HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


When judging the quality of a diner, how important is the coffee?

In reading this thread about our favorite diners (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/888336), there was nary a mention about coffee.

It was mostly about food (and rightfully so, no doubt), but I am wondering if the quality of the coffee ever comes into play in how you view or judge the quality of a diner, or diner experience.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I spent the first 32 years of my life living in New Jersey and put in a lot of time in a lot of diners. To my recollection, the coffee was usually tolerable, never excellent, and sometimes just plain nasty (Royal Diner on Rt.22 in Somerset County).

    2 Replies
    1. re: grampart

      So, I'll take that as a "doesn't matter"?

      1. re: ipsedixit

        Especially at 2 a.m after the bars closed. Very true of the Royal Diner which was across the highway from a favorite watering hole, The Shamrock. DUI's weren't so common back in the early 1970's, but it didn't hurt to sober up a bit before heading home.

    2. Hey, I mentioned coffee on that thread: "The coffee is always fresh and strong." Not necessarily great, but strong ;)

      2 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          I had to check the other thread myself as I was thinking "Really, I didn't mention the coffee?" :)

      1. Very important to anywhere I dine, but esp. important for me with breakfast at a diner.

        1. Frankly, not very important. Any coffee neither burnt nor watery is as good as I'd dare expect. I rate diners more on their egg and toast technique, and sausage quality. Bonus for waitresses who call me "hon'" every so often.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Bada Bing

            I'm with you, Bada Bing. Brown crayon water is de rigeur to the diner experience but the eggs, toast, hashbrowns and bacon better be spot on. "Hon" is great, beehives optional :-).

            1. re: grayelf

              Well, yes--the beehive is generally a home run...

            2. re: Bada Bing

              What Bada Bing said. I can deal with meh coffee; I want my over-easy eggs done over-easy. Not over-hard. Not over-runny whites. And bacon should be crisp. And please... PLEASE make sure you toast the English muffin?

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  Untoasted English muffin is about as edible as leather shoes.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    I ditto your ditto. Funny that I, too, am an over-easy eggs fan, and that's one of those styles that can go way wrong when a place is not on its game. And the toast is crucial in going along with it.

                2. coffee is very important in a diner. It must been hot, fresh and full bodied. IMHO

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: golfer1

                    I agree with golfer1, it MUST be hot, fresh and full bodied at a diner or it will ruin my meal. And if the coffee fails to deliver (and lately diners have) I order a milk shake or a tall glass of grapefruit juice and get my coffee fix elsewhere.

                  2. In my world Diner=Breakfast and Breakfast=Coffee.
                    I've rarely had a bad cup of coffee in a diner. Probably because of the volume so it does not havre a chance to get stale or burned.
                    Worse cup was at a "Friendly's". So, so weak!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Motosport

                      I've rarely had a good cup in a diner, as opposed to a restaurant that serves breakfast. But then I haven't eaten breakfast in a diner in 20 years so maybe they've improved their coffee.

                    2. Depends on if I will be going for breakfast.
                      I don't drink coffee everyday or all day.
                      Good food trumps good coffee since I probably on average drink one cup of coffee per month maximum!

                      1. Unimportant to me. I think it is very hard to find a good cup of coffee anywhere. So I expect my post-meal coffee at a fancy restaurant to be pretty good, but I don't hold diners to that standard. If the coffee is hot and relatively strong, it will go well with my fried eggs, help with my hangover, and I'll be pleased.

                        1. Anyone read the Jack Reacher books? Now that is a man who has an opinion on diner coffee.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Motosport

                            And diner apple pie.

                            Tom Cruise did not do that character any justice.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Yup. Stopped reading those books after they castes him. Ruined it for me.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Tom Cruise, OUCH!!!
                                I re-read the book just to see all of the things Hollywood changed. So many!!
                                Why so many cleavage shots? I am a red blooded American man but too much of a good thing..................

                            2. Lousy coffee will make us delete a diner from our rotation forever. Plus, a diner with good coffee and serving real half and half (or better yet, heavy cream) will make us overlook so-so food.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: pine time

                                In the days when I drank coffee light, cream was my preference too. Never added sugar tho. But now that I drink coffee black, a lousy cup just ruins the meal. If the rest of the diner meal was great, I'll just stop ordering the java there in the future.

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  At home, 100% of the time, I drink coffee black. It's only at diners that I love the added creaminess of 1/2 and 1/2, so if it's missing (or those "cremes" are substituted), it's a no-go.

                              2. The three or four diners in my rotation serve uniformly bad coffee: weak. If I'm ordering a beverage, for breakfast it would be tomato juice; for lunch or later, a pop.

                                1. Honey, I'd be happy just to FIND a diner in West Georgia!

                                  1. Not at all, but I judge a diner by its chocolate milk. Don't give me white milk with Quik stirred in---yuck! I read Reacher and couldn't hang with him.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: wadejay26

                                      My hubby judges diners by milk shakes and/or pie.

                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        The diners with the best cheesecake got our attention and, for breakfasts, pork roll was a must. Good NJ diners usually offered both.

                                        1. re: grampart

                                          So true and I know my hubby would agree w/you!

                                      2. re: wadejay26

                                        Choclate egg creams are my choice of beverage at a diner, and they had better be good (and no whip cream on top, please!) Coffee I'm not as picky.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          Back in the day" on one of my cross country jaunts we stopped at a diner in the Mid west.
                                          I ask if they had egg creams? The answer was "Huh?"
                                          The place was friendly, homey and not too busy so I offered to make one and they said OK.
                                          I made a few for ourselves, the staff and a couple of counter patrons. I love bringing smiles.........
                                          On the way back East a month later guess what was on their menu?

                                      3. For me? EXTREMELY. Since 99.9% of the time I'm in a diner to enjoy breakfast, I want GOOD coffee. Not watery. Not burnt. Not tasting like it's been warming for 2 hours. Nice, fresh, decent coffee. Nothing "gourmet". Just fresh, decent coffee.

                                        1. Nope. I expect pre-ground frak paks of crappy commercial-quality coffee and am usually never disappointed. You can't serve good coffee when you offer unlimited refills, the economics just don't work.

                                          However, I was surprised last time I went to a Denny's that I could stomach what they were serving black, which rarely ever happens in a diner-esque setting.

                                          1. Extremely important. Maybe I'm spoiled but living in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is no excuse for weak or tasteless coffee. If I diner doesn't have the java, I don't come back.

                                            1. The coffee has to be stellar. I'm extremely particular about my coffee and if the diner doesn't make the attempt to focus on it (it's really not that difficult) then I'm probably not coming back.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                "Stellar"? So the diners you go to grind specialty-grade beans fresh to order and brew in small quantities so the coffee never sits for more than 20 minutes?

                                                1. re: Panini Guy

                                                  Well, um, I doubt it where I live.

                                                  However, where I'm born and raised and the coffee is consumed like water where I live. Definitely yes yes yes.

                                              2. Quality doesn't matter but quantity does. We judge diners on their ability to keep the mug full.

                                                  1. As I get older and longer in the jowl, diners are less likely to be a place for greasy 2am (3am, 4am?) fare and more likely to be a place for 9am/10am eggs or some other type of breakfast fare -- Mrs. Hambone and the little Hamhocks in tow.

                                                    Along with this change the importance of the coffee increases. It doesn't have to be gourmet, but never burnt and don't make me wait too long for it.

                                                    I missed the previous thread but in light of this I'll give a special shout out to Brooklyn's Dizzy's. An amazing cup of joe and a nice breakfast.

                                                    1. Well, my answer is dependent on just exactly what kind of "diner" experience I'm looking for, because what I consider a diner may be very far away from what someone else considers it to be. At a revamped diner-style restaurant, I do want really decent, house-ground coffee....but that, to me is not an actual diner. When I go to a diner diner, aluminium-bag foodservice-delivered coffee is not only fine, but the preferable standard, not because I loooooooove it so much but because it fits the gestalt of the place. Call me a purist.

                                                      1. Danger! Danger! Warning, Will Robinson!

                                                        THREAD DRIFT APPROACHING!!!


                                                        Coffee in restaurants is always important. Unfortunately, it *generally* (not just diners, but high-end "destination" restaurants, too) SUCKS!

                                                        There are a handful of high-end places that may have a number of little French Presses and brew to order. But for the most part, whether it's a "greasy spoon" or a "white table cloth" establishment, the beans are all too often stale and pre-ground, and the brew has been sitting on the burner too long.

                                                        And let's not get started on espresso . . . most restaurants have somehow acquired the knack of making even *$ look good.

                                                        13 Replies
                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          While I don't expect high grade coffee at a diner, I do expect freshly brewed coffee. I even ask "how old is that pot of coffee?" and while the server could lie, the taste would give it away. Most of the time, they'll offer to brew a fresh pot or I outright ask.

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            Not too important because at least diner coffee isn't generally dark roast. I know I am not alone in loathing the burnt tinge of dark roast, which seems to be ubiquitous in fine dining restaurants. Topping off a great, expensive meal with something that tastes like it's been on the stove all day really downgrades the experience. Would that it wouldn't be overboard-tacky to bring some from home, or a styrofoam cup from Dunkin Donuts!

                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              Dark roasts aren't supposed to taste burnt.

                                                              1. re: grampart

                                                                "Supposed to" and "do" are two different things. (And they almost always do.)

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  I roast my own beans to what's referred to as a Full City+. It's dark, but never tastes burned. Now, if It were to be left on a burner for any length of time, it would have that nasty taste. The same would be true of a light roast left on heat for too long.

                                                                  1. re: grampart

                                                                    Perhaps it's me, but I would *never* describe FC+ as "dark" -- neither would most roasters I know.

                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                      So, to you and your roaster friends, the oils have to be dripping off the bean before you would consider it dark?

                                                                      1. re: grampart

                                                                        No. But FC+ is the "end of the line" (just going into 2nd crack). Anything further and I *do* consider that "dark."


                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          I usually go into the 2nd crack about 5-10 seconds. Maybe that's Fc++. FYI, Peet's coffees are loved by many and most are considered dark roasts. My point was that diner and restaurant coffee is rarely (if ever) roasted on site and maybe, in the case of a fine restaurant, freshly ground. If folks think it too often tastes burned, then I maintain that it is the result of sitting on a burner too long and not because the establishment is being supplied with over-roasted ground coffee.

                                                                          1. re: grampart

                                                                            The original Peet's (Walnut & Vine, Berkeley) is right down the street from me. Yes, Peet's DOES roast "dark" -- save their new, lighter roasts -- but at their darkest, they were never as dark as "Charbux." I enjoy a freshly brewed cup of Peet's, but I'd never use it for espresso -- my main form of coffee consumption.

                                                                            Millions of people also love *$, but I find it undrinkable. It always reminds me of my favorite piece of graffiti from the '60s: "Eat $#|+ 50 million flies CAN'T be wrong!"

                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                              Regarding *$, agreed! I usually get my green beans from Sweet Maria's and have tried varieties from all over the world. The only ones I really don't care for are the Ethiopian Dry Process and, believe it or not, Blue Mountain. The cost may have me expecting too much, but I'll never buy it again. True Kona is a different story.

                                                                            2. re: grampart

                                                                              In the FWIW Dept.

                                                                              Home (black counter top) and Office (white tabletop).

                                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                                Oh yeah, you're definitely into it.

                                                            2. I care about my coffee but given how little choice I have for diners in my area, I know to leave all my coffee expectations at the door when going into one.

                                                              To me, the diner experience is all about the signature greasy dish(es), and the coffee is really just something hot and strong enough to wash it all down. So, while strong is preferred, I think I am happy as long as it is not overly burnt or acidic.

                                                              1. It is pretty important to me. I want it strong, hot, and fresh. The quality of home fries is a bit more important, however.

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: tcamp

                                                                  Amen on the potatoes, and the corned beef hash. Real maple syrup, too.

                                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                                    OK, THAT is a huge peeve. I'm OK with being charged extra for the real stuff, but make sure you *offer* the real maple syrup. Not just pancake syrup.

                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                      I dunno.

                                                                      Really? You think it's obligatory that a diner have real maple syrup?

                                                                      What if it's just some gas station pit stop in the middle of nowhere serving cheap grub, but hot and fresh coffee?

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                        It's not obligatory. It's their prerogative as to what to offer. But it IS my preference and sole desire if I'm having pancakes or waffles.

                                                                        If I see little plastic containers with rip-off tops sitting on the diner counter or booths in carry-trays, I order eggs or something that doesn't require syrup.

                                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                          What?? You don't put syrup on your eggs? :-)

                                                                2. I generally find diner coffee in the United States to be universally weak and flavorless. However, that doesn't seem to be related at all to the quality of the food. So, in answer to your question I'd say it is not a good indicator of a good diner.

                                                                  1. My ham n' eggs breakfast wherever I go
                                                                    Is usually fine, but one thing that I know
                                                                    What pleases me most
                                                                    Isn't hash browns and toast
                                                                    It's a perfectly brewed cuppa JOE!

                                                                    1. Coffee at a diner has to be cheap, hot, and available. I don't care about anything else.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. Gotta to be simple, robust, fresh and plentiful. No fru..fru stuff.

                                                                        1. For me, the quality of coffee anywhere is really important. My assessment of a place goes way up if the quality of the coffee, including how it is prepared and presented, is excellent.

                                                                          1. coffee is an after thought in even fine restaurants so not much thought to me. Best coffee is had at home for me