The Human Bean

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

some people drink Pepsi / some people drink Coke / the wacky morning DJ says democracy's a joke
-Cake, "Building a Religion"

Some people drink The Human Bean, some people drink Dutch Bros.. Every coffee-drinking Ashlander has this choice as he or she drives north out of Ashland. The two drive-thrus are all of about two-hundred feet from one another and can inspire strong allegiances. That both have enough business to stay afloat is a testament to how ravenous Ashland is for coffee.

My father is for the most part indiscriminate about which he drives "thru" on the many road trips northward I've accompanied him on. The determining factor for him, he says, is which has a shorter line. He used to say he likes Dutch Bros. because of the Columbian roast they use for their regular coffee (not an espresso fan, his habit is a big cup of brewed coffee with "a big slug" of half-and-half). I think my mother preferred The Human Bean, but I could be making this up. It would make sense though: The Human Bean seems more her style. My girlfriend's father insists upon The Human Bean, I don't exactly know why. Perhaps he likes the girls there better.


In case there's any question in the matter: I am an idiot. My plan was to get coffee from both Dutch Bros. and The Human Bean. But obviously I couldn't allow Dutch Bros. to see the The Human Bean cup in my cupholder when I pulled up to their drive-thru. That would be far to embarrassing. Far better to put the The Human Bean cup on the floor. Cupholders aren't really there for any reason--certainly not holding the cup upright, so that its contents don't spill out. My comparison, largely a stain on the passenger seat floor, was mostly botched. But my small taste of The Human Bean coffee had me wishing I had spilled the other cup. There is something gross about swallows of Dutch Bros. coffee: It tastes strangely syrupy, medicinal, especially when it starts getting cold. Candy coffee. It's a familiar taste for me, though, from several road trips to Portland and back. Even though Dutch Bros. hasn't expanded beyond the West, it's far more ubiquitous than The Human Bean. Grants Pass vs Ashland.

Of course The Human Bean started in Ashland. Just the name is so Ashland, and just look at that white feminine ghost of coffee steam rising out of the cup, holding its palms up in some pose of at-one-with-the-world grooviness. Yet somehow this part of their logo is surrounded by harsh, modern fonts and an equally modern, red cup. The slick slid its way across the country into North Carolina, spreading its wispy, hippy Coffee Elemental.

So--and now my father says he agrees with me--if you're looking for brewed coffee, The Human Bean is the place to go. (I can't believe I just made an endorsement. This blog has never been in the habit of doing anything so helpful as reviewing.) Of course, with just a tiny bit of suggestion, it's easy to become convinced of something's goodness. When Scott told me that the coffee at Dutch Bros. was Columbian, the next time I got Dutch Bros. coffee I was convinced Columbian was a good thing. It would not have mattered what it tasted like; thus named, that taste became what I wanted.

My secret cargo of The Human Bean coffee cleverly hidden from view in the carpet, I noticed that Dutch Bros. this morning was running on two boys (they sell bumper stickers that read "runs on Dutch Bros.," while Dutch Bros. runs on someone), while girls were on both sides of the The Human Bean booth. Which, however tiny my "sample size" is (one), makes me wonder about The Human Bean's hiring practices. It's rumored that they do not hire anyone male. If my uncle's refusal to go to Dutch Bros. because of the "hairy boys" is any indication, this would be a wise, though cynical business decision for The Human Bean: The drive-thru becomes not just a purveyor of coffee, but of opportunities for dirty old men to gawk. Assuming that gawkers of the female form comprise a large part of their cliclientèleThere are also rumors that one guy drove up to The Human Bean booth without pants, and that someone else gave a $100 tip.


The Dutch Bros. website has inspired me, I must say. If we are to believe their website, they inhabit a kind of high school PSA utopia. While The Human Bean markets coffee, Dutch Bros. markets the happy, shiny customer. It could be said that the latter is more sophisticated marketing, but it is also more patronizing.

"Here at Dutch Bros., we're all about being positive and lovin' life." They have "come across" the Optimist's Creed (which they've inexplicably encased in quotation marks), and renamed it The Dutch Creed. Need I really make reference to "the ultimate content of the superego" to explain the sense of mild horror this gives me?

Dutch Bros., as they insist on calling themselves (much like Luigi and Mario are not brothers, but Bros.), even have a "Cyberbowl." Their website does not elucidate for me what exactly a "Cyberbowl" is. All I know is that it's an "online football game" which makes it possible to "WinFREECoffeeforOneYear!" (Yes yes, I know, that isn't really written all as one word, it's just typeset to have virtually no spaces between words.)

The website asks the quequestions a drive-through coffee franchise somehow lacking if it doesn't sell its own branded clothing? What's incredible about the "DutchWear" store is that it can't seem to find decent photos of the clothing. The image that links to the women's section shows a care-free girl in a pink sweater, but blown up from half the image's resolution, so that she's blurry in that special resizing algorithm way. The men's section boasts an image at the correct resolution, but the photoshop work, which places a bland guy in a black t-shirt in front of the obligatory background of purple rays of light, was botched. His whole body is haloed with a thin line of white, presumably from what he was actually photographed in front of. The last two sections ("outer" and "hats") seem to've avoided catastrophe, which just makes the errors of the first two more inexplicable. Is their web designer lazy? Underpaid? The relative or friend of some upper-level management, whose poor work everyone has to put up with? Did the photographer somehow fail to provide a photo of the girl in the pink sweater of more than 218x218 pixels? Did they filch her photo, somehow, from elsewhere on the internet?


I didn't have an allegiance to either of the rival Southern Oregon drive-thru espresso chains, but this post, I admit, has been for the most part an excuse to bash Dutch Bros.. I am after all from Ashland, not Grants Pass. Banners strung across Grants Pass (or Grant's Pants) proclaim that "It's The Climate!" What exactly its climate explains, I don't know. But perhaps it has had some mysterious effect upon Dutch Bros., an effect that has been passed on to us, its customers.

As far as The Human Bean having an Ashlandizing effect upon its increasingly wide customer base, I think I'm so fargone I couldn't possibly perceive it. The name would have us believe that it does not purvey the particular, but the universal. Which is so Ashland. COEXIST.