On the days you feel like circa-episode-one Jim Hopper—all badly shaven fuzz and trauma-of-life hangover—then you, too, would take solace in the Stranger Things mantra he made famous: “Mornings are for coffee and contemplation.”
But, hell, isn’t every day like circa-episode-one Jim Hopper? Mornings in teeth-grinding traffic, only half your ass on the FX seat, aircon turned the other way, until you’re spit out on the pavement and into the nightmare upside-down dimension you call your office. Only a hot, steaming cup of roasted bean essence—lovingly grown from a plantation halfway around the world, and dripped into a vintage ceramic mug by a gleaming machine of chrome—can save your day now.
Buuuuut unfortunately you only have enough loose change in your pocket for a small paper cup of joe at the nearest convenience store.
So here's your coffee. Here’s your contemplation. It’s right there, beside the steamer with the wrinkled hotdog buns and the half-empty Mister Donut rack: a metal box with a decorative funnel of beans on top, the color-coded cups and corrugated cardboard sleeves, the dozen others lined up in front of it who have exactly the same idea as you. The chipper faces of Nadine Lustre and James Reid, whose smiles have never known a caffeine stain, invite you to partake.
On a Facebook post written last May but recently updated this August, coffee taster Kan Tejada set out to to “qualitatively determine the most acceptable brewed coffee served by non-cafe based on three parameters - Extraction Quality, Overall Sensory Appeal and Consistency.”
Tejada is a formally educated coffee taster who set out on a quest to survey the Metro’s fast coffee options. Over seven months, he sampled and tested coffee from “non-cafes”—7-Eleven, Army Navy, Burger King, Chowking, Dunkin Donuts, Family Mart, J.Co, Jollibee, KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonald's, Mister Donut, Toast Box—measured them up to his own set of exacting standards, and declared a winner. Actually, three winners.
Spoiler alert: 7-Eleven is not one of them.
He doesn’t mince his words, or grind his beans, or put things through a filter: he ranks the convenience store’s City Blends line among the worst coffees in the entire set, along with Jollibee and the actual Mister Donut chain. He dismisses it thus: “There is wide variation in the sensory profile across stores and the finish is unpleasant. Burnt and earthy notes are highlighted negatively. There is also a chance of having a watery cup quality with these options.”
It’s true, all of it.
In a seven-month time period last year, I effectively replaced all the blood in my circulatory system with eye-watering amounts of City Blends brewed coffee (no cream, no sugar). I had it every weekday morning, along with two eggs or sometimes a bag of peanuts. You could call it torture, but I called it breakfast.
During that time, I got to drink: Oily coffee. Insipid coffee. Coffee that made you blanch. Coffee that tasted like water. Coffee that could only be politely called coffee. Sunog coffee. Sad coffee.
On many occasions, I also got to drink okay coffee.
I am a poor coffee lover (a term that’s actually not so different from “lover of poor coffee”). I couldn’t tell a bad cup from a good cup if it scalded me on the tongue. Its nuances are wasted on my insensitive taste buds. I only know the way how a faithful, convenient morning brew keeps me morning company, or bludgeons my brain into wakefulness, or sends me, multiple times over the next few hours, to the bathroom to pee.
In his Facebook post, Tejada wrote near the end, “There is more to coffee than satisfying your own taste preference but do not be pressured. What matters most is you enjoy your coffee and live the moment you spent with it.”
In a line called City Blends, in a convenience store always just a short walk away, in mornings choked with rush hour, in fluorescent light that exists in its own time zone, in perpetual JaDine smiles—7-Eleven’s is the nearest best coffee I can hope to scrounge. In a way, it is exactly like Jim Hopper, police chief in Stranger Things, the one who needs his coffee and his contemplation: unshaven, unadorned, un-pretty...and hyper-competent.
And sometimes that’s all you look for when you need a pick-me-up.