Wednesday, February 18, 2009

cuppin' da mermaid

reporter, oren bloostein, don schoenholt cupping instant at water club; fortune elkins visible in mirror; buzzy o'keefe not arrived yet

you know a class act when you see one, and a long time class act's always been buzzy o'keefe of the swanky river cafe & the super-swanky water club. this afternoon he hosted a most unusual event in the most elegant surroundings: a cupping of the mermaid's new instant coffee. (don't worry, it won't be replacing buzzy's unique and extremely fine mocha-java from don schoenholt's gillies any time soon.)

so this cupping's put together by a nice girl reporter from smart money. but because buzzy and don are involved, naturally, it's high style all the way — we get ferried around in the green jaguar with the burled maple interior, all that. what depression?

what depression, i ask. . .um, we're cupping instant, that's what depression. and the wonderful oren bloostein of oren's daily roast joined us.

now let's step back a moment and wrap our minds around this. why is the mermaid introducing instant? doesn't it totally run afoul of the fancy custom-drink, lite-jazz vibe that he's spent decades successfully cloning across the globe? howard, what the hell are you doing to your brand?

your brand is your most precious asset, howard, why are you doing this to yourself? diluting your impressive image for short-term gain doesn't work. (and it's probably dumb to tick off the entire u.k. while you're at it, dreamboat.) does anyone remember when halston made elegant gowns? no: now all we remember are the cheap patent leather belts from the downmarket j.c. penney.

now, on balance, i like howard, altho' i have never liked his coffee. he's a coffee evangelist, and he's from brooklyn.

but for the past 4 years, he's just been following a bone-headed strategy. over time he's destroyed all the factors that made the mermaid great: the comfy seating, long gone; the gorgeous handmade manual italian la marzocco espresso machines, long gone; the smell of delicious fresh coffee, gone and replaced with the disgusting odor of "breakfast sandwiches."

howard, you weren't just selling semi-decent coffee at time when that was hard to get in most places; you were selling a warm, jazz-filled, emotional, custom-drink experience at a time when most retail experiences were minimalist, cookie-cutter, techno-music and cold. that is your brand. it's an upscale brand. have you lost your mind?

even if you intend this coffee for offices and airplanes, it's not who you are, howard. no, no how. and at about a dollar a serving, it's outrageously expensive. obscenely expensive. a real cup of the finest specialty coffee brewed at home will cost you 30 cents!

ok, enough rant. how was this instant coffee? understanding that a regular cupping worksheet wouldn't do, don sweetly made up custom worksheets asking questions like "does this stuff even have the color of real coffee?" well, ok, he put it more nicely than that. see da pic.

buzzy, don, oren & myself dutifully treated this as a serious blind cupping. the reporter brought the samples herself, labelled A thru G. 2 were the new mermaid instants, while the rest were standard store brands. she doled out the "coffee" into the cups and poured the hot water.

we sniffed the undissolved "coffee." we tested it to see how nicely it dissolved. we judged its color, density, aroma, brightness, taste, aftertaste, body. total points possible: 100. i didn't give any of the contender anything higher than a 34.

after a fair amount of time, all of us agreed that blind coffee A was the best. in the cup the "coffee" looked vaguely like nice fresh ground as if for moka pot. the color of the dry stuff in the cup looked rather like droste cocoa and smelled a bit like stale coffee.

it readily dissolved into a pleasant maroon-black or oxblood color. it almost had some body. low brightness, its aftertaste was a bit burnt. i pegged this as the mermaid immediately due to the aftertaste.

after A, buzzy, oren & i agreed B was best, then D. don reversed that order: D, then B. we all agreed that E and F were putrid; G was literally undrinkable swill.

oren compared it to the ripe scent emanating from an nyc manhold cover in august, while i called it raw, rotten cabbage, or possibly raw, rotten, brussel sprout (to capture a nasty bitterness). the aftertaste of G was literally hot asphalt - everyone's smelled hot asphalt, right? now imagine that smell as a taste - a clear sign of defective robusta.

i must have eaten literally half a box of water crackers in an effort to get that taste outta my mouth. anyway, i won't spoil the results anymore. the article should be out tomorrow.

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