The Worst Disney Coffee Ever, Quest One (Originally published in March 2008)
Walt Disney World coffee is terrible. It's the absolute worst thing about take out at Walt Disney World, worse even than the tasteless, synthetic meat (?) hamburgers you're tormented with. It's instant coffee, or, better put, simulation coffee beverage, and for the $2.09 you pay you'd be better off driving off property and buying a cup of coffee at the local 7-Eleven.
OK, I admit I'm a total coffee snob, but snobbery often arises out of a desire to simply no longer tolerate a sub-par product, which is what instant coffee is. Coffee comes in two varieties: Arabica or Robusta beans. You may remember that coffee brands like Folgers or whoever claim they are made with "100% Arabica Beans!". Arabica (African) beans are generally considered to be superior to Robusta (South American) beans, but in reality the climate and elevation are more decisive factors. Regardless, Robusta beans generally yield a beverage which is more bitter and has more caffeine, and as a result not only do Robustsa beans account for only a minimal portion of the world's output, but are generally reserved in their lowest quality crops for American coffee companies. These establishments use Robusta as "fill" for their "signature blends". Exactly how much of these blends are Robusta is pretty much unknown, but one thing's for sure - instant coffee is almost 100% Robusta beans. Of course, once the beans are freeze-dried, powdered, flavored and vaccum-packed, it really doesn't matter, does it?
Well I've too long been in a Disney park and totally unable to get a decent cup of coffee anywhere. Scratch that, been actively terrified of going somewhere and buying a cup of the dreaded Nescafe. Initially I tolerated the Artificial Coffee Beverage as being a distinct flavor of the parks - the hazelnutty, watery taste which at least provided a caffeine charge was essentially inoffensive. But now it's WAR! I'm sick of drinking instant coffee and for totally selfish reasons I'm out to find the best place to get quick service coffee in the parks and now you're invited along!!
Don't pretend you're not enthralled!!!!1!!
Quest One: Magic Kingdom
So here we are at Magic Kingdom, enjoying life, perhaps having just taken in a rousing trip on Pirates of the Caribbean, and if you're like me, if you're feeling content, it's time for that most legal of all drugs, caffeine. Or tired. Or awake. Or annoyed. Let's face it, if you're like me you're gonna drink coffee regardless of where you are or what time of day it is, and if you're like me, you drink it black and strong (cream and sugar is so eighth grade). There's just a problem: you're at Magic Kingdom, also known as an airtight vortex in which no coffee can be created or destroyed, and as such the only solution is that vile liquid known as NESCAFE.
Most places are upfront with this coffee heathenism: they'll put up on the sign "Coffee", followed by the NesCafe logo, so at least the attentive individual (the ones you usually won't find at Magic Kingdom) would know that she's actually buying Artificial Coffee Sludge. Some won't even let you know. They'll tack "Coffee... $1.59" up with no warning. So If You're Like Me, you're suddenly filled with hope that perhaps this little establishment is a holdout of real coffee. And you're going to be disappointed every time until you learn not to look at the signs, but what's behind the counter.
This is a NesCafe machine:
NesCafe, by the way, is historically interesting in that it was the first truly successfully "instantified" coffee, invented by Swiss chemists, in 1938. True instant coffee is powdered, freeze dried, dissolveable granules of stuff that is soluable in water. This is not what Disney sells you in Orlando; after all, who wants to individually make cups of instant coffee at Pecos Bill and on demand? So what exactly are they selling you? Fountain beverages. In the same way that your average quick service cup of Mountain Dew or whatever is actually a thick syrup diluted with carbonated water, Disney Coffee is a thick liquid compound diluted with hot water. It's apparently more of an art than a science, as sometimes the NesCafe tastes better (richer) than other times.
In my Coffee Tour of Magic Kingdom I decided to grab a cup of the stuff and drink it over chicken strips and fries. So on the upper floor of the Columbia Harbor House I pried that stryrofoam cup open and saw.. bubbles. Rich coffees like espresso have a thick heavy froth on the top called crema, generally considered the most delicious part of the beverage. NesCafe has bubbles. Not a few bubbles, like you'd expect from the kind of coffee that comes out of those hand-pump type drip coffee thermoses which remind me of hand soap dispensers, but thick, heavy bubbles that don't disperse after a few minutes, but cling to the inside of the cup. Below is a photo sequence of the bubbles not dispersing for a half hour while you can see my food slowly vanishing behind.
I literally looked everywhere for good coffee in Magic Kingdom, and my professional coffee junkie opinion is: if you want good coffee and Haunted Mansion at the same time, you're screwed. By far the strangest thing I saw in my tour was not the preponderance of NesCafe machines but Disney's bizzare refusal to actually remove the traditional drip brew machines from the already crowded counter service areas! Below are two in the rarely open Plaza Pavilion / Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station.
Here's one that's been turned into a stand for a big tub of iced tea on the far right. I asked a Cast Member if they were somehow using the drip brewer to prepare the tea, which resulted in the patented "you're crazy" Cast Member face, so obviously this fairly expensive piece of equipment has been relegated to a role better suited to my old textbooks. Even more bizzare, not pictured due to crowds, is a Frankenstein-like machine scrawled across two defunct drip brewers at Pinnochio Village Haus. I don't know what the device was for, but it wasn't for making coffee and the intersection of two apparently rarely used beverage machines in everybody's way was hilarious and disheartening.
Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square offers a "Cappuccino Float". Although the coffee part of the float is just iced, flavored near-milkshake stuff, it was a better and more energizing coffee experience than any I found a Magic Kingdom. At $6 a shot it's a pricey proposition. I've been making my own coffee at home and bringing it into the parks in a Thermos for years. In Magic Kingdom it's a near honest to god necessity.
Disney, please open a good coffee store in Magic Kingdom. Please. License it out if you have to - a Starbucks would be better than what's there now!