Bad Coffee Will Make You A Happier Person

Bad coffee is the best coffee. Or less cryptically: The lower you can set your standard for acceptable coffee, the happier you'll be.

Image via Hoboken Historical Museum

When you like something, it isn't typical to voluntarily try a worse version. It's much more usual to try a better version, as a splurge. With coffee, where you don't have to be rich to enjoy the top of the line once or twice, it's easy to train yourself to appreciate a better version, and to come to crave it every day, until you've bought yourself a home pourover setup with a grinder and a scale for your single-origin beans, because anything less tastes like stomach acid run through a dishwasher.

You start to rely on specific cafes; you visit friends and turn down an offered cup. A tier of coffee that used to please you now disappoints you. You've kicked the ladder out from under you. You're no longer backward compatible.

What if instead, you tried a downgrade? Acclimate yourself to a slightly inferior cup of coffee? Splurge on a cheap cup from McDonald's? Grab the pre-ground beans? Buy a $20 coffee machine instead of fussing with pourover or French press? Your body still appreciates the caffeine. And thanks to the march of technology and infrastructure, that cheap cup of coffee is a lot better than you remember.

If your first attempt at cheap coffee goes horribly, that doesn't mean you don't like cheap coffee! It just means you have to test more varieties. Some "bad" coffee is burnt; some is watery; some is acidic; some just tastes funny. There's a good chance there's a "bad" coffee that doesn't taste bad to you.

If putting in all this work for worse coffee sounds silly, consider that trying new things is always hit-or-miss. The first time you tried a certain foreign cuisine and had a bad time, you didn't swear off trying new foods. Why would you give any less room to this experiment?

And when you find the bad coffee that fits you, what a payoff! If you're downgrading to chain coffee, you've gained the ability to grab a satisfying cup in almost any town. If you're downgrading home brewing methods, you're saving time. If you're ditching lattes for drip, you're cutting your costs in half.

If these experiments fail entirely, they will still renew your appreciation for the coffee you already drink. At no longterm expense, your usual cup of coffee is now an upgrade.

Saving time or money on coffee isn't going to change your life or give millennials the money to buy a house. But once you've downgraded coffee, you'll be ready to downgrade anything. Mass production has improved cheap beer, cheap clothes, cheap furniture. You can even do fine with a crappy smartphone. But even if you just downgrade the little things - do you really care about expensive toilet paper? - you'll be practising resistance to the default "upgrade" model. You'll build willpower.

And instead of living like garbage, you'll find the opposite: The more things you stop caring about, the more room there is to splurge when you do care. No one has good taste in everything, and no one should aspire to that. Because unless you're filthy rich, you'd constantly be settling, and that would be the saddest life of all. So go on, try the bad coffee.


    Bad coffee is the best coffee. Or less cryptically: The lower you can set your standard for acceptable coffee, the happier you'll be.

    Try saying that after drinking International Roast.

    I like the gist of the article, and I practice it. I brew a pretty good latte at home which is often better than what I get in a cafe. Having said that when offered a tea or coffee at a friend's house I will sometimes take a coffee knowing it is instant, which is so different it shouldn't be compared to anything out of an expresso machine, but it hits the spot and has a little bit of nostaglia. When I get a barista made coffee which is a bit stronger or more bitter I enjoy that difference, and after a few sips relish the richness. Same when someone puts more sugar in a brew than I use, or there is so much chocolate on the cuppacino it is more like mocha. Likewise a Coles Express or 7/11 coffee on a long drive can be enjoyed for its value, and its sometimes better than what you get when you pay $4. And when you get that one that is 'perfect', which for me is anything better than I make, it is better for the fact that I didn't make it alone, and it will only be when I get back here than I will have one this good. I always said I would never get an expresso machine at home because what would have that is special when I went out. Not a problem, because there are still plenty of room for improvement, and just plain variety when I go out.

    But this applies to everything,( at least food related). But we miss friends when we don't see them, and underapprecxiate them when we see them all the time? Too much of a good thing is a waste. Even great that is too consistent can become bland. Unless its already bland it doesn't seem to matter, Weetbix?

    I am a huge coffee snob now, I used to drink instant coffee and now find myself not able to enjoy it. When i pay good money for a coffee and its not as good as i can make at home i get very dissapointed.
    One thing i dont agree on is lowering my expectation when buying a coffee. The are providing a service and I am paying for that service so i should expect the best (or as good as they can make).

    Are you seriously telling people to go to MacDonald's rather than an independent cafe thats actually putting. In the effort to make good coffee? Also a home pour over kit is whaaaat cheaper than any home coffee machine - nespresso included.

    Bad coffee gets me going in the morning! A crappy instant coffee wakes me up and lets me know that I need to get going. As opposed to the nespresso machine next to the kettle, my Moccona classic is the kick in the ass I need each day.
    That being said, there is something for occasionally splurging on a good coffee, especially if you are interested in supporting local businesses.

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