I must admit I'm not the ideal person to cover a pop-up coffee shop dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of Friends, one of the most popular sitcoms in television history. I was certainly one of the 52.46 million viewers who watched Rachel and Ross finally get together for-real-no-take-backsies, but it was maybe the tenth episode I’d ever seen. The show’s accessibility never appealed to me. Sure, there was always a naughty undercurrent, but these squeaky-clean New Yorkers were never subversive enough to keep me glued to the television. Of course, I’m in the minority. Friends is not only still beloved ten years after it went off the air but also inspired more recent successful shitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory.
It was with little excitement that I entered the Eight O’Clock Coffee pop-up designed to look like Central Perk, the cafe where, for the first three seasons, Rachel frequently proved herself to be as inept a barista as Hannah Horvath. This is not the first Central Perk to emerge, though it appears to be the first in the city. A chain of Central Perks kept Friends fever alive in Dubai from 2006-2010. Entering this iteration of Central Perk, my cynicism meter was on high. I scoffed as I stood in a line with a ten-minute wait, though it was nothing compared to the opening day line, which boasted an hour wait time as if one might be greeted with frankenpastries in the shape of David Schwimmer once they finally made it inside.
When I entered the modestly-sized shrine to those zany New Yorkers with oversized Greenwich Village apartments, I found few surprises. And I was hoping for surprises. In an ideal world, Jennifer Aniston would have appeared so I could ask her what the ending of The Break-Up really meant. Instead, I got exactly what I expected. A television played episodes of Friends near the signature orange couch where fans lined up to get pictures. A roped-off section sported mannequins with costumes worn by the cast at various points throughout the show’s run. It looked not entirely dissimilar to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met, save for the fact that these were bland digs from the late nineties.
At the coffee counter in front a dormant gold espresso machine, enthusiastic staff members in Central Perk aprons handed out free cups of Eight O’Clock Coffee. If I am not so well-versed in Friends, I have even less experience with the 155-year-old grocery store coffee brand. I approached the counter and asked, “Can I have a coffee that tastes like Rachel, in a not-creepy way? Something daffy and annoyingly relatable?” A kind woman handed me a cup of the Central Perk Roast promotional coffee. As I waited for it to cool, I went to the merchandise counter and purchased a pound of it for $7 (rising price of coffee, my ass). The coffee was pre-ground and my request for whole beans was met with a smile and a shrug.
Having walked a few feet in any direction, I’d gotten just about all I could out of the Central Perk experience, and I exited the SoHo shop to walk to work in the East Village. Once I had determined that the black cup of coffee wouldn’t burn my tongue, I tipped back that medium cup of ingenue-esque drip and braced myself for the worst. Then came the surprise. The coffee wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either, but this coffee had none of the char and cigarette ash that I was expecting. That citrus note that the chalkboard claimed was in the coffee was there, even if it was faint.
I rushed to work with my discovery. My co-workers agreed that we should make a cup using a Kalita Wave. When the final drops settled into the carafe, my colleagues quickly came to the same conclusion I had: not good but definitely not bad. “There’s a natural in there,” one said. “Definitely a natural,” the other agreed. I marveled at this pleasantly mediocre coffee before me. I asked for a Rachel and I actually got a solid Aniston: bland, but slightly promising. I had to know what was going on here.
Luckily, Eight O’Clock Coffee was kind enough to provide contact information on the bag so I could gain some clarity. I called the 800 number and waited patiently for about ten minutes for a representative to answer. When I heard a kind voice acknowledge me, this conversation occurred:
Rep: What coffees? What do you mean?
Me: Well, it’s a blend of coffees and I’m wondering which coffees are in the blend.
Rep: It’s the arabica beans.
Me: Yes, but do you know which arabica beans or do you know someone who would know?
Rep: I’m not sure I understand.
Me: There are coffees from different countries in here.
Rep: I don’t have that information on hand. Our blend has coffees from thirty different countries.
Me: (pause) Any way to find out which thirty countries?
Rep: Let me see if I can track down some information for you.
Serious suspense marked the five minutes I was hold after this cryptic dialogue. Were there really coffees from thirty different origins in this blend? I started trying to think of thirty possible countries. Brazil, of course, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya. Was Chad a growing region? She took me off hold.
Me: First name: Eric. Last name: Grimm.
Rep: Thanks, Eric. The information that I have is that these are the arabica beans and it’s the medium roast coffee and it’s a limited time promotion. Can I help you with something else?
As helpful as she was, she couldn’t help me with something else. She had instead contributed to a mystery that I’m certain will haunt me for years to come. My journey to a cheesy promotional pop-up for a popular sitcom had turned into a fruitless quest for the story of what went into a promotional tie-in. All I wanted was a crappy cup of coffee. Instead I’m left wondering.
If Jennifer Aniston were a coffee blend, what would her components be?
Eric J. Grimm is Sprudge.com's pop culture writer, based in New York City. He is pictured throughout this feature in a series of selfies. Read more Eric J. Grimm on Sprudge.