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March 27, 2007

Reader request Week 2007 #2: Coffee, or Lack Thereof

DeCadmus asks:

What's with your irrational fear of coffee? Did you have an unfortunate encounter with a can of Folgers as a child?

Well, deCadmus, no. In fact, I deny I have an irrational fear of coffee at all; I almost never break out into cold sweats at the mere thought of the brew being dispensed, nor do I, like the protagonist of Mark Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case, launch into sudden, multi-page tirades about the evil of the dusky drink. If other people want to drink coffee, that's fine with me. However, I don't drink it myself, nor am I likely to take it up anytime soon, for a simple and clear reason:

Coffee tastes like ass.

No, not like real ass; it's just an expression (although I suspect there has been coffee that literally does taste like ass, and I'm glad never to have sampled it). But, look, it tastes bad. Anyone who says, "well, that's just because you haven't had really good coffee" is merely saying "well, that's because you've never tasted really good ass" as far as I am concerned. No matter how good ass tastes, it's still ass. Coffee tastes so much like ass that Starbucks has managed to install itself on every street corner in America by dispensing variations of coffee whose main recommendations are that they taste less like ass than actual coffee. Mochas and lattes are to the modern era what a gravy was to the 1600s; a concerted effort to mask the rancid taste of what lies underneath. When you have to invent things not to taste a drink, the simple solution is not to drink the drink in the first place.

I'll note that coffee's not alone in this; there are lots of drinks that taste like ass, but which people drink anyway, usually to get to whatever drug is suspended in the liquid. Coffee tastes like ass, but people drink it for the caffeine. Beer tastes like ass but people drink it for the alcohol. All those energy drinks taste like ass coated in cough syrup, but people drink them for, what? Taurine? You people are all high.

And it's not just drink, of course -- people are willing to put up with a lot of things that taste like ass just to get at a drug. For God's sake, cigarettes are just pouring smoke over your tongue. And as for pot -- well, that stuff actually smells like vegan farts, doesn't it? Seriously: Room of pot smokers, room of hacky-sackers a half hour after a cruelty-free Thanksgiving. They both smell the same. And you suck it into your mouth just for a little THC kick. It's like I don't know you people anymore.

Honestly, this should be how we combat addiction: not by pointing out all the horrible things addiction can do to you, but by simply telling teenagers that what they're really doing by smoking, or drinking or toking up, is training themselves to enjoy things that taste like ass. This is something teenagers can understand. Trying to explain the downside of addiction to a teen is iffy; they're headstrong punks who can't conceptualize being a slave to craving because it's not in their experience. But things tasting like ass? They know all about that, and the social shame that comes with being a wanton ass-taster. I'm telling you, we'd cut teenage addiction to nothing.

Now, you can argue that coffee doesn't deserve to be lumped in with cigarettes or a nice, chunky blunt; fair enough. But there's a reason that plain decaf coffee isn't America's favorite drink. It's because all you get with that is the taste of ass. Everybody recognizes there's no point in that. At that point you might as well just have a glass of hot water and call it a day.

So, yeah. It's not a fear of coffee, just an internal notation that coffee = tastes like ass = not to be put in my mouth. If you want to put it in your mouth, that's fine with me, you ass-taster, you. I hope you enjoy its full-bottomed flavor. I'll stick with my Coke Zero. It tastes of many things, but not one of those things is ass.

(Want to participate in Reader Request Week? Add your own question here)

Posted by john at March 27, 2007 12:17 PM

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Derryl Murphy | March 27, 2007 12:27 PM

I hear you. Can't stand the taste of the stuff. Mind you, I also have a minor case of Tourette's, and caffeine and me, we ain't friends.


gedalia | March 27, 2007 12:40 PM

and you drink beer?

KevinQ | March 27, 2007 12:41 PM

I've had many people say, "I hate the taste of coffe, but I like the smell." Fair enough. Drip coffee does taste a bit like ass.

For people who feel that way, however, I recommend they try either good espresso, or cold-brewed coffee. Both taste like coffee smells, either plain, or with a little cream added.

But then you said: "Mochas and lattes are to the modern era what a gravy was to the 1600s; a concerted effort to mask the rancid taste of what lies underneath."

As are cream and sugar to chocolate. As is sugar to kola nut and coca bean (the main "tastes" of your beloved Coca Cola). They all taste foul in their natural state, but I don't see you decrying them.


David Klecha | March 27, 2007 12:42 PM

Amen, brother. Speak it.

Mountain Dew, on the other hand, tastes like ambrosia. No, really, I swear!

Stephen Granade | March 27, 2007 12:47 PM

One of my friends claimed that Coke Zero's main selling point is that it tastes less like ass than Diet Coke does. So I guess the taste of ass is in the, hrm, mouth of the beholder.

KevinQ, my wife, who hates coffee but loves its smell, claims that coffee ice cream is the closest to tasting like coffee smells.

Steve Buchheit | March 27, 2007 12:49 PM

I've always wondered how something can smell pretty good and taste so badly (coffee).

David, how did you ever get out of the marines without a coffee addiction? From what I remember the coffee was stowed BEFORE the ammo. :)

Q | March 27, 2007 12:49 PM

Aw, man Scalzi... now you've done it...

This may be the single most wrong thing you've ever written, and surprising, since I agree with so much of what you write... Coffee is good. And should almost always be drank (drunk? drinked? drunkatated? ...I'm an engineer damnit, not a word-writey person) black.

Kelly | March 27, 2007 12:51 PM

I'm so glad to see someone else feels the same way I do about coffee and beer. (And cigarettes. And pot.) Well said, sir. Well said. And the next time my friends ask me why on earth I don't like tiramisu, I'll explain that I'd prefer to eat cake that doesn't taste like ass.

Erbo | March 27, 2007 12:52 PM

You know, I never really acquired a taste for coffee either. I could never stand it without dumping lots of cream and sugar in it. And now I have something to tell people when they ask why I don't like it:

"Well, in the words of Campbell-Award-winning science fiction author John Scalzi, 'Coffee tastes like ass.'"

Thank you very much.

Oh, and I never acquired a taste for most alcoholic beverages either...and, at least in the case of beer, now I have justification for that, too. A two-fer!

Now I'm going to take another sip of my Pepsi Lime and get back to work.

Stan | March 27, 2007 12:56 PM

"Coffee tastes like ass." You say that like it's a bad thing.

I drink coffee but I'll give you a pass. Depending on one's tolerance for bitterness, coffee can be unbearable - those fancy Starbucks drinks are mostly syrup so they don't count as coffee.

But beer? I'll grant you that all the bud/miller/coors stuff is gross. But a fine Bock or or a complex lambic? Liquid heaven.

M.A. | March 27, 2007 12:57 PM

Ok, but to many of us it doesn't. I am reminded of something my brother said, many years ago: "I'm glad I don't like mushrooms, 'cause if I liked 'em I'd eat 'em, and I hate 'em."

momma's boy | March 27, 2007 12:58 PM

Ah, coffee. I suppose you are correct that it taste a tad like what I imagine ass would taste like if I ever tried ass. I, however, had no choice but to grow to love it. You see when I was a child my doctor told my mother coffee calms children down. She started me in on coffee when I was six. I, of course, can't go a day without it anymore.

When I was a teenager the same doctor told my mother that coffee's effect reverses at puberty and that she should stop giving me coffee and start giving me marijuana. The bad news was that I had to sneak coffee for a few years. The good news was that my friends all wanted to come over to my house after school.

Maybe the degradation of American society can be linked to our love of all things that taste like ass. It certainly would explain reality television and the cancellation of Firefly.

P.S. – The one thing that I really don’t like is soft drinks like Coke Zero. They taste like chemicals. At least coffee and weed are naturally occurring substances.

John Scalzi | March 27, 2007 12:58 PM


No, I don't drink beer, either. Don't drink, don't smoke, no recreational drugs stronger than caffeine.


"As are cream and sugar to chocolate. As is sugar to kola nut and coca bean (the main 'tastes' of your beloved Coca Cola). They all taste foul in their natural state, but I don't see you decrying them."

Eh. "Chocolate" isn't just what comes off the cacao tree; the cacao bean is just one ingredient in the mix. Likewise the kola nut for cola sodas. We don't just eat cacao beans or kola nuts, or drink them simply mixed in water; never have (others might have; we don't). Whereas coffee is universally known as ground coffee beans + water.

David Klecha | March 27, 2007 12:59 PM

Steve Buchheit:

Far, far more amazing is that I made it through without picking up the habit of chewing tobacco. Talk about "tastes like ass"! At least in the units I was with, you were far more likely to find the cup of brownish liquid in a given Marine's hand did not contain coffee.

The only time I did drink it was on a particularly nasty winter machine gun shoot, when the temp dropped well below zero (F). Our section leader brought a camp stove and percolating coffee maker to the field with him all the time, and the only way to get hot water was for it to be run through coffee grounds first.

Scott Janssens | March 27, 2007 01:01 PM

So you're not a Coke Blak fan, huh?

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 01:02 PM

Momentarily removing my SF author hat, and putting on Mathematician hat (under which I have roughly 1,700 more publications):

"A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems."

-- Attributed variously to Alfréd Rényi
and Paul Erdős.

This is a good time to remind folks that Honore de Balzac's heart gave out while he was simultaneously marking up over a dozen novel manuscripts in galleys, of this planned series of 100 novels. He'd sleep until evening, dine with the wealthy, note their lifestyles, personalities, and gossip, then return to his garret overlooking Parois, drink dozens of cups of coffee, and write copiously and brilliantly. It was, de facto, caffeine poisoning.

He was the pioneer of what, today, is done by hackers with word processing and Jolt Cola.

gedalia | March 27, 2007 01:05 PM

what, no vices? (in israel we have a saying from a movie "don't drink, don't smoke, don't play snoker" to descibe some one with no vices

Amanda | March 27, 2007 01:06 PM

Yay Scalzi! Now if only we could convert the rest of the sane population to that vein of thought. I'm happy with gettiny my caffiene through other means. Diet Pepsi (oh how I heart thee), hot chocolate, chocolate bars, Vault, pie...

Wait. Damnit. Hungry. Crap.

Chang, for rizzle. | March 27, 2007 01:07 PM

i can't drink hi-test coffee anymore because it gives me these astoundingly bad headaches. I do drink decaf and love it. Especially from a French press.

If it's the taste of ass, then I guess I love the taste of ass.

Daniel | March 27, 2007 01:09 PM

I side with the "you haven't had good coffee" crowd because in my experience folgers == ass taste.
However, Jamaica Blue Mountain == dark nectar of the Gods.

Marc Moskowitz | March 27, 2007 01:09 PM

How is it that nobody has brought up Kopi Luwak yet? I mean, when you talk about coffee tasting like ass, you can't leave out the one variety that makes the association explicit!

Harry | March 27, 2007 01:11 PM

All the best flavours are things you don't enjoy when you first try them: coffee, tea, beer, wine, strong cheese, olives, chilli, onion, anchovies, garlic...

mmm, perhaps I'll go and make a cup.

Lisa | March 27, 2007 01:12 PM

This is probably one of the few posts I've ever read on the internet where I agree with every single word. Hate coffee, hate beer, hate anything requiring the inhaling of smoke. When I was younger I did partake in all of those things, but now I ask myself, dear god, why? Why? There are enough other ways that my body is being poisoned w/o my consent. (i.e. pollution) Why do it voluntarily? And yeah, it all tastes like ass.

Well, coke zero taste like watered down high fructose corn syrup. Or splenda/aspertame or whatever they use. Which is disgusting also. But I share the vice-- I drink Diet coke so I guess I'm a hypocrite. But at least I admit that I'm drinking sugar flavored chemicals.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 01:12 PM

Goody Two Shoes
Recorded by "Adam Ant"
Album: "Friend Or Foe" - 1982

With the heartbreak open
So much you can't hide
Put on a little makeup makeup
Make sure they get your good side good side

If the words unspoken
Get stuck in your throat
Send a treasure token token
Write it on a pound note pound note

Don't drink don't smoke - what do you do?
Don't drink don't smoke - what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
There must be something inside

We don't follow fashion
That would be a joke
You know we're going to set them set them
So everyone can take note take note...

John | March 27, 2007 01:12 PM

Yum, coffee tastes like GOOD ass!

Ok, I don't drink it black, matter of fact, to some, I probably have a little coffee with my cream and sugar. But I definitely enjoy it, and I definitely enjoy the caffeine kick that goes with it. But no, I would never drink decaf, much as I would never drink decaf Coke. What's the point?

I also like the taste of beer, AND the taste of wine. Granted, the alcohol in it is definitely part and parcel of that taste. Once again, no alcohol-free beer, thanks. But it's certainly a taste thing, if I'm going to have a nice juicy steak, you'd better believe I'm going to have a (good) beer to go with it.

And now I want to leave work early, go home, crack open a Newcastle, and fire up the grill!

Steve Buchheit | March 27, 2007 01:14 PM

Dave, I can see it now.

"Man, I'm dragging. Hey, can I get a sip of that?"

"Sure," the marine said, with an open palm signal to his pals saying, "Wait for it."

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 01:16 PM

My wife, science fiction author and Physics professor Dr. Christine M. Carmichael, was born and brought up in Edinburgh, Scotland. She tells me that, locally, they refer to Newcastle (which I rather enjoy) as:


KevinQ | March 27, 2007 01:16 PM

Scalzi said "Eh. "Chocolate" isn't just what comes off the cacao tree; the cacao bean is just one ingredient in the mix."

I don't know about that, John. I've got a container here of Dutch Processed Hershey's Cocoa (Special Dark), which lists ingredients of "Cocoa, processed with alkali." That's it, though I'll grant you the alkali. The Wiki tells me that cocoa is "the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree." Coffee seed, cocoa seed, seems like the same thing to me.

Cocoa started off the same as coffee: ground and added to hot water. Eventually, people started adding cream and sugar, eventually adding so much cream and sugar that the cocoa became a solid block. How is that fundamentally different than adding steamed milk to espresso?


Andrew | March 27, 2007 01:18 PM

Mmmm. Coffee.

Love the taste of it. Plain coffee hot & black. Flavoured coffee with a bit of milk and sweetener. Espresso (especially my mom's served in a cup she brought from Italy back in the day's when she ran a coffee shop in Friuli).

I am a diabetic with a sweet tooth. At home I can usually supply desserts that won't kill me (usually jello fat-free instant pudding; it is both fat free and sweetened with artificial sweeteners). At restaurant's sugar free desserts typically are not an option; coffee with cream and sugar fulfill's my need for a sweet ending to a meal.

Mr. Scalzi, you could not be more wrong about the joys of coffee.


Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 01:19 PM

Hot chocolate started out mixed with pepper and/or ground chili, and foamed. Mayans. As best studied by anthropologist Mel Gibson. What European culture has done with it since then is historically an afterthought.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 01:21 PM

Mocha = Cross-over multi-genre anthology.

Tapetum | March 27, 2007 01:22 PM

Bah, I got beat to the Kopi Luwak - however, here's more about it. http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=341

Taurine | March 27, 2007 01:33 PM

All those energy drinks taste like ass coated in cough syrup, but people drink them for, what? Taurine? You people are all high.

Hey! I resent that! Especially since everyone knows it's that guanine that has the asstastic flavor.

xaaronx | March 27, 2007 01:34 PM

Oh, Scalzi. You poor man. People act as if I'm missing something by not eating meat, but not to be able to enjoy good coffee would be much worse.

I don't drink it for the caffeine, because I've never been affected by it to any extent I can feel; I even tested it once by going six months with none, including no chocolate (on chocolate?!?). Drank a nine cup pot in about an hour and a half and went to sleep soon after. Sometimes drink eight shots of espresso in the morning (the privileges of being a barista) but can go without caffeine for weeks at a time with no ill effects.

But it tastes so good. A northern Italian-style ristretto with a good body, but the wonderful fruity notes still coming through . . . A French press of high-quality Yirgacheffe with that faintly lemony tang that no other coffee ever has. These things make life worth living. They also make me glad I don't drink, because I would almost certainly end up a wine snob. That's an expensive hobby.

And NEVER add cream or sugar to coffee. You will never actually taste the stuff I'm talking about (the exceptions being a macchiato and a dry cappucinno, the milk obscures the taste only slightly and adds that nice, smooth mouthfeel).

Patrick | March 27, 2007 01:39 PM

reminds me of the conversations I have when I tell people I don't drink.

Them - "Try this"
Me - "This tastes like ass"
Them - "It's an acquired taste"
Me - "Why would you want to acquire the taste for ass?"
Them - "Because it is good"
Me - "What's good? Ass?"
Them - "No. This!"
Me - "But it tastes like ass"
Them - "Not once you get used to it"
Me - "But I'm not used to it"
Them - "Drink it, once you get used to it you'll like it and you'll understand that it is good"

It's kind of like saying stabbing yourself in the eye doesn't hurt. Eventually, once you poke your eye out, it stops hurting. Maybe it feels good afterwards.

Or like reading "literature" and saying it was boring and pointless. And some fruit tries to explain to me that it was good and I just don't get it. No. It's just boring and pointless.

Old Jarhead | March 27, 2007 01:40 PM

"David, how did you ever get out of the marines without a coffee addiction? From what I remember the coffee was stowed BEFORE the ammo. :)"

As I set out for Quantico lo these many MANY years ago my father (a WWII Marine vet) told me that I would get over my abhorrence of coffee soon. Didn't happen. 27 years, a war or two, a lot of frozen mornings in the field and I never drank a single cup.

Now Coke....(sigh....) as a young man I could knock off a 6 pack before lunch. Due to some blood sugar issues and waistband limitation issues I have switched to Diet Coke or Coke Zero.

The only thing worse than coffee is Pepsi. But then some of you ombibulus sorts out there might disagree.

Old Jarhead

David Klecha | March 27, 2007 01:43 PM

Steve Buchheit:

The last unit I was with made tobacco-spitters use bottles with caps, rather than foam coffee cups, ostensibly because the spit cups were getting left sitting around and got knocked over.

We really know it was an officer who took a mistaken sip.

Christian | March 27, 2007 01:46 PM

John Scalzi: "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

David Klecha | March 27, 2007 01:55 PM

Old Jarhead:

"As I set out for Quantico lo these many MANY years ago my father (a WWII Marine vet) told me that I would get over my abhorrence of coffee soon. Didn't happen. 27 years, a war or two, a lot of frozen mornings in the field and I never drank a single cup."

When I enlisted and went to MCRD in '99, we gave up every beverage but water and the occasional fruit juice or milk with breakfast. And that persisted more or less intact through the School of Infantry. We just spent too much time in the field to hump along camp stoves and coffee makers. By the time I got to my first reserve unit, that was more or less ingrained. Especially since Reservists in infantry units spend so much time in the field in proportion to total time in uniform, it wasn't one of those things that we put a high priority on.

So, aside from those frozen-ass mornings, there wasn't much pressure to drink coffee. (More often, food service section from Battalion would bring out a big tank of hot water and cases of Top Ramen.)

Alex R. | March 27, 2007 01:56 PM

Scalzi, you couldn't be more wrong about beer. All my friends tell me it tastes like piss, not like ass. And apparently, piss is an acquired taste. Guess they watched too much "Dodgeball" :/

joelfinkle | March 27, 2007 02:00 PM

But what about coffee ice cream, e.g. Ben & Jerry's Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz? All that cream and sugar, with just a nice caramelly bitter bit of ass. I seldom drink coffee hot except under duress, but coffee ice cream is a nice thing, worth a try

Miscellaneous Steve | March 27, 2007 02:05 PM

Coffee is good (real coffee, not that Folgers, Maxwell House kind of crap). Beer is good (real beer, not that Bud, Coors kind of crap). What's better than coffee or beer? A really nice single-malt scotch. Mmmmmm...Bowmore.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 02:05 PM

Momofuku Ando, brilliant inventor of instant ramen, founder of Japanese food-industry giant Nissin Foods [Top Ramen and Cup Noodles] was 96 years old at the time of his death a month or so ago. He was Nissin’s chairman from the company’s founding in 1948 until 2005.

"Across the blogosphere, Ando was saluted as the sustainer of students and computer programmers everywhere."

And writers in between contracts.

As Jay Leno commented, Momofuku Ando (as in "he's a Baaad Momofuku, bro") was buried in a plastic coffin filled to just below the brim with boiling water and left to stand for 3 minutes...

Denise | March 27, 2007 02:08 PM

I was writing up my feelings on coffee and lo, John, here you are providing the exact opposite!

Coffee does NOT taste like ass, unless ass is absolutely wonderful. But, I don't have a problem with others not liking coffee -- means more for me!

And for me it wasn't an acquired taste, either. I loved it the first time I had it, when I was a wee lass of about 6 years old. But I tend to like bitter things -- I love good milk chocolate, but really, really love plain dark or even baking chocolate. And heaven is the cocoa drink made with ground chili pepper (wish I could find the recipe again).

And for the record, I also love beer. Not all beer, because some does taste like ass. But pale ale is heavenly -- and the only craving I had while pregnant with my son (no, I didn't indulge then).

Just goes to show, one person's ass is another's pleasure!

Steve Buchheit | March 27, 2007 02:10 PM

Ah, instant ramen. Ten bucks plus boiling water and you could eat for a month. I'm getting a "too much salt" headache from just memories.

Captain Button | March 27, 2007 02:18 PM

I'm in complete agreement with JS and Lisa here.

Hopefully we will have adjoining cells when we're all interned during the Beverage wars.

Jemaleddin | March 27, 2007 02:24 PM

Having been raised in a series of churches, coffee was in the top 3 liquids I drank as a child (which explains why I'm an inch shorter than any of the other men in my family). Black coffee, or with two sugars if the person brewing it doesn't know what they're doing (black as sin, sweet as a stolen kiss), is like mother's milk to me.

Beer I can understand not enjoying since I had to drink tremedous quantities of it (thank you Mickey's wide mouth) to acquire an appreciation. But once you've gotten past those first 20 or 30 gallons, a whole new world of flavors opens up around you. To skip out on all of those flavors seems crazy to me.

And your anti-drug pitch sounds like an endorsement of needle drugs. =-)

Michael Griffiths | March 27, 2007 02:30 PM

I like to approach this post as a philosophical exercise: the fact that you don't like coffee means more coffee for me.

Sort of.

Not really.

But anyway :-)

I have to say - I disagree. Admittedly, I'm one of those people who grinds his own beans 30 seconds before brewing coffee in a French Press (only way to do it!).

I have a friend who had the misfortune to drink a cup of my coffee black. He called it "battery acid." (Probably not far off).

I make really strong coffee (the weak stuff, to me, tastes watery and disgusting). I can tolerate the taste (I like things which make my mouth pucker ad my tongue scream at me - right now I'm drinking straight Green Tea made with 4 teabags and having stewed for over an hour), but I'd recommend adding a lot of sugar (4 tea spoons) and pure, authentic vanilla extract (these days, I'm combining vannila extract with pure almond extract. Delicious). A dash of milk (optional), and it's the perfect cup of coffee.

It is, however, something of an aquired taste. Like eggplant. Or brussel sprouts. I hate brussel sprouts. Maybe because I refuse to eat them.

(Also, good-quality beer tastes GOOD).

Nick Stump | March 27, 2007 02:41 PM

As writers know, kissing ass is sometimes unavoidable. I have on occasion puckered up and planted one myself. John, as you seem to be acquainted with the taste of ass, I would advise you to take another look a whiskey. There's nothing better than a good Kentucky bourbon to take the taste out of your mouth. I only use bonded bourbon when the ass kiss has been particularly humiliating. :)

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 02:44 PM

I like my coffee the way I like my women [fill in the blank].

My son cracked up my wife and me, as we recited our favorite answers, with his original:

"In my lap half a block from the drive-thru window."

theophylact | March 27, 2007 03:01 PM

I've always liked coffee. I had to work to learn to like beer. And it's not just the caffeine; I can't stand colas, and tea just doesn't do it for me.

Most coffee tastes like ass because most coffee is made with cheap, acidic C. robusta instead of C. arabica, it's not a dark-enough roast, and it's too weak. Now I realize that you wouldn't like the good stuff, but you can get it if you're willing to pay for it and brew it properly from freshly-roasted, freshly-ground beans. And not gussied up with hazelnuts or vanilla, either. Cream or sugar either, for that matter.

Bill.Blum | March 27, 2007 03:09 PM

I'll stick to Coke Zero, or Big K diet cola (whatever's on sale that week)......

I gave Coke Zero a try after initially reading about it... here at the Whatever of all places.

(FWIW, Coke Zero tastes great with White Castles. But, that's just my opinion)

I've never liked coffee.... ever.

Old Jarhead | March 27, 2007 03:12 PM

Man is walking home from a friend's house late one night along a dark and lonely stretch of road. He is somewhat nervous and so strides along manfully. Suddenly a thuggish looking person jumps out of the bushes and levels a .38 at him and shouts "Hands up!"

The man does so, trembling with fear. He says "I don't have any money"

The thug says "I don't want your money - I want you to take a drink from this thermos of coffee" He hands over a thermos and brandishes the pistol at the shaking man. He obediently brings the thermos to his mouth and takes a drink.

"Christ!" He gasps, "This is the most terrible stuff I've ever tasted. It taste like...like ASS!"

"Yeah, I know" says the thug, "Now you hold the gun on me while I drink!"

(sound of rimshot)

Old Jarhead

Patrick in the Philippines | March 27, 2007 03:16 PM

John, what you feel for the taste of coffee, I feel for the chili pepper of whatever variety.

I have come across tons of recipes where chili peppers are essential ingredients in the dish. I always do not eat those dishes as I absolutely refuse to give in to the culinary brainwashing to embrace the absolute evil that is the chili pepper and its derivative products like Tabasco sauce.

I also special order my own pizza at pizza parlors as most people of my acquaintance like to liberally apply Tabasco on pizzas.

DChunn | March 27, 2007 03:28 PM

Coffee sucks. The smell of it makes me sick. No, that's not exaggeration. If I smell coffee in the morning, I'm likely to vomit. Later in the day it just makes me a little nauseous. I can handle the smell when I'm far away from it, like walking through Barnes & Noble. At a distance it smells good. Up close: Yikes!

I agree on all other points except that I think pot smells good, even though I don't smoke it. (I don't eat meat and artificial preservatives, so you certainly won't see me pouring smoke of any kind into my lungs.) It probably tastes like ass, though. I've no idea.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 03:35 PM

So let's see if I have this straight. SFWA's secret meetings, in the undisclosed location leased from Dick Cheney, feature ritual smoking of a hand-rolled mixture of pot, chocolate, ground coffee, and flavor-packets of Top Ramen, washed down with bheer and single-malt scotch?

Anonymous | March 27, 2007 03:39 PM

Ever smelled someone who regularly smokes cigarettes and drinks coffee? Assbreath! Fo' sho'

MamaDeb | March 27, 2007 03:48 PM

I'm sitting here with a cup of black, unsweetened coffee. Yum. I like the occasional latte or cappuchino or cafe au lait, but that's because the coffee makes the milk palatable.

And I like plain, black decaf as well.

(And. I really liked The Android's Dream, which I just finished.)

I do agree with you about beer - that's why they invented whiskey, which is beer improved.

Anonymous | March 27, 2007 03:55 PM

"Just goes to show, one person's ass is another's pleasure!"

You said a mouthful.

marciepooh1976 | March 27, 2007 04:05 PM

I don't like coffee (tastes like ass!) but I love coffee ice cream, coffee yogurt, coffee syrup in milk or on ice cream, and all things mocha. Don't like most alcoholic beverages (that I've tried anyway), but when my brother said Yaeger tasted like licorice I was more than happy to down a shot. I like ameratto sours, too (at least the ones I get around here, out of town they taste different).

I'm with you'll who wonder "why aquire the taste of ass?" - if I don't like it I don't eat/drink it.

Miko | March 27, 2007 04:06 PM

I disagreed tolerantly until the Coke Zero part, at which point I decided that your opinions shall henceforth not sway me on any matter. Coke Zero really does taste like ass. Not as badly as Diet Coke, but close enough.

Tor | March 27, 2007 04:20 PM

I had forgotten your love of Coke Zero. If you haven't seen the new ads for Coke Zero (where the 'Coke Zero team' tricked inhouse Coke attorneys into believing they wanted to sue the Coke part of the company for 'taste infringement' - well, you should check it out. Funny even for non-coke lovers.


Steve Buchheit | March 27, 2007 04:22 PM

marciepooh1976, if you like spirits that taste like licorice you need to try ouzo.

Martyn Taylor | March 27, 2007 04:28 PM

Jonathan Vos Post, the denizens of Edinburgh can call Newcastle whatever they please, it doesn't seem to stop them and their Glaswegian friends coming and recycling our beer into the gutter every weekend...

Newkie pukie probably derives from Newkie Broon (Newcastle Brown Ale, a local alcoholic delicacy known colloquially as Journey into Space...)

I started reading and shaking my head. I finished nodding. The only drink I really like is cold, fresh water. Which doesn't stop me drinking coffee, diet coke, etc, etc, perverse creature that I am.

But chocolate... oh, my friend, Beelzebub has a devil put aside for you.

Matt Jarpe | March 27, 2007 04:30 PM

"Just goes to show, one person's ass is another's pleasure!"

Well, sure, you can't get much pleasure out of your own.

I hate coffee. I love it. I can't live without it and I wish I'd never tried it. I drink two cups a day and immediately reach for a breath mint afterwards. If I don't drink it I get a headache, if I drink too much I get a headache. I quit seven years ago when my wife was pregnant, in sympathy. For two years I would walk into a Dunkin Donuts and breathe deep, wondering what it would be like to just have a sip. Then the monkey climbed back on and I've been piggybacking him around ever since.

Riccardo | March 27, 2007 04:31 PM

Starbucks tastes worse than regular American coffee (which, I agree, generally tastes like ass). If Starbucks tried to open shop anywhere in Italy, with the crap they sell, they would go broke in very short order.

Good espresso may be found occasionally in the States, but not at Starbucks. Try for any place that brews Illy espresso: if they know how to brew it (a big if), you'll see the difference between real espresso and Starbucks.

A few hints:

  • any coffee place that does not keep their espresso cups hot on top of the espresso machine is to be avoided.
  • Ditto for any place that brews the espresso in a little metal thing and then pours it from there in a cup: espresso needs to be hot, and that way you are going to get it lukewarm at best.
  • The foam on a good espresso should be fairly dark and thick: not watery and whitish like at Starbucks: too light a foam is usually a symptom of coffee that was brewed too cold.

JerolJ | March 27, 2007 04:54 PM

You know, when I was a kid I had no appreciation for anything complex. Sauces had to be bland, didn't like anything spicy - hell, I didn't even put ketchup on anything. But as an adult one grows to appreciate things like texture and complexity. I am not a coffee drinker, I never liked hot beverages. But I certainly understand the obsession for finding the perfect cup o' joe. My dad made it a lifelong quest (typical Norwegian).

For those of you that think beer tastes like ass, it is not because you haven't acquired a taste for it, rather you a.) probably have only had mass-market swill like Bud or Heineken or b.) you haven't been educated on how to drink the stuff. Same way with bourbon, single malt, fine wine, etc.

There's plenty of things I won't eat or drink for whatever reason, so I really shouldn't be one to talk. We all have our rational and irrational reasons for what we drink and eat. But there's nothing like hitting the end of a long, hard week at work and settling down with a glass of your favorite vice (enjoyed in moderation of course). Sköl!

jess | March 27, 2007 04:59 PM

I'll give you beer, ciagrettes and energy drinks (recently my friends discovered energy beer and that fact that they drink it willingly is a sign of the apocolypse)

But I really enjoy the taste of coffee, maybe even more so then soda, which, no matter whehter it's sugary or sugar free leaves me with a weird taste in my mouth if I drink too much.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 27, 2007 05:03 PM

Martyn Taylor: Great to see you here.

So far as I could see, in all my visits to Scotland (including both worldcons, where I vaguely recall sharing a pint or two with you), which neatly combined family, friends, and tax-deductable travel, Edinburgh and Glasgow focus much of their energy denying that the other has any culture at all. The California equivalent is San Francisco versus Los Angeles.

That leaves Newcastle (founded in Roman times under the name Pons Aelius, and in the Middle Ages standing as England's northern fortress) and its noble Geordies able to achieve great heights of civilization. The Latin term Novocastrian, which can equally be applied to residents of any place called Newcastle, is, I am led to believe by wikipedia, usually only used for ex-pupils of the city's Royal Grammar School.

In one of those ironies which we authors love to imitate, during the English Civil War, Newcastle supported the king and in 1644 was stormed ('with roaring drummes') by Cromwell's Scots allies, based in pro-Parliament Sunderland. The grateful King bestowed the motto "Fortiter Defendit Triumphans" ("Triumphing by a brave defence") upon the town. Ironically, Charles was imprisoned in Newcastle by the Scots in 1646-7.

Of greater interesst to the book-scribbling classes, "In the 18th century, Newcastle was the country's largest print centre after London, Oxford and Cambridge, and the Literary and Philosophical Society of 1793, with its erudite debates and large stock of books in several languages predated the London Library by half a century."

Carrying Coal to Newcastle. Carrying Owls to Athens. Carrying Chaos to SFWA...

Nathan | March 27, 2007 05:34 PM

I stopped smoking pot in 10th grade, but otherwise, I like everything else on the list. Apparently a significant portion of my intake consists of things that taste like ass.

Who knew?

Sebastian | March 27, 2007 05:39 PM

See, I'll agree with you on the vast majority of coffee. It does taste like ass, and you have to pour stuff into it to make it palatable.


David Schomer, in his book Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques, tells a great story about growing up loving the smell of coffee fresh from the grinder in the supermarket and then being horrified when he actually tasted the drink. Why doesn't the coffee taste like the delicious smell of the beans, he asks? That's what good espresso tastes like - it tastes like coffee *should*. It's smooth, flavorful, and almost sweet.

If you don't like even the ideal flavor of coffee, the smell of the ground beans, then this is probably not going to do you any good. If, however, you wonder why it doesn't taste like it smells, you need to find someone or somewhere that makes a proper espresso, and stay the hell away from Starbucks.

Eddie Clark | March 27, 2007 05:55 PM

There is a distinction to be drawn here. The coffee I've had in America and most of the UK tastes like utter crap. Weak, bitter, vile stuff. In fact, terrifyingly, some of the least objectionable coffee I've had in America comes from starbucks. Most coffee coming out of coffee machines tastes like crap. The coffee I've had in Europe and, surprisingly, most cafes in Aussie and NZ, can be warm, rich, delicious and not at all gross.

Mmmm, nice sharp chocolatey long blacks, smooth, silky lattes. Ah coffee, when made properly you are the nectar of the gods.

Annalee Flower Horne | March 27, 2007 06:19 PM

ok, I enjoy a good cup of coffee on occasion (though I'm a bigger fan of tea, because really: dead leaves + water is much better than ground beans + water. Especially when you're an ugly American who turns anything above room temperature into a sugar suspension).

But I seriously stopped breathing from laughing so hard at this post. You may not understand the joy of coffee, but damn do you know how to bring the funny. Your execution is just effin flawless, man.

claire | March 27, 2007 06:27 PM

Excellent. It's always good to come across other non-coffee people.

Amitava D. | March 27, 2007 06:42 PM

Ricardo: "If Starbucks tried to open shop anywhere in Italy, with the crap they sell, they would go broke in very short order."

It might please you to know, then, that Starbucks did indeed try to open franchises in Italy (I know second-hand of at least one), but subsequently closed them down.

Anonymous | March 27, 2007 07:01 PM

Sure, coffee tastes like ass, if you are into that sort of thing.... however a beer bottle passion can make your hole weak.

Jon | March 27, 2007 07:22 PM

Re: "The only reason you don't like beer is because you haven't had the good stuff" and many similar comments.

People gave me that line of crapola for years, and when I finally went to Germany with some friends, they set out to educate me in the wonderfulness of "proper" beer. They took me to a proper German bar and got me some wonderful German beer. And guess what? It was just as bad as American beer, only stronger. All 3 kinds that they gave me were like that. They tasted different, but none of them were any good.

Joe Rybicki | March 27, 2007 07:31 PM


You are dead to me.

Good day, sir.


Jennifer | March 27, 2007 07:44 PM

I am delighted to find at least one other writer-type who hates coffee. It seems to be a huge faux pas to write and not like coffee. Back when I was a journalist, the other non-coffee-drinker in the office got bitched out for not making everyone else's morning coffee. I say, why ask the one person who can't stand it to make it? You're probably not gonna like what he makes anyway. Not to mention the endless "coffee shop" problems where everyone goes to meetings and you're stuck smelling that godawful scent while everyone else swoons over it. Blech!

I do NOT understand why y'all actually LIKE the taste. I can't drink anything stronger than a mudslide beverage, which is probably 5% coffee and 95% milk slushie.

Mark | March 27, 2007 07:47 PM

"Coffee tastes like ass." Given that you apparently drink and enjoy a beverage containing aspartame; I'd have to assume your tastebuds are seriously out of wack.

Holly Black | March 27, 2007 07:57 PM

Mmmmm. Ass.

Grant Stone | March 27, 2007 08:37 PM

First of all, I like me the coffee. Had three this morning already. But I write software, so it's mandatory. There's a reason why the language is called Java after all.

Having said that, here's some coffee I'll never drink because i)it's too expensive and ii)it probably really does taste like ass. Or arse. Probably both.


John Scott | March 27, 2007 08:42 PM

Can't let this thread go without somebody giving Memoir From Antproof Case a vigorous recommendation to all readers.

Amanda J | March 27, 2007 08:53 PM

I'm a coffee drinker, but apparently my kids hate it. They've never tasted it, but both times I was pregnant the first sign was that coffee started to taste like ass. I recovered from this weird state shortly after each of their births.

I agree with the rest of your post, though, Scalzi. It's just... COFFEE! I swear, the shrine I have set up to the Goddess Caffeina shuddered.

deCadmus | March 27, 2007 09:08 PM

I'm pleased and generally chuffed that you chose my snarky little query out of the big, black-velvet bag o' reader questions. 'Course now that I've used up all my luck here, there's no point in me trying the lottery this week. (Not that I do... just sayin'.)

And your answer, it intrigues me so... Don't like coffee. Don't like beer. I'd wager (if I hadn't used up my luck) that you're not one for brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage or kale, either. Probably you're not fond of spicy stuff; curry, hot peppers and the like. Chances are that you're a supertaster.

Curious? There's an easy test for it. Get some blue food coloring, and follow along:

You can see fungiform papillae by just taking ordinary supermarket blue food colouring, swabbing it on your tongue, and looking at your tongue in the mirror. You'll see that certain areas don't stain - little pink circles. Those are the fungiform papillae. They contain taste buds, about six each on average. A non-taster's tongue looks polkadotted, a supertaster tongue looks tiled. There are fungiform papilla edge-to-edge on the front of a supertaster's tongue.

Supertasters are a rare lot. Me, I'm not one. Not quite. But I tuned my tongue and trained my nose enough to worm my way into the coffee trade, and now I have the great pleasure of cupping coffee with some of the best in the business... a great many of whom *are* supertasters.

And, for the record, I have tried Kopi Lewak (had some only a week or three ago) and it was actually quite good, 'specially as this hasn't been a good couple of years for Indonesian coffees (or -- far more important, I think -- for Indonesian peoples, either.)

Now go paint your tongue. ;)


Kristy | March 27, 2007 10:00 PM

There has indeed been coffee that tastes like ass; some of my best friends in college had some. And they used that exact term, too: "This coffee tastes like ass!" The synchronicity, it awes.

And the fact that you don't drink coffee while apparently not ever sleeping makes me feel better about being a non-coffee-drinking scientist. Prodigious output *is* possible sans caffeine!

Dean | March 27, 2007 10:12 PM

I like getting a piece of ass now and again, I don't see why a cup of ass would be any less desirable.

Craig M | March 27, 2007 10:16 PM

Coffee is great as long as it is made strong (one heaping tablespoon of ground coffee per cup of water). I don't care what kind it is, usually after a while I switch to another brand, somehow the taste can become "tiresome". In fact, the inexpensive ground coffee, because it is from the robusta bean, has the highest kick - more caffeine - fantastic for musicians. Some people insist on base jumping off tall buildings, I must drink substances that taste like ass. It is you John Scalzi that has helped me to understand this complex issue.

Other things that deliver a solid clank to the back of your tongue and throat (in a highly effective and pleasant way). Coke, ahem, the beverage; whiskey; tequilla; Canadian beer, Miller made in Canada is like Coke to the pointlessness of US Miller's Pepsi.

At 21 the last three drinks of any of the above tasted the best. At 41 only the first three drinks of any of the above tastes the best.

Glug,glug,glug... mmmmm ....that's great ass!

Jim Winter | March 27, 2007 10:38 PM

I once had a really bad rump roast that tasted like ass.

Buck | March 28, 2007 12:00 AM

Scalzi, have you read any of the 'supertaster' stuff that's been bouncing around in the intertubes the last few years?

I, too, find the taste of coffee repugnant, although I think of it more along the lines of boiled used gym socks than ass. Anyway, one of the traits of a supertaster is supposed to be a different way to process ingested chemicals, so that, among other things, coffee seems wretched.

I think the whole Starbucks 'barista' and 'vente' phenomenon just makes it worse. Imagine an "Upchucks" on every corner, purveyors of the finest, eco-friendly dog vomit. Yes, you could ask your pukista for a 'Jamaican regurgitata' with pride.

On a tangent, I love Coca Cola (especially Mexican bottles made with sugar cane) and I love chocolate, but eating chocolate while drinking Coke is awful.

Daniel Sroka | March 28, 2007 12:46 AM

Mmmm... more for me.

Mike Crichton | March 28, 2007 01:01 AM

The real truth, of course, is that a can of Folgers killed his parents...

Andrew | March 28, 2007 02:16 AM

I too have heard that American coffee tastes like ass.

Robb | March 28, 2007 08:45 AM

First off, I was thrilled to both read and recognize the Helprin reference. I didn't think anyone besides me had ever read his stuff.

When I read Antproof Case I remember reveling in the tirades against coffee "Do you want your coffee now?". I always drank coffee if the mood suited me - late night driving, after-dinner with dessert, that sort of thing, but never found it a habit. I always scoffed at people who couldn't talk until they'd downed an extra-large travel mug of conveneince store java in the morning.

Fast forward some years, and I find myself in the habit too. I can skip the coffee, but I do find that I enjoy drinking it in the morning with breakfast and make a pot as quickly as I can upon exiting the morning shower. Also, not surprisingly, this behavior began roughly coincident with the birth of my second child.

Nikitta | March 28, 2007 09:05 AM

I enjoy some nice filter coffee on weekend mornings, but on weekdays I don't have time for such luxuries, so instant coffee will have to do because I'm going to need a serious dose caffeine, instantly. I even add a bit of cold water because I can't drink anything that's too hot and I don't have the time to wait. When I say I need it instantly, I *mean* instantly.

You want to know why I need it instantly? Try working where I work (or a similar place) for a while and you'll see...

Incidentially; we also tried Coke Zero because the discussion about it in here made us curious. We like it, though I still don't think it beats Pepsi Max Cappuccino.

About Starbucks: they will soon start selling coffee and food in our canteen at work, so I can finally find out what it's like after having heard it mentioned and discussed in so many places.

That was a bit much at once.

Amanda | March 28, 2007 09:56 AM

I work with a bunch of engineers, a wacky lot. The engineering manager is Polish and when he makes a pot of coffee in the communal maker, it is so strong your spoon or stirring aparatus of choice will stand straight up in your cup. Supposedly it's almost like Guiness, chewy and a meal unto itself.

Mark Tiedemann | March 28, 2007 10:52 AM

I have a similar reaction to beer. Don't get beer. I've tried. Thinking it was an Age Thing, I've tried and retried beer, but it always just tastes...ass isn't the word.

People tell me beer is an acquired taste. Like coffee.

But I acquired the taste for coffee. It wasn't hard. Beer? Monumental effort.

Of the two, though, I would prefer to have people around me more awake than half-snorkled. Beer is a bit of a blight, not in that it is innately bad, but in that so many people seem compelled to drink it in case quantity and pretend they're not affected.

Steve Buchheit | March 28, 2007 11:21 AM

Amanda, mmm Guiness, a loaf in every pint.

Jim | March 28, 2007 11:59 AM

When I was a kid I couldn't understand how people could drink coffee. My parents drank coffee with mild and sugar and they would offer me a cup "now that you're 12..." 13... 14... etc. And I would try it and one sip would be all I could stand. Then one night in a diner with friends, they all ordered coffee and I ordered a coke but the waitress gave me a coffee by mistake. Not wanting to make a fuss (a sophomore out with juniors and seniors) I did not point out the mistake, I just took a sip. Gee, so that's what coffee tastes like... That stuff isn't bad at all... In fact, I really like it.

Decades later, I still drink my coffee black, the way it should be. Drip coffee (or French press), not percolator (and certainly not instant). I have, however, learned to enjoy an occasional cappuccino in a coffee shop -- a real coffee shop, not a Starbuck's.

I have some friends who are tea drinkers. That's okay. I'll drink tea once in a while, but it certainly isn't a replacement for coffee.

Scalzi -- what kind of "beer" do you drink? Bud Lite? You do know the line about how drinking American beer is like making love in a canoe, right? (Actually, there are a lot of good beers brewed in the U.S. -- it's just that none of them come from those big beer factories. Surely there must be a decent craft brewery in Ohio.)

John Scalzi | March 28, 2007 12:18 PM


I don't drink beer, either.

Mishalak | March 28, 2007 01:16 PM

I suppose you wouldn't eat salsa either, eh? After all why would you deliberately eat something that felt like it was burning the inside of your mouth?

John Scalzi | March 28, 2007 01:45 PM

Actually, Krissy makes amazing salsa, which I eat, happily.

John E. | March 28, 2007 01:53 PM

I've never gotten into coffee, either. I like the smell OK, but the taste isn't my thing. I haven't drunk any coffee since taking a sip at age 9, but the occasional accidental bite of coffee ice cream or something reconfirms my impression.

I part ways with you on alcoholic beverages, though. I love a good beer--and I can appreciate a mediocre beer, too, if it's cold enough. I'm a fan of wine as well. And I adore a well-made Scotch whisky. Last night I had a bit of Oban and then a port-wood-aged Glenmorangie. Heavenly. And then, with dinner, I had a French table wine that unfortunately ... tasted like ass. Can't win 'em all.

I don't drink soda regularly, but when I do, Coca-Cola Classic is ideal. Pepsi doesn't taste like ass, but it does taste like a soda I don't want to drink.

Anyway, it's all ultimately quite subjective, and I would never say anyone who doesn't like what I like "just hasn't developed a taste for it." Not everyone likes everything, that's all. No big deal.

Clark | March 28, 2007 01:56 PM

Now , if there was some freshly washed girl ass like my sweet girlfriends it would be a different story you would tell. But drinking something that tasted like the incarnation of hot and bothered would not keep this mans mind focused in the way coffee should.

Camilo | March 28, 2007 02:39 PM

All of this conversation just awakened my carvings for coffee.

And just so you know, coffee was traditionally carried on the back of mules, not asses.

Speaking of ass, now I am hungry.

Anne C. | March 28, 2007 03:09 PM

In my opinion:
Coffee = hot bitter water
Though I have a cousin who owns a drive-thru espresso and a coffee roasting company that reputedly makes very good coffee.

Beer = cold bitter water
I can get my alcohol in other (less unpleasant) ways.

But I don't have it in for bitter when it comes to dark chocolate (= yummy bitter!).

I don't think I'm a supertaster, I'm just a contrarian.

Ray | March 28, 2007 04:32 PM

So when I was but a wee Ray my Mother would sometimes BOIL Squash and serve it with dinner. It was simply horrific and I would gag on every bite. So in order to get through the suffering of dinner I would smother the boiled squash in ketchup. At least I stopped gagging. Now you may ask what the moral of the story is..?
If you ever find yourself in an ass-eating situation, try ketchup. It just might help.
Oh. And what would morning be without a Melange coffee..
And what would a summer day lounging in an outdoor European Brau be without an Ale!

Alex | March 28, 2007 06:19 PM

I was having a lousy day today, and then I went out and had a nice cup of ass. Unfortunately the day is still crap and now I'm more awake so I can really appreciate it.

Gdr | March 28, 2007 10:01 PM

Coffee tastes like ass, but people drink it for the caffeine. Beer tastes like ass but people drink it for the alcohol.

I think revealed preferences are evidence against this theory: caffeine can be found in soft drinks; alcohol in liqueurs and alcopops, and yet many people apparently prefer coffee and beer, even going without their drug rather than consuming it in a sweeter form.

The other problem with this theory is that other bitter foods and drinks — for example, tonic water, arugula, watercress, bitter melon, olives, almonds, endive — contain no addictive substances and yet many people enjoy them.

I think what you're experiencing is just a normal aversion to bitterness. This is almost universal in young children, presumably for the evolutionary reason that many bitter substances in nature are poisonous. So bitter foods and drinks have to be learned to be liked, a taste for them don't come naturally. If you're resistant to the kinds of social pressure that, for example, make young men feel they need to drink beer in public whether they like it or not, then you'll have missed out on this learning.

But it's never too late to start.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 29, 2007 08:55 AM

Once, at either a Nebula Awards event or something like it, Jerry Pournelle saw me order one of my favorite drinks: a "Campari with tonic water, twist of lime."

He made a face as if imagining tasting it. "Bitter, bitter, bitter," he said. "Why don't you just drink stright wormwood?"

The Greek word "absinthos" means "wormwood." ... and a Ukranian word for wormwood is “chernobyl.”

Gdr: "... other bitter foods and drinks — for example, tonic water, arugula, watercress, bitter melon, olives, almonds, endive..."

That is not just an anomaly in the theory, it's a basis for a different theory.

I happen to enjoy the bitter taste.

There are genetic differences in. people’s abilities to taste some substances. Some people cannot taste certain bitter flavors.

See, for instance: Genetic sensitivity to the bitter taste of 6-n propylthiouracil.

"Now Mari Sandell and Paul Breslin of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, have shown that just how bitter (and disagreeable/agreeable) we find cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli) does indeed depend on our genetic make up. We all have the gene hTAS2R38, apparently (though there must be some mutants out there who don’t). But it comes in two versions. By dint of the fact that we all own two sets of DNA, we all (by and large, sans the mutants) fall into one of the three categories: two copies of version A, two copies of version B, or one copy of each. Now, it turns out that if you have two copies of version A, broccoli tastes bitter but fine; if you have one copy each, broccoli tastes bitter and you are happy not to have any ever; but if you have two copies of version B, yuck, the thing is a blazing coal in your mouth. Here, therefore, is an example of a genetically heritable, hardwired taste. It is probably safe to guess that our taste in coffee works in a similar manner."

Different ethnicities prefer different varieties of eggplant, depending on how bitter they like the fruit to taste.

Fenugreek seeds, an ancient spice, with a slightly bitter taste, are characteristic of Indian cuisine, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Bitter taste in cassava roots correlates with cyanogenic glucoside.

Many Japanese prefer a greater umami taste in all their foods (the 5th of the 4 basic tastes).

"In addition to the four tastes all of us know – sweet, salty, sour and bitter – there is also umami ('delicious'). You see, our tongues have five kinds of taste buds, not four. The fifth detect a quality of flavor easily overlooked by those who have not given it much thought, the flavor common to apple and tomato, the flavor which makes the food… delicious. (Umami is a back formation from the word umai, usually translated as 'delicious')."

Variation in bitter-taste receptor gene increases risk for alcoholism.

"Bitter taste, perception and severe vomiting in pregnancy". Physiol Behav 2000;. 69:259–267. 36.

Smell and Taste Center School of Medicine

Maybe that's the main issue with coffee and beer, and the rest of this thread is just sweetness and light?

Marja | March 29, 2007 10:27 AM

I spend a summer in Canada and USA during the late 80's and couldn't find any place where I could get decent coffee. All the stuff I tried was way too watery, and most was made from inferior quality beans. Although a worse problem was finding good tea, since I'm mostly a tea drinker. Several liters of tea per week (good stuff, and none of those fruit or whatever flavored versions), possibly six or seven mugs of normal (Finnish style, light roast) coffee with some cream, or alternatively same number of cups of espresso. I'm actually a bit weird preferring tea, most Finns drink huge amounts of coffee. Maybe it's the winters and winter blues. You need something to be able to function during the dark part of the year.

Becca | April 2, 2007 06:13 AM

This is definitely the most interesting take on coffee and addictions ever. I'm writing a paper on teen addictions, would you mind if I borrowed some of your views? I'll definitely credit you, but it's quite hillarious, and I think it'd work well. As for coffee, definitely one of the worst tasting drinks ever. All the best!

John Scalzi | April 2, 2007 08:12 AM

Go right ahead, Becca.

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