Hot and Cheap: In Praise of Gas Station Coffee
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because 90-some percent of you have black magic coursing through your veins.
I started drinking coffee in college, desperate for a way to make it through early-afternoon lectures that functioned more like overpriced lullabies. One dollar cups from Manhattan’s many street food carts were strong enough to keep me awake and mixed with enough milk and sugar to ease me into a coffee addiction. I was hooked in no time.
Eventually, I grew to actually enjoy the taste of coffee and scaled back the additions. I ventured out from the land of coffee carts, began drinking in the morning and bought a coffeemaker of my own.
But through it all, I’ve stayed true to the roots of my coffee introduction in one important way: When I buy a cup of coffee, I still go for the cheapest, most convenient cup I can find. Which, now that I’ve left New York, means gas stations.
Coffee is cheaper at my gas station, it doesn’t taste like roofing tar, and I can pour the cup on my own.
Don’t scoff. The coffee available at gas stations across the country is universally underrated, especially compared with the competition in the green-and-white cup. “People love to beat up on cheap coffee,” says Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. Though he admits there are better brews, Carpenter says there’s something to be said for coffee that’s nothing more than “cheap, hot and caffeinated.”
That’s that stuff I gravitate toward. On my morning commute, I have two convenient options for coffee and suspect they’re the same many Americans are presented with — Starbucks or a gas station. For me, the choice is obvious. Coffee is cheaper at my gas station, it doesn’t taste like roofing tar, and I can pour the cup on my own. For those who like to customize, gas stations often provide a half dozen or more different brews, with syrups, creamers and sweeteners galore. And you control how much goes in.
If I’m being completely honest, my No. 1 reason for getting coffee at gas stations though is the speed. On most mornings, the lines move quickly, save the occasional lottery ticket purchase, and I’m back in my car in the time it takes to read off one office-wide Starbucks order. There’s no waiting for other people to have the drinks made or deciding which seasonal latte to try. There’s just coffee, silent nods of hello and money exchanging hands.
“There’s utterly no pretense about country store or gas station coffee,” Carpenter says. “It doesn’t pretend to be anything except what it is.”