The Latte Backlash

April 30, 1998

If the hundreds of caffeine enthusiasts who gathered last week for Coffee Fest New York seemed anxious, it wasn’t just the effect of all the free samples they were downing. They were on a mission to battle the false coffee consciousness of the Starbucks era, and they took it very seriously. “People have become caught up in the jazz of the whole thing,” said Michael Del Gatto, an independent roaster. “But they’re really drinking a milk drink.”

The connoisseurs had come armed with potent threats to the green giant’s bland market presence. A few were disturbingly high-tech, such as flavored coffee filters and a hydrolyzed-whey-protein drink with “the benefits of protein and the benefits of caffeine.” (A pitchman even swore it’s compatible with the Zone diet: “I feel healthier, and I’ve done that with coffee.”)

The more traditional approach, however, was merely to amp up the caffeine content. Yonkers’s own Barrie Haus Coffee was pushing a methamphetamine-like espresso. “Can I pull you another shot?” the fellow at the booth kept asking. And Ace Whittecar of GourmetLuxe was packing a “Sleepless in Seattle” blend that was strong medicine, indeed. “It’s a darker roast,” she said. “Would you like a cup?”

A few more such offers, and everything starts to look brighter–for a couple of hours, anyway. But then the buzz grows metallic, and a dull ache rises just behind the eyes. And as any true addict knows, there’s only one cure for an overdose: another dose. “it’s just regular coffee coffee,” the woman at the Dunkin’ Donuts booth apologized. “Medium or large?”

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