Without consulting the authorities, three sojourners in the search for darn good coffee assembled to judge the brews at Atticus, Koffee Too?, and The Book Trader Cafe. The lineup consisted of new amour to the bean Anne Akin ’03, coffee connoisseur Lucas Hanft ’04, and Starbucks veteran Noa Wheeler ’05.
Lucas brought his cup with him. “I’m on the meal plan for free coffee.” Lucas, it turns out, wasn’t kidding. Apparently Trumbull coffee isn’t all that bad. He drinks coffee black — when he was a wee boy in second grade, his father told him that French women would like him if he drank his coffee black. This claim has yet to be confirmed by the French community at Yale, but a Faux Pas source was unwilling to deny it outright. Unfortunately, Lucas got a head start on cornering French women, and tragically stunted his growth. At five feet seven inches, he has failed to reach his predicted height of six foot five. However, he still feels tall when he goes home, because his parents are shrinking. Perhaps it’s all that coffee.
Anne, on the other hand, has just become a coffee drinker. A senior, she did not dip into the well of caffeine addiction until last semester, when she realized two hours before a paper was due that it was supposed to be 18 pages, not 14. After a few cups of coffee, she pounded those pages out like pastry. She and Noa both drink their coffee with milk. Noa’s preferred sweetener is sugar water, which naturally takes less time to affect the coffee but has yet to become a coffeehouse standard in New Haven.
Noa associates coffee-drinking with adulthood, specifically with her mother. She does much of her studying in Starbucks and testifies that becoming friends with the staff of any coffee establishment is key. Anne, who lives in Seattle and has many friends who are employed by the multitude of local Starbucks establishments, agrees.
The first coffee to be tasted was from Atticus. Atticus won favor among the coffee drinkers for its good food but was cited as being potentially hazardous to those likely to buy books as well as food and drink. It also lost points for its cup design, which is altogether hideous. Once the Atticus flavor established its presence, no one was impressed.
Anne described it as “watery,” Lucas could feel it settling onto his molars, and Noa was disturbed that it was never actually hot. All concurred that Atticus coffee takes on the distinct flavor of its cardboard cup. Thankfully, Atticus has not invested in Styrofoam; still, cardboard is not exactly a preferable sensation for the taste buds.
The drinkers all valued the aesthetics of the coffee container as part of the coffee’s presence, but not its taste. Anne spent all of her childhood voraciously creating ceramic mugs for her family and their coffee, and Noa referenced “artsy clay things” as also conducive to coffee consumption. Lucas prefers either his Yale Mom mug or a blue metal mug that, though uncomfortable to hold, makes him feel like a gold panner. Should his mug run dry, Lucas often is inclined to pantomime coffee drinking.
New to the whole “coffee thing” despite her history of mug-making, Anne has done some research on coffee terminology. Apparently, while the act of tasting wine is called “wine tasting,” the act of tasting coffee is properly known as “cupping.”
As this information was shared, the first spill of the day occurred.
Thankfully, the Atticus coffee was not actually hot enough to cause any harm — plus, Lucas likes spilling coffee on his clothing. He said it demonstrates his true identity as a coffee drinker. (As a side note, Lucas had an ulcer freshman year from drinking too much coffee.)
As the trauma resulting from the Atticus experience wore off, discussion turned away from the task at hand. It turns out that the orange mocha frappuccinos infamously depicted in the epic film “Zoolander” truly do exist. But do they count as coffee? Noa labeled them a “dessert drink,” and Lucas concurred. He felt that espresso also falls into this category. Turkish coffee, however, such as that served at Mamoun’s, was deemed a steadfast component of the “coffee” category. Noa described its consistency as akin to that of mud and explained that it must be roasted numerous times before reaching its ideal state.
Lucas is a big fan of dark roasts. According to Lucas, making coffee is all about “the feel.” Both Lucas and Noa prefer the French roast, which can be found at Willoughby’s, among many other remedies for potential coffee emergencies. Group feelings about Willoughby’s, however, were mixed. “I got really bad coffee there once,” said Anne.
Willoughby’s was not a contestant in the cupping competition.
Potential group conflict was avoided by the arrival of more coffee. The coffee from Koffee Too? was far from fresh (even on a Monday afternoon!) and encouraged little more than a few timid sips. Memories of better days before the blue interior, which Lucas considered “alarming,” were shared.
Odor is definitely important, but the primary fault found with Koffee Too? was the thinness of its brew, as well as its aftertaste, which Anne described as that of charcoal. Perhaps the establishment could do with some brewers who do not burn the coffee. Lucas has found that burned coffee “really hurts the front of your nostril.”
The container’s presentation was also discussed, and everyone agreed that the coffee is “bad,” but “the free mint is worse.” The commercial cup holders, some housing free Velamints and others advertising ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ disturbed some and amused others but admittedly added little to the character of the coffee.
Koffee? [“One”], off of Whitney Avenue, was mentioned as preferable to Koffee Too?, but of course inconvenient for anyone not living in Timothy Dwight. The bitter truth, realized by all, was voiced by Lucas: “Atticus is the lesser of the two evils, like when Dad voted for Dukakis.”
Though the intrepid threesome did not visit Starbucks, Noa felt compelled to reminisce and declared that Starbucks’ tea is very good and the coffee preferable to that found at Koffee Too? or Atticus. Lucas asserted, “You always know what you’re gonna get at Starbucks — I don’t like it when people dislike Starbucks simply because it’s Starbucks.” Apparently the music isn’t bad, either. Anne was less inclined towards nostalgia, as Starbucks is the only vendor available to her at home in Seattle.
The options in New Haven seem limitless by comparison, but daunted by watery coffee and charcoal aftertastes, the group began to fade despite their healthy doses of two cups of caffeine. At last, the coffee from Book Trader arrived, was sampled, and received top marks. Fresh from the pot and the strongest brew, it blew away the competition. “It has taste,” Lucas said, and then fell into a silent reverie.
So relieved that they were speechless, the cuppers left the Yale Daily News gripping their cups with a renewed faith in New Haven coffee — or simply the fervor of appeased addicts fresh from a high. n