Tuesday, March 19, 2002 Food-
The personality of coffee
CHUCK BROWN Telegraph-Journal
Some observers out there think people who drink their coffee strong and black are sophisticated, macho, rebellious, eccentric, interesting, creative and honest.
Ordering a steaming cup of black java is sort of like bellying up to the bar for a bourbon straight up. Black coffee is a beverage for gunslingers, for mysterious strangers, for exotic, independent, thoughtful, world-wise jetsetters.
It's an inky menace to society, a Brando in black leather, a molten mug of heartburn and jangled nerves, Elvis circa 1956. Some of those who take their coffee black look down on the cream and sugar bunch. By comparison, creamy coffee is a good friend, Mr. Rogers, Linus's blanket.
Coffee loaded with sugar is Kool-Aid, hummingbird food. Cream AND sugar! Ach, that's a milkshake! But is black coffee really a sign of sophistication? Can what a person takes in their coffee really say anything about personality? Are creams, sugars, milks, artificial sweeteners and non-dairy creamer powders for wimps?
Randy Pedersen, co-owner of Java Moose, a Saint John gourmet coffee seller, said it's becoming increasingly difficult to stereotype people based on coffee preferences. New Brunswickers, he said, are developing an appreciation for fine coffees and exotic blends.
People of all ages, all genders, all walks of life are ordering all kinds of different caffeinated concoctions. "Canadians have been trained to drink bad coffee... which is why they ask for their double-doubles," Mr. Pedersen said. But New Brunswick's taste for coffee is maturing. In the seven years Java Moose has been in business, Mr. Pedersen has seen his customers get more daring and develop an appreciation for the taste of coffee without additives.
By bringing New Brunswick fresh coffee and rich blends like Foghorn, their signature coffee which packs a heavy caffeine and taste wallop, Mr. Pedersen said he's recruited a small army of coffee connoisseurs. He said more customers have decreased the amount of cream and sugar they use and many have switched to black because they've learned to love the taste instead of trying to mask it with additives.
"When we first started selling our Foghorn coffee, we couldn't give it away," he said. "It's our number one selling blend now. Things have really changed." When Java Moose first opened, Mr. Pedersen said it was easy to guess what a customer would order. "The stereotypes were there. Joe Lunchbox would walk up and ask for his double-double and not even think about it.
Now Joe Lunchbox is coming in and he's ordering a Flat White (an espresso blend) or he's ordering a latte. Little old ladies are coming in and they're knocking back Red Eyes (strong Foghorn coffee fortified with a double shot of espresso) like they're water," Mr. Pedersen said.
"There is no stereotype anymore." Rick Marini, of Emode.com, a Web site that offers a multitude of personality tests and polls, says his staff has found a link between personality and coffee type. "The link can be found by analyzing the personality traits behind why people drink coffee, where they buy coffee, what they put in their coffee," he said.
For example, someone who likes a decent cup of plain, black coffee is a "Realist."
According to Emode's "staff of PhDs" that person is "straightforward and uncomplicated, your coffee-style says that you approach daily tasks and the world at large with realistic expectations and a no-nonsense attitude... You're reliable and dependable." Others taking the coffee test might find out they are The Controller - "Judging from your coffee choice, some people might think that you take things TOO seriously. They might label you controlling or high maintenance. You seem to believe that if you want something done right, you better do it yourself." Or they could be labelled The Sophisticate - "Your coffee says that you most likely approach life with a keen eye for beauty and that you stroll through your day with unmatched grace and class."
Colin Newell, a black coffee drinker from Victoria, B.C., operates a Web site called coffeecrew.com and he said there is definitely a coffee-personality link. People who like their coffee black have an appreciation for the finer things. "There does seem to be a connection," he said in a phone interview. "People who drink black coffee tend to be drinking a slightly higher grade of coffee. Milk and sugar have traditionally been used for masking inferior quality." But most people drink their coffee with milk and sugar, regardless of the quality, Mr. Newell said. "The majority of people are drinking it for the caffeine infusion, they're not drinking it for the flavour. A lot of people that drink coffee insist they don't like the flavour of coffee at all."
A poll taken by a Chicago-based coffee company supports Mr. Newell's belief. More than half of the coffee drinkers questioned - 58 per cent - said they don't like the taste of coffee but they drink it for the buzz.
David Sullivan, of St. Andrews, an innkeeper, writer and coffee drinker who has, in fact, written about coffee drinking, adds cream to take the edge of his morning cup of wake-up juice. He too believes there is a relationship between personality and coffee additives, if only in the mind of the person drinking the coffee. "I don't know if (coffee says anything about personality) but the people themselves might think so which is perhaps the only thing that matters," he said. "I guess I'm not a man's man, I don't drink it black."
If it's really good coffee he'll try drinking it straight up but usually Mr. Sullivan unabashedly adds cream. Cream or sugar are acceptable, even expected, in Canada but coffee drinkers should be careful.
In some circles, additives can be an insult. "It's much like offering a friend a shot of Courvoisier and them insisting that they add ice cubes and Coca-Cola to it," Mr. Newell said. Reach our reporter