Indiana Jeff and the Coffee Aisle of Doom

Roughly six months ago on a lazy Saturday morning, I crawled out of bed with one eye open and trudged into the kitchen to make the morning coffee for my girlfriend and me. Not suspecting the horrible fate awaiting me, I poured a fresh pot of water into the coffee maker, inserted the filter, and opened the freezer to retrieve the coffee. I found a brand-new bag of Superior Brand chocolate hazelnut, opened the bag, and poured the freshly ground coffee into the filter. I pressed the on button and sat back to wait for my delicious brew. After a few minutes I poured the coffee into cups, added milk and sugar, and raised the steaming mug to my lips.

I promptly spit the foul-tasting concoction all over the refrigerator door.

This was not chocolate hazelnut! Instead, my taste buds registered the revolting taste of chocolate cherry. Hearing me sputter, my girlfriend came into the kitchen to see what was wrong. While cleaning off the refrigerator I explained the injustice. She tried her cup and found it to be drinkable, but disappointing. She swore she’d taken the coffee beans out of the bin marked chocolate hazelnut, but agreed with me that what we actually had was chocolate cherry. I reached for an emergency jar of Folgers Crystals and vowed to resolve this java travesty.

Later, on Sunday we went back to the Stop & Shop in North Andover where the offending coffee was originally purchased. We found the Superior Brand coffee assortment and the bin for the chocolate hazelnut. Turning the dispensing handle we emptied a few beans into a bag. They say the nose knows, and our noses knew that this was, in fact, chocolate cherry. “Maybe the top layer is pure, and we could scoop from the top of the bin.” I thought, and we pulled the bin off of the shelf and were amazed with the criminal evidence that lay before us. Different flavors of coffee were layered like different colored sediments in an archeological record. When we opened the top of the acrylic bin we were hit with the sickly sweet smell of “snickerdoodle.”

Clearly whoever stocked the bins had no respect for the holy bean. To satisfy our hazelnut cravings we searched the bins of the competing brand, Millstone coffee. They simply didn’t make a chocolate hazelnut. Instead, we had to settle for hazelnut creme. To add insult to injury, Millstone coffee was more expensive than Superior Brand. After checking that the beans in the Millstone hazelnut bin were actually hazelnut, I stomped off to talk to a store manager, and explained the situation. He seemed to understand the problem, and said it would be fixed by the next day. Satisfied, we left naively expecting that things would be fixed before the next time we came to the supermarket.

For the next several weeks, we made do with the hazelnut creme. I sorely missed the combination of chocolate, hazelnut, and coffee flavors. The morning ritual had been violated and our morning domestic bliss disturbed. “There has got to be a way to bring chocolate back into the coffee equation” I thought, and in a fit of culinary brilliance I reached for my old friend, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup. While this concoction did in fact taste better than the original coffee from chocolate hazelnut beans, my personal sense of justice and fairness was still rankled that they mixed beans in the bin. When our bag of Millstone hazelnut creme began to get low we ventured yet again into the sacred coffee aisle.

We wanted to believe that the manager had kept his word, but we were wary. Keeping our fingers crossed, we slid the coffee hazelnut bin off the shelf. The multihued stripes of different flavors of coffee were still evident, but had shifted down indicating other customers had suffered the same fate as we. Our hopes for the return to morning satisfaction were dashed. At this point I was downright insulted. I yanked every bin in the Superior coffee display checking for coffee corruption. Over half of them exhibited evidence of flavor mixing!

This time I insisted that the manager follow me to the coffee aisle to view the carnage himself. This was a different manager than before, and I explained the problem in excruciating detail, pulling the coffee bins out to show him exactly what the problem was. He explained that the supplier refilled the coffee bins and that he would call the supplier to have them come out and fix it. Desperate, we asked if we could purchase an unopened bag of our favorite chocolate hazelnut coffee, but the store didn’t have any untainted bags in reserve. Worn down further, your heroes ground another couple bags of Millstone hazelnut coffee and headed back to base camp to lick our wounds.

We watched our frozen supply of hazelnut creme beans go down with a skeptical eye over the coming weeks. We knew we would have to venture back to the scene of the crime, but we had found something that, while not the “holy grail” of coffee, sufficed.

Then, it was time. I came with modern weaponry, prepared to escalate the conflict–pen and some paper to write down contact information for Superior coffee in case I had to complain directly to the company. Entering the store we made a beeline for the coffee aisle. As we turned the corner we realized something had gone terribly, horribly wrong.

Our backup coffee brand was gone. The display had been rearranged. The archaeological dig in the Superior bins remained. Your heroes were demoralized. All hope of a resolution by Stop and Shop management was abandoned. Our last ray of hope was to locate some kind of address, phone number or web site information on the Superior coffee bins and bags. We should have known better. My girlfriend was paralyzed with coffee angst. I was adrift, searching for something, anything that would do.

I happened upon a lone bag of Eight O’ Clock hazelnut coffee beans. “Ah!!” I thought, “We may have a substitute!” Not wanting to get my girlfriend’s hope up just yet, I looked around further. This brand of coffee is pre-bagged, which eliminates the possibility of in-store flavor contamination. “Ah, now we’re on to something!” I thought. “I’ll open the bag, dump the coffee in the grinder, place the bag around the spout, and we’ll be all set. It’s not chocolate hazelnut, but it’s at least something.” You can not possibly imagine your hero’s frustration when I turned to find that the one and only grinder in the aisle with all the flavored coffee beans was labeled:

“Unflavored coffee only.”

World-weary and beleaguered by mortal stupidity, we asked forgiveness from the coffee gods and ground our flavored beans in the unflavored grinder. (Our apologies to the next person who used the grinder.)

The next morning, we eyed the coffeepot with jaded skepticism. As we cautiously tasted the coffee the next morning, we realized that we had triumphed! The Eight O’ Clock hazelnut coffee blended perfectly with the Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup! Your heroes, content with their prize, retired blissfully to the cushy couch.

We can only hope that next time we venture into the coffee aisle of doom, our prize will still be available. May the coffee gods be kinder to you in your quest for the perfect cup of morning coffee satisfaction.

Jeff Albro’s recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Coffee:

  1. Fill three-quarters of your cup with hazelnut coffee (Eight O’Clock recommended).
  2. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.
  3. Add a 4 second squirt of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup (with the cap pulled fully open).
  4. Stir.
  5. Fill the rest of the way with milk.
  6. Stir again.
  7. Enjoy, preferably on a cushy couch.

(Written in 2001.)

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