffee shop has evolved somewhat, it is still a place for people to gather and build a community. Mellow R&B combined with comfortable furniture creates an atmosphere ripe for stimulating conversations, or even a humdrum talk about the day’s events. There’s a reason why the Starbucks Reserve on Monroe Street is one of the most popular off-campus study spots. 

Secondly, the mere process of making coffee can be a relaxing, even spiritual experience. Grinding coffee, followed by one’s preferred method of percolation, is such a mindless experience that one can’t help but relax while making it. While this method is somewhat time-consuming, the mindfulness that comes from such repetitive activity makes it more than worth it. 

Now, I’ll freely admit that I hardly make coffee this way; I typically use my KeurigⓇ 8-ounce brewer, but this is not due to a lack of desire. I have a terrible tendency of hitting the snooze button one too many times, and more often than not, I need the extra 5-7 minutes that I save using a KeurigⓇ. 

Lastly, numerous studies have shown that coffee is an incredibly strong stimulant (duh), that is incredibly helpful in increasing both short-term and long-term memory. So, while the first two points I made lay out reasons that are somewhat subjective, the results of these studies have been so thoroughly repeated that coffee’s effects on memory should be taken as an objective fact. 

Last week, Christopher correctly pointed out that spilling the tea makes for a delightful evening with friends. I say, the only reason a group of people is ever ambivalent about spilling a beverage is if no one planned on drinking it in the first place.

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