In Praise of Cheap Coffee

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With prices for a simple cup of coffee approaching $4.00 at some national coffee-tailers -- and my own addiction to espresso leading to a recent home appliance purchase that cost as much as a low-end HDTV (check it, sucka) -- it's high time to look back with nostalgic fondness at the cheap coffee of the past, some of which is still being served.

Where can I get this cheap coffee, you ask? If you live in Los Angeles, you're in luck; there are several spots. A little Googling found a few more spread around the country -- rare finds worth a visit if only to shake the owner's hand and say, "thanks!" (By the way, if you can find a cheaper cup, let us know. We're there.)

25-cent coffee

There are at least two places to get coffee for a quarter these days: McDonald's, provided you're a senior and can prove it, and a little joint in Phoenix, Arizona called Chloe's Corner. (Unlike most cheap-coffee emporiums, where the price of coffee is a holdover from days gone by, Chloe's opened recently, in 2005. It's called retro-chic, apparently.) Pictured at right: not McDonald's.

20-cent coffee

20-cent coffee is a little harder to come by: apparently, it's not a number that appeals to restaurant owners. As of this Googling, however, there were just two places I could find that offered it: Ethiopia (where, like everything probably, the Macchiatos are cheap), and at Portland, Oregon's Pearl Street Bakery -- though unfortunately this seems to have been a temporary promotion (but I bet if you go there and guilt-trip them about it, they'll cave and give you some 20-cent coffee anyway).

15-cent coffee

coffee.jpgAlhambra, California's The Hat has been around since 1951, and their coffee has been $0.15 ever since then. (At right is a snap of their menu to prove it.) But what The Hat is really proud of is their pastrami (their website claims that Hat customers "consume 15 tons of pastrami every year"), and their over-the-top specialties like Pastrami Chili Cheese Fries with Pickles and Tomato special, which will not only blow your gut, but your mind, as well:

9-cent coffee

now_photo4.gifOne major benefit of living in Los Angeles is Phillipe the Original, now the oldest restaurant in the city (circa 1908) and one of several claimants to the title of "inventor of the French Dipped sandwich." Their coffee is and always has cost just nine cents. I'll let Pulitzer-winning food critic Jonathan Gold tell you more:

"Sawdust on the floors, clown pictures on the wall, long communal tables crowded with cops, politicians and recent parolees from the nearby county jail, Philippe is so much a relic of prewar Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn't really a part of Los Angeles at all, as if it belongs to an older city without neon, chrome or arugula. The French-dipped sandwiches of lamb or beef are wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat. There is an oddly wonderful selection of wines by the glass — try the Silver Oaks cabernet sauvignon. And if you enjoy the sight of eyes bulging and nostrils flaring as people encounter depth charges of ultrahot mustard in their sandwiches, there's even something of a floor show."

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Photo by Ryan of Losanjealous.

February 14, 2008 - 5:46am
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