Oberlin Blogs

On Instant Coffee

January 13, 2021

Ben Smith ’24

My earliest memories of coffee are harrowing: bustling out of the front door at what seemed like the brink of dawn every school morning–a picture made incomplete without my dad’s 20 oz. cup of coffee in hand as we rushed to the car fifteen minutes behind schedule. From the pungent odor to the unappealing dirty color, coffee just didn’t appeal to me. Its inherent bitterness was palpable, and my disgust was immeasurable. What’s more, I remember being quite happy with this distaste–largely in part to my never-ending childhood quest to be “different.” Growing up, my parents always drank the Folgers Classic Medium Roast Ground Coffee which, to me, became synonymous with the horrid bitterness I loathed. It boggled my mind how someone could subject themselves to drinking a liquid with such an appalling existence–where is the appeal? I could not even bring myself to give it a taste. Eventually, though, I grew out of this phase, accepted the reality that I am destined to be a coffee drinker, and began to reap the benefits of drinking coffee on a regular basis. 

Now, I must admit, Starbucks will always hold a very special place in my heart. Does this make me the quintessential coffee-drinker-who-doesn’t-drink-real-coffee? I’d argue there is a gray area, but I’ll leave it at this: I would not have started enjoying coffee if it weren’t for the fun syrupy coffees that Starbucks is known for. It’s a great starting point where you’re right on the verge of enjoying the occasional $5-8 splurge and completely going off the deep end into a caffeine addiction. Pick your battles. 

When I began preparing for my first semester at Oberlin, I knew a coffee maker (with an automatic shutoff) was an absolute essential. As many sleep-deprived high schoolers can attest, showing up to school without being tired is an impossible task. Between the homework, clubs, extracurricular activities, and sports (the list goes on), the hours of sleep I cherished gradually dissipated into thin air, leaving a trail of exhaustion in their wake. As fate would have it, I began drinking coffee on a daily basis during my junior and senior years of high school to counter this limitless fatigue. And what kind of coffee? Well, none other than that blasted Folgers. With enough milk and creamer of choice, though, I actually grew to enjoy the taste and the smell (six-year-old me is reeling). I branched out slightly in my last two years of high school, trying the Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks brand ground coffees. Of these, I preferred the Dunkin Donuts coffee, in particular the French Vanilla flavor. Finally, a coffee that was not bitter!  It was a grand discovery–a pivotal moment in my coffee connoisseur journey. The Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla Medium Roast became my go-to and, as part of my first Walmart run at Oberlin, I grabbed a modest 20 oz. bag to last me the first couple weeks. Spoiler alert: it lasted me the entire semester. 

After getting settled the first few weeks at Oberlin, enjoying my usual Dunkin Donuts coffee every morning, I went on a walk through downtown Oberlin that changed the course of my coffee journey. My destination: Kim’s Grocery & Carryout. Back home, my mom and I would make a weekly trip to H-Mart on the way to my flute lessons. We loved it, often getting boba on our way out after doing a small grocery haul. Knowing I would not have access to an H-Mart at Oberlin, I was very curious about Kim’s once I knew of its existence. Upon arriving that fateful afternoon, its quaint interior piqued my curiosity further. Of course, it was not nearly as big as H-Mart, but I just had a good feeling about it. As I did some shopping, picking up kimchi and instant tteokbokki, my eyes glazed across a large golden bag of individually packaged coffees that read: “모카 골드 마일드 카피 믹스” (moka goldeu maildeu kapi mig seu). I scanned the bag to see the translation and found it to read Mocha Gold Mild, Coffee, Milk, [and] Sugar. The brand was Maxim, and the pitch was 100 individual instant coffee packages for $20.00. I walked out that day with the single best purchase of 2020.

As the name suggests, the magic of instant coffee is how remarkably simple it is to make. For the Maxim brand of instant coffee, the coffee powder is at the top of the package, while the powdered milk and sugar are at the bottom. If you open the package and pinch the bottom as you pour, you're able to control the amount of milk and sugar that is desired. Design: ingenious. Practicality: immense. Enjoyment: infinite. (Hotel: Trivago.) After my first instant coffee, I never went back to the ground coffee of my past; the taste and energy boost of the instant coffee were just far superior. Initially, this surprised me. How could something so easy be so much better? The process of making instant coffee consisted of two steps: emptying the instant coffee package into a cup and filling said cup with hot water. The instant coffee flavor is not as intense as ground coffee, but it is smoother and creamier. To combat this, though, Maxim has three additional flavors: Original, White Gold, and Decaffeinated. Each flavor has its own combination of coffee, milk, and sugar to make for a more or less intense coffee flavor depending on a person’s preference. There’s something for everyone! 

Getting off my soapbox now, I knew that after arriving home, I was not going to have access to my new and improved coffee routine. How was I going to survive? Go back to the olden days of Folgers? The thought was spine-chilling. So, after a few days of tolerating the Folgers, I caved and ordered a box of 100 Maxim Mocha Gold Instant Coffees from Amazon. My parents, creatures of habit, were curious as to what I was babbling on about since arriving home, so they each tried one. And now, after almost two months of being home, they have ordered another pack of 100 Maxim Mocha Gold Instant Coffees for themselves after I leave for Oberlin. My job here is done. 

Me smiling whilst holding various coffees and teas I received as Christmas gifts.
Me smiling whilst holding various coffees and teas I received as Christmas gifts.


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