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TinotopiaLog → In Praise Of Burger King Coffee and Dart Optima Lids (30 May 2005)
Monday 30 May 2005

In Praise Of Burger King Coffee and Dart Optima Lids

The best ready-brewed coffee in America comes out of this machine:


This is the C-300 from Douwe Egberts Coffee Systems. It will make up to 1,700 cups of coffee per hour, which means that it’s serious overkill for the Burger King where this particular example is deployed.

Douwe Egberts, despite being owned these days by Sara Lee, is not all that familiar a brand in the United States: but it makes sense to find the coffee at Burger King. There are a lot of strange Dutch influences on BK overall: aside from the coffee, there’s their practice of using a lot of mayonnaise; there’s the mayo-and-horseradish ‘dipping sauce’ for onion rings.

Anyway, the really strange thing is the way in which this machine makes coffee. Douwe Egberts calls it a ‘brewer’, but it doesn’t really brew anything. It mixes coffee concentrate and hot water, and squirts the result out the nozzle.

This sounds like it would be horrible, but it isn’t. Most people seem to be of the opinion that the quality of one’s coffee beans is the primary determinant of the quality of one’s coffee beverage. I don’t think this is true.

Everyone who talks about coffee focuses on the beans. “Oh, these beans from the famed coffee hothouses of Ulan Bator are the greatest! And only $190 a pound!” “Well, you may have jumped on the Mongolian Coffee Bandwagon, but I’m a simple man, and I’ll stick with the beans that have been sifted out of Indonesian civet shit.”

My experience has been that the brewing process has a far greater effect on the quality of the beverage. You can take supermarket can coffee and produce an excellent cup if you brew it properly: but if your coffee maker produces water that’s too hot, or too cold, or too full of crud from the machine not being cleaned, your coffee will be nasty, no matter what animal shit out the beans you’re using.

Since the BK-DE coffee is actually brewed in a giant factory somewhere in Utrecht, in big machines carefully monitored by white-coated Douwe Egberts coffee scienticians with names like Freek and Geert and Maarten, it’s always brewed perfectly. Since they can guarantee the conditions under which the coffee will be brewed, they can probably manage to use lower-quality coffee, so Burger King can sell the resulting excellent product for $0.90, with unlimited refills to boot.

And that’s not all. At the particular Burger King I go to, they use the new Dart Optima lid. Small things matter, and they usually matter quite a lot. The Dart Optima lid is sold primarily on the basis of its reclosability. In this department it’s not bad at all, but I don’t think that this is where it really shines.

What’s super-fantastic about the Dart Optima lid is its shape. The top has a crescent-shaped rise on the top of it, with the hole for drinking out of at the highest point of the crescent:


This raised crescent serves three purposes:

  1. It allows you to find the drinking hole without looking at the cup and without sticking your finger in the coffee. This is particularly useful if you’re drinking coffee while driving.
  2. When drinking, you wrap your lips around the crescent as if you were getting ready to suck someone’s nose. As you tip the cup up, you can feel the heat of the coffee with your lips through the plastic: this helps you avoid accidentally pouring a lot of scalding-hot coffee into your mouth if you have misjudged the level and temperature of the coffee in the cup.
  3. It makes the cups easier to carry.


You can easily and securely carry two cups with this lid in one hand by stacking them and grabbing the stack between the two cups, pulling the top cup against the raised crescent on the bottom cup’s lid.

I don’t think that any of these things are accidents. Somewhere in a top-secret research bunker near Lansing, there’s someone who sat down and thought about how something as invisible and mundane as the design of coffee cup lids could make life better.

So get yourself to Burger King, and see whether their coffee isn’t better than Starbucks’, at less than half the price. And while you’re there, be sure to appreciate the lids. If your Burger King doesn’t use them, they’re pretty reliably found at Dunkin’ Donuts — which, unfortunately, has inferior coffee.

Posted by tino at 13:58 30.05.05
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I’ve got family in the Netherlands and I’ve never heard the name Freek. Not that my experience is to be taken as authoritative. Anyway …

The problem with coffee isn’t so much that the beans are the most important ingredient (which, well, they are), but that so many factors weigh into the cup besides the source(1) and roast(2) of the beans (namely, their freshness, the freshness and purity of the water, the temperature of the water, how long the brewed coffee sits exposed to oxygen, blah-de-blah-de-blah).

The risk with the coffee concentrate that DE uses would be that it would oxidize somewhere in the process, since that’s what makes coffee smell, as my college roommate put it, like cat piss (coffee is generally acidic, but oxidized coffee smells and tastes much more acrid). Other than that the risks are very much in line with those of “fresh brewed” coffee (bad water, bad temperature, unclean parts, etc). If you assume that the Dutch coffeeologists have figured out a way to keep the machine clean and within operating tolerances, and that there’s a good filter for the water that the BK employees keep clean (no minor feat, considering our experiences with BK — insert link to dynamic pricing page here), the DE machine very well should produce at least as good a cuppa as your local Starbucks.

Now. Whether it is in fact better than the Starbucks goes somewhat to personal taste and the consistency of each’s sourcing and production operations. Since I personally feel that Starbucks consistently overroasts its beans (“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson put it, but he may not have been thinking of coffee at the time) I can probably give the nod to Douwe Egberts based on my experience their prepackaged supermarket coffee without even trying the machines at BK.

1) I don’t go as far as to seek out the beans from civet dung (although their existence wasn’t actually news to me either) but I do think that coffee beans themselves are as peculiar and as strongly related to the resulting drink as grapes are to wine — and they’re known to be sensitive to climate and soil, as are grapes (I don’t claim to know whether the one is more or less sensitive than the other, but the ridiculous prices people pay for certain beans (Jamaican Blue Mountain to name one) or for certain wines (whatever the favorite snooty square mile of Bordeaux is this year) do make one think that the prices maybe aren’t quite in line with the differences in source quality.

2) As also with the production of wine, the roasting is where the coffee scientician shows his expertise and his tastes. And as too many wines are either “big and fruity” (the trendy Zinfandel and, until “Sideways,” Merlot) or “oaky” (all those Chardonnays with way too much mallolactic fermentation), too many coffee roasters go for a very dark roast, which to me tends to destroy (or, perhaps intentionally, mask) the flavor of any given bean. And as we’re now seeing a backlash against “big fruit” (and a smaller Chardonnay backlash involving aging the wine in steel instead of oak), I hope we’ll see a backlash against overroasted beans.

Posted by: fedward at May 30, 2005 07:56 PM

The DE concentrate is shipped in some kind of bag-in-box arrangement, I think, which precludes oxidization unless something goes horribly wrong — in which case the stuff probably wouldn’t be drunk anyway.

The resulting coffee does seem to oxidize more rapidly than ordinarily once it’s in the cup, though. By the time that’s happened, though, it’s cold anyway.

As far as the filter — the smart thing to do would be to match the capacity of the filter to the capacity of the concentrate reservoir, and then package both of them as one cartridge: replace the coffee juice and you replace the filter as well. I don’t think they actually do this, but as I’ve never had off-tasting coffee from one of these machines, they must have some system that works.

And I hope that the burnt-roast business falls out of fashion, too: all this burnt coffee lacks subtlety. Maybe BK is the vanguard.

Posted by: Tino at May 30, 2005 08:25 PM

That’s really interesting. I wonder how they brew it back at the factory — it sounds like it might even be cold-brewed. Poindexter now uses the Toddy Cafe to cold brew his coffee, and it makes a concentrate that has none of the harsh acids or burnt taste of hot-brewed coffee. It’s very pure — it tastes more like the coffee smells. He’s really happy with it.

Posted by: Evelynne at May 30, 2005 08:56 PM

I’m not a coffee snob, but on the rare times the sinus are clear, I find coffee made from cold concentrate pretty tasty. It sure doesn’t sound appealing to most people, though.

I always thought it would work out well for hiking, but everyone I’ve ever gone with has been pretty happy with a teabag (I’m OK with just pills).

Of course, when I make cold process coffee, I use an obscenely expensive, high tech devise known as a used mayonnaise jar.

Posted by: steel at May 30, 2005 09:53 PM

Burger King has the worst tasting coffee! However, Hardees has the best tasting coffee. I paid $1.59 for a cup of coffee at the TA in Whitestown, IN. Outrageous prices!

Posted by: at October 29, 2005 10:54 AM

I think coffee is almost as complicated as wine. Everyone likes something different, and there’s a heck of a lot that can change.

Some people like the burnt beans, some don’t. Some like Chardonnay that’s others classify as “like licking an oak tree”

BK coffee is definitely the king of fast food coffee, but I’m pretty tolerant of the genre. It has to be HOT, it can’t taste sour and if it’s not good coffee to begin with, it can’t be brewed super strong. (I’m thinking of Waffle House here..)

You know who’s coffee is consistently not hot enough to even withstand half and half? Panera. They are doing something wrong with those thermoses.

Posted by: Nicole at October 29, 2005 08:46 PM

I don’t care about the coffee… but the Dart Optima lids- ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.

I encountered one of these for my first time at a local coffee shop in my area and was so impressed I am half tempted to order the box of 1000 for the folks in my church to enjoy.

Posted by: at November 17, 2005 11:29 PM

I absolutely love BK coffee. I am so addicted to it that we stop constantly for just the coffee. My husband loves it too. We stop at least 2 times a day and many time 3 times a day for a “fix”. I want to know how to get this same coffee at home.

Posted by: at December 20, 2005 06:43 PM