My office supplies coffee, tea and hot chocolate to its employees. There’s filtered cold water and hot water for the tea and chocolate. Coffee requires at bit more work. Someone has to make a pot of coffee which includes putting a filter into the machine and then loading 1 1/2 portions of ground coffee from pre-measured packages. Through experimentation and oral history, I have learned that 1 package of coffee is too weak, and 2 packages of coffee are too strong.
Office coffee is perpetually bad. There many reasons for this. Often the coffee will sit in the pot cooking away for hour after hour– the flavor boiled out of it. Even when cut with milk it’s barely drinkable, an acidic brown liquid. Good office coffee requires social cooperation of a fairly high level. Reasonably good raw materials must be provided. And then the key, there must be a willing group of people dedicated to making and then maintaining the freshness of the brew.
If you think about it, the social contract around the quality of good office coffee requires an effort equal to that of a business like Peets or Starbucks. A single person is unlikely to make that effort; social cooperation is necessary.
The quality of office coffee produced in this manner is a leading economic indicator. We’ll leave to the side for the moment the idea of subsidized office coffee. When the cost of social cooperation to yield a good cup of coffee is sufficiently below the cost of buying a good cup of java– people switch. Labor replaces capital. The better and fresher the office coffee, the worse the surrounding general economy. As the economy improves, the quality and freshness of office coffee will start to deteriorate, and alternatives will start to seem economically feasible. Capital replaces labor (the general replaces the specific).
In a good economy, there are those who will cling to office coffee as a matter of principle. But as the general quality of office coffee will tell you, this is an utopian ideal. Of course “office coffee” is just a variable, we could just as easily be talking about enterprise software.