The Beverage Approachability Paradox


Anyone who’s tried to learn to enjoy coffee, beer, or wine after not liking their first encounters with them has probably come up against the phrase, “You just have to learn to like it…”

We are taught to believe there is a linear scale of difficulty from cheap to expensive, i.e. you have to learn to tolerate the cheap stuff before you can possibly appreciate the higher quality offerings. Well, that’s total rubbish.

In fact, nobody likes the cheap stuff. It’s garbage. People who drink the common brands either drink them for their effects (see Folgers/Starbucks), or they are countersignaling (see PBR). The truth is that the better (usually more expensive) beverages are actually the easier ones to approach and enjoy.

I stumbled upon this knowledge while experimenting with coffee and wine. I have never liked red wine (or so I thought) because I’ve always tried the cheap stuff, which was invariably acidic and overpowering.

Several years back, I decided to get adventurous and try a $20 glass of red wine while enjoying a nice steak. It was phenomenal. It was extremely mild, but with subtle flavors jumping out from all angles. At the time I just thought it was an aberration, but I’ve since tried this repeatedly and it’s always the same: It’s the higher quality wines that taste the best–even for beginners.

Doesn’t this seem grossly counter-intuitive? Shouldn’t the “advanced” beverages be less approachable? That’s what we would expect. Beginners on a bike get training wheels, right? And why? To make it easier to ride. So shouldn’t it be the same for beverages?

It’s not.

And it’s the same for coffee. The next time you are in a decent coffee establishment, try a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain. It’s fairly expensive ($7 for a small in SF) but it is worth every cent. First of all, you can drink it black. Nay, it must be consumed black 1. You seriously don’t want to violate this experience with additives, as it’s just too good to spoil.

The above statement sounds like it’s coming from a coffee snob, right? Drinking expensive coffee black? Surely this is just signaling, right? No. You’re talking to someone who’s never been drunk (which has been embarrassing in many situations) because he doesn’t like the taste of alcohol2. This coffee literally tastes brilliant, that’s why I drink it black.


Forget what you’ve learned about disliking coffee and wine. You don’t like them because the common wisdom of “start cheap and then grow into expensive” simply doesn’t apply. These timeless beverages are too rich to ignore in our short lives, so go out and see what you have been missing. ::

TL;DR: You shouldn’t learn beverages by going from cheap to expensive, because the cheap stuff will turn you off of the drink altogether. Try the better stuff; you’ll be happy you did.

P.S. If you have any coffee, beer, or wine suggestions for me I’d love to hear them.


  1. If you don’t drink your coffee black, you’re not drinking coffee; you’re drinking a coffee beverage. If you need to load it up with a bunch of crap then you either don’t like coffee or you haven’t yet had any that’s good.

  2. Yet. I haven’t studied it like I’ve studied coffee.

  3. Check out my coffee primer for learning the basics.

  4. Beer and wine are next on my learning list.

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