English Canada drinks what is perhaps the most disgusting coffee I have ever had, and it’s proud of itself for doing so.
Canadian coffee culture is nothing like the superior coffee cultures abroad. In places like Malta, coffee is understood as a social, fundamentally enjoyable activity. I have fond memories of sitting in Berlin’s Tiergarten with a lovely Americano and a soundtrack of birds and passersby to listen to. A conversation I had in Rome at a cafe became an impromptu English lesson/study session held over cups of nutty, dark espresso. My fondest memories of coffee elsewhere come with warm smells and wonderful environments; the fine coffee and the goregous space enhanced one another. Even takeout chain coffee – Malta’s Costa Coffee, Berlin’s Balzac Coffee; hell, even McDonald’s serves its function as a decent pick-me-up at a reasonable price.
In Canada, coffee is divided into two groups. The first group consists of grim Mom-and-Pop types – local chains and the like. They come in several breeds of suck, including grim holes that don’t even bother hiding the fact that their pastries are frozen pucks of shit, useless vegan free-range hipster coffee that costs way too much and invariably tastes like ashtray and trying too hard, and the ever-popular novelty cafe that makes enjoying a cup of coffee nigh-impossible. This is Canada’s sadsack “upscale coffee culture”, competing with the likes of Valletta’s Caffe Cordina. Obviously this type is inferior (that is, if you can even access a place pretending to be a café), so we turn to the second type in search of a cheap cup (having given up on decent) and a place to sit.
The second group of coffee shops are industrial coffee-slingers, used to motivate Canada’s laboring class into swinging away at Canada’s useless economy. McDonald’s is probably the best option for the price, but since that’s AmeriKKKan and the upscale coffee we talked about earlier is often unacceptable and heinously expensive (protip: drip coffee is not worth $3, folks) Canada feels the need to promote as its national coffee the slick dark sludge that is Tim Horton’s Brown Sludge Water™. It is the most readily-available coffee in Canada, intimately associated with driving generic kids to generic arenas. Because of this caker nationalism reinforces the idea that the acrid freeze-dried baggie of tortured beans is acceptable or desirable. It’s shit, sure – but it’s Canada’s shit, and therefore it’s worth keeping around.
This misplaced consumptive nationalism manifests as a rabid defense for a cup of coffee that tastes like unrolled cigarettes and wall plaster. What’s really interesting is that telling people that the coffee sucks rarely provokes that kind of defense. What does it is mentioning that the space in which the coffee is consumed influences the taste and enjoyment of the coffee or that there are very few places to actually enjoy a cup of coffee as opposed to plowing through the stuff and getting back to work. Tim’s isn’t just a shit cup of coffee – it’s indicative of a shitty national attitude towards leisure. A shit building, in a shitty place often surrounded by parking, and surrounded by nothing is your national coffee. A shit coffee for a shit place is fitting but admitting to shit means acknowledging a problem, and to hell with that.
The glorification of Tim Horton’s coffee represents an instance of consumptive nationalism. To drink nasty coffee is to be Canadian, and to express enjoyment of the terrible built environments that these places are around is to affirm Canada as it is. I’m convinced that Canada’s mendaciously shit coffee culture is the result of a mendaciously shit built environment. The image of Tim Horton’s – the defeated hockey mom driving her little one to get rammed into the boards at 5am again, the harried office worker in the drive through, the impoverished immigrant at the till, the loud and uncomfortable space blasting ads and garbage muzak at every turn – that’s the image of Canada that cakers want to maintain. The coffee is a sludgey avatar for shitty Canadian apologism and the almost laughably low bar that Canadians set for their own consumption.