Where is it we are again? Is this Indianapolis? Or are we in Birmingham? Joliet? When you work the highways, sometimes you forget. St. Louis? We're in a McDonald's, that's for sure, and down the street is a Steak n Shake. It's across from a Taco Bell. We're between two highways, have a medium coffee and this morning's USA Today in front of us, and by the looks of the architecture we're pretty sure that this is Detroit. The sound system is playing the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'." Maybe we're in LA?
The sign up at the counter touts the McDonald's Corporation's new premium coffee. "Richer, Bolder Coffee*" it reads, then in fine print below, "*than our previous blend." The footnote deflates us. We were a little pumped; if McDonald's is making a decent cup of coffee, our rural crawls through one-horse towns might provide us with better java. McDonald's "previous blend" was crap. It's not hard to be bolder.
You can get a McGriddle and a medium cup of this bolder, richer, more robust coffee for $3.50, but we're not interested in a McGriddle for the same reason we've never done heroin: We're afraid we'd like it too much. Just a medium coffee, ma'am, which is $1.15 here, about 50 cents cheaper than a comparable cup of Starbucks.
The coffee arrives in a Styrofoam cup. On it is a picture of a hunky man wearing a shirt that reads, "Flavorful." He seems to be getting ready to take this shirt off. What does this mean? If he is a metaphor for the coffee, why would he be taking his flavorful shirt off? Shouldn't he keep it on or even put on a second, thicker T-shirt? A caption next to him reads, "Precaución: ¡Está Caliente!"
This richer, bolder, more robust coffee is made from 100 percent Arabica beans. Most coffeehouses use Arabica beans, as opposed to the cheaper, more mass-marketed Robusta beans offered at fast-food joints. So that's good.
The corporation has also upgraded its creamer packets. They sit in an un-iced tub next to the straws, napkins and ketchup wallets. But the creamer still comes in a plastic thimble and can be stored at room temperature, so what's the improvement? New packaging? Could it be that McDonald's is simply repackaging its creamer and advertising it as "improved"?
Is the coffee better? It's less bitter, that's for sure. The sourness that used to infect the throat is more subdued. But there's still no backbone. A sturdy drink of Starbucks contains an element of, "Yep, that's coffee." A good glug of Kaldi's can be near-orgasmic especially the mocha java. A swig of the new McDonald's is noteworthy mainly for what it's not: their old variety. Which, yes, is an improvement. It is a bold move, to offer Premium Coffee. Maybe we're in Heaven. Somebody up at corporate should get a raise. (Apologies to the late Stanley Elkin, whose ace novel The Franchiser provided inspiration for this week's column.)