Over the past 30 years or so, I’ve somewhat noticed how much the taste (as well as cost) of coffee has evolved. From HoJo and donut shop dirty sock water, to the stuff that can be used to peel the paint off of almost anything, I’ll give a little bit of a run-down at how it went from bad to wtf is this stuff.

(Disclaimer: This is the kind of post that just begs to be written, after a very long period without anything that resembles sleep).

Back in the 1970s and 80s, places like McDonald’s,  Howard Johnson’s, and truck stops seemed to be the place to stop and get coffee out on the road. Naturally, some places were better than others. However, others somehow managed to take something simple and turn it either into something totally nasty, or made you question the safety of what you were about to consume. And God forbid you get a mouthful of grounds.

Howard Johnson’s: I’ve had their so-called “coffee more than a few times. I discovered the stuff back around 1985, while hanging out with a friend from the UK. It was at the HoJo on US highway 41 in Sarasota, Florida. My first sip of the stuff made me question everything about life in general. What the hell is this crap??? I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the taste of this hot, steamy dirty sock water. Strange, odd, disgusting, but different. Okay….I’ll deal with it…for now.

Then we have McDonald’s: Oy…Anyone 50 or older, will remember just how crappy this stuff used to be. Packets of powdered creamer and sugar were the only things we could use to doctor this shit up with. As if that weren’t bad enough, they even gave you something that resembled a miniature plastic spoon to stir it with (some people used them for purposes other than what they were intended for). Seems like it took Mickey D’s quite a while to catch on to the alternate use for their coffee stirrers. You get my drift? I thought so. If not, let me just say some decided that they were great for other “white powder”. Anyway, it turned out that their coffee was just a nastier version of said dirty sock water, with a repulsive taste.

Mister Twister Donut Shops (now known as Krispy Kreme): Okay…it’s a donut (dognut) shop…they’re supposed to have good coffee, right? WRONG! It turns out most of those establishments had a watered-down version of the slightly brown liquid that was supposed to resemble coffee. I wasn’t sure how anyone could even tolerate something that looked like it came straight out of the toilet. Needless to say, I never went back….not for a very long time.

Truck stops: The old Union 76 (Unocal 76) truck stops had some of the best damn food, back in the day…but the coffee was questionable..at best. When one could stand a spoon straight up in the cup, you couldn’t help but wonder if it was coffee, or mud. It wasn’t bad, just interesting…after the initial amusement wore off. Check, please!

Starschmucks: Yup…you read that right. My first taste of the stuff was in 1994 at a small diner in the Wallingford district of Seattle. I wandered in one morning after work, and wanted breakfast.  The food was great, but the coffee was a whole different story. I inquired as to what kind of caffeine they were serving, and was told Starbucks. OMFG! The stuff could’ve easily been used to peel the paint off of just about anything imaginable!  Evil, evil, evil stuff! That broke me of my coffee habit for the next 6 years. Once in a great blue moon, I might get a super-sized ice coffee…whole milk, no sweetener. Nothing more. (Damn expensive).

Waffle Ho(use): Go ahead…laugh…you just read that. Great food (used to be), but yet another version of something that resembled stuff we should never even consider looking at. Luckily, their coffee is a lot better now. But, back in the day, different ball game. Unfortunately, their coffee is about the only good thing left on the menu.

Pilot/Flying J Travel Centers: For a long time, both of these places had the Maxwell House stuff. It was ok…not nearly as bad as the freeze-dried stuff that will disappear like a fart in the wind, when you sneeze.  Nowadays, it’s not so bad. Considering I’m immune to caffeine, it’s my main choice out on the road.

I’m pretty sure I’ve left out a few other places, but I think you now have a better understanding of where things went wrong in the last three decades of the coffee bean. For the record, this post wasn’t inspired by Frank Zappa’s song “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black”, and no actual coffee beans were harmed during the process.

Until next time,

Keep an eye on your cup!

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