Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Selling coffee at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, Pa. (Mark Makela/Reuters)
Rally to the cause of traditional coffee.

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their backs on traditional coffee in favor of a more “refreshing” vehicle for caffeine: cold brew.

As conservatives, we are inherently skeptical of any change of language norms that seeks to warp the objective meaning of words, and so we defend terms such as “man and woman,” “traditional marriage,” and now, we must defend “coffee.” “Coffee” is defined as a hot beverage made by steeping coffee in boiling water. Cold brew is made by soaking beans overnight, and the drink relies on time instead of heat to extract the flavor. The major disqualifying factor is that it’s cold.

Starbucks’s imperial command over coffee is greatly responsible for this Orwellian redefinition. Its ubiquitous mermaid logo may read “Starbucks Coffee,” but the corporate café caliphate makes most of its profit from drinks sugary enough to induce a diabetic coma in a small mammal. Even more sinister is that Starbucks expanded into Milan in 2018, irreverently flexing its muscle at coffee purists who turn up their noses while its ostentatious drinks conquer the international beverage forum, marginalizing and undermining traditional coffee.

Smaller coffee shops have followed in Starbucks’s footsteps. Today, “Let’s go out for coffee!” seems like an innocent request from a coworker or friend, and it should suggest that the order will include a cup of boiled water that was brewed with coffee beans — whether it’s a single shot of espresso or a cup of café americano, made with a French press or Moka Express. But too often, they mean something else. In the summer, they mean cold brew.

One New York City coffee-store owner told the New York Times in 2017 that in the summer, 65 percent of the “coffee” he sells is iced — every other part of the year, 75 percent of the “coffee” sold is hot. Iced coffee itself is a cousin of cold brew, but with nearly all of hot coffee’s features except the most significant one: heat. It’s brewed the same way, and then cooled. But demand for cold brew specifically is increasing, unsurprisingly, among my generation: Millennials. A habit of subversive behavior among Millennials has driven us to attack all of our civilization’s most sacred institutions, including coffee — the backbone of American productivity.

As cold brew’s popularity metastasizes, usurping coffee for several months of the year, will we forget our proud national heritage? Cold brew requires patience and planning: One must make a prediction of business the next day in order to estimate how much to make the night before. This is a clear break from our proud tradition of urgency. While the harvesting and roasting of good coffee beans surely requires patience, has prepared coffee ever been associated with anything other than the quick satiation of a morning addiction, or the rush to meet a deadline? Like bread, coffee is a staple for good reason: One needs only five minutes, a heat source, a filtration method, and the beans. It’s dependable and democratic.

Coffee has even provoked constitutional debate. Would we have considered tort reform within the framework of the Seventh Amendment had it not been for 1994’s infamous hot-coffee lawsuit, Liebeck v. McDonald’s?

To those who will, during the summer months, abandon the beverage that gives many of us our will to live in the mornings, I ask just one concession to coffee purists: Drink your cold brew, but please, don’t call it “coffee.”

Marlo Safi is a San Francisco–based policy analyst and a former Collegiate Network fellow with National Review.

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