As you might imagine, someone who gets a Ph.D in philosophy—in addition to various other psychopathologies and deep maladjustments—drinks (or has drunk) a lot of coffee.
I know I have: from the coffee shop in the basement of the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, as well as the late The Flying Lox Box ("Now Serving Nobel Laureates!"), Morry's, and the coffee shop at the Divinity School, and even vending machines, I drank a lot at UC.
I actually think the availability of coffee at a University is an important sign of its academic seriousness (that, and good graffiti in the bathrooms); it should be decent (not necessarily great), and available at least from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.. Chicago had this, but I'll be honest and recognize that the best graffiti I've ever seen were (yes, it is plural) at the Stanford Undergraduate Library.
At the University of Dayton, coffee is often unavailable all weekend (except from vending machines, which doesn't count under the "decent" criterion), and certainly late at night or very early in the morning. As much as I love the Philosophy Department here, I do believe it has the worst coffee I've ever had (thus, I prefer stealing it from the English Department, enduring steely glares and hostility, even though one Barb Farrelly told me I could until I retired). Draw your own conclusions about academic seriousness.
But I am also willing to drink a fair amount of instant coffee: it's decent, and definitely fast. (I haven't tried the Steven Wright trick of putting instant coffee in the microwave to see if I go back in time).
Thus I recently tried "Via," the new instant coffee offered by Starbuck's. (When my wife Robyn and I hung out at the local Starbucks, and became friends with the baristi, they came to one of of our parties and made fun of the fact that I had instant coffee; I now savor the ironies like a good Kenyan Peaberry.) Ten packs for ten dollars: extensive calculations indicated that a cup of their instant coffee is $1/cup. Maxwell House--as Preston Sturges might put it, "good to the last gulp"--is approximately a nickel a cup. And having sampled a fair amount of both, I'm confident that Via is better, marginally; but that margin is hardly 20 times better. I'd say about twice as good? So I say "adio" to Via.
My friend Richard, who now teaches at a campus that prohibits coffee (you can make your own in your office; draw your own conclusions, again, about the academic seriousness of that place), and I once went to an Afghan restaurant in Chicago. The food was okay, and then we ordered coffee. Absolutely out of this world, and easily the best cup of coffee I'd ever had (and then had about thirty). Sadly, the Helmand went out of business in 1987.
It was the reigning champ all these years, until Robyn took me to the Strip in Pittsburgh. While she shopped, the kids and I went to a coffee shop and I ordered a cup. The barista fussed and fumed, and it took what seemed like a very long time, and it all seemed rather pretentious. Then I tasted it. Knocked me out, blew me away: the new champ.
21st StreetCoffee and Tea
Turns out that a good bit of their excellence comes from the coffee they use (what a surprise!), a brand called "Intelligentsia." Admittedly, there is a lot of pretense and silliness in all of this, and when you hear about licorice leading to a mango and charcoal laced after-finish, well, I sometimes think maybe I'll just go back and talk to my wine snob friends, who sound even sillier.
But the bottom line is that the best coffee I've ever had in my life was at this place in Pittsburgh. And that, my friends, is an important thing to know.