When we first see single mom and ace inn owner/manager Lorelai Gilmore, she’s begging cynical and disgustingly hunky diner owner Luke Danes for the best coffee in town. She wants it, and she wants it bad.
The first exchange of snappy dialogue from Amy Sherman-Palladino’s cult hit ‘Gilmore Girls’ introduces what Lorelai would openly refer to as one her quirks: an obsession with coffee that knows no earthly bounds. She’s rarely seen without a cup of it in her hand. She buries herself in it when she’s sad. Some of her best bonding moments with her daughter, Rory, happen while drinking coffee at Luke’s Diner. Coffee is woven inextricably into the very fabric of Lorelai Gilmore's life, and its influence can be seen writ large across all 7 seasons the show aired.
Coffee, my friends, is the third “Gilmore Girl”.
For those dwelling beneath the asthenosphere in the first decade of this century, ‘Gilmore Girls’ was a modestly rated critical darling of a television show. It ran for six seasons on The WB and one colossally bad season on The CW, encompassing the years 2000-2007. The show’s love of coffee was woven throughout its lauded scripts, and would influence its creative team’s later efforts. Sherman-Palladino’s current show, ABC Family’s ‘Bunheads’, recently poked fun at the specialty industry (in a matter that left much to be desired, frankly, but still! A barista champion on TV!). Jenji Kohan was a producer for the first season, and would later create her own iced coffee-slurping heroine, Nancy Botwin, in the Showtime series ‘Weeds’, which kind of good for its first couple of seasons, and then positively dreadful as the decade wore on.
Lauren Graham found enduring adoration on the show as Lorelai Gilmore, a quick-witted inn-manager who had run away from her privileged life in Hartford, CT after getting pregnant at 16. She ends up in the quaint and quirky town of Stars Hollow, where she raises her Ivy League bound daughter and best friend, Rory, played by Alexis Bledel. The show’s plot lines largely revolve around the women’s love lives, particularly Lorelai’s “will-they-or-won’t-they” relationship with the aforementioned Luke, played by Scott Patterson. Luke’s reliability helps Lorelai through the turbulence of many short-lived romances, a rocky relationship with her parents, and Rory’s burgeoning independence. Luke also acts as Lorelai’s reluctant pusher, keeping her fueled with a beverage he’s convinced will harm her central nervous system.
If Luke feels guilty for keeping Lorelai wired throughout the day, he has only himself to blame for serving “the best coffee in Stars Hollow.” Lorelai takes Luke’s coffee black while she adds cream to her work coffee and her refrigerated, pre-ground home coffee: a sure sign they are destined to break up and get back together weekly for the rest of their lives. What was going on in that magical cup of coffee that kept Lorelai coming back to prickly, but sensitive Luke?
Alas, any fantasy of Luke experimenting with small-batch roasting were put to rest once I discovered that he was using San Francisco based Hills Bros. Coffee. Currently owned by Massimo Zanetti, which also owns Chock Full o’Nuts, Hills Bros. has been vacuum packing coffee for the better part of a hundred years. I attempted to find a can of Hills Bros. to cup, but discovered that it was, in fact, the only thing you can’t find in New York City. It appears to have been a well-known national brand, and it still may be. The 1950s commercial below presents a clear view of the “Arab taster” logo the company used for eighty years:
Oh, the disappointment. Seeing Luke dump canned coffee indiscriminately into that basket is like finding my mother in a beard and red pants putting Stretch Armstrong under the Christmas tree. He could have done so much better. If Luke had cared at all about local businesses and sustainability (both of which he postures over mightily throughout the show), he easily could have discovered that Irving Farm Coffee Co. has been roasting coffee a mere sixty miles away from Stars Hollow in Millerton, NY since 1999. He might have rested easier knowing that his coffee was ethically sourced and roasted in a really cute barn. He even kind of dresses like Dan Streetman:
But that's not all! Acton, Massachusetts, home to George Howell's Terroir Coffee, is a mere hour and a half from the Hartford / Stars Hollow metroplex; New Harvest Coffee Roasters are also an hour and a half away, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Was this an uncharacteristically major bit of plot oversight on the part of Sherman-Palladino and her writing staff? Or are we to understand that Lorelai, Luke, Rory, Sookie, hell, the entire town of Stars Hollow are obsessed with coffee consumption but care absolutely nothing about coffee being delicious in the first place?
If Lorelai and Luke and the rest of Stars Hollow have proved disappointing in their coffee habits, Rory might not be such a lost cause. This is a show about the promise of a new generation, or something, and it was clear from episode one that Rory was destined for greater things. But her potential wasn’t fully realized until she started attending Yale and visiting the Yale coffee cart. Her true feelings about coffee finally surfaced when she contemplated the possibility of having to avoid the coffee cart once her late-season beau Logan professed his love for her.
Wasn't that just the worst? Logan is just the worst. Anyway, Yale hasn’t returned my phone calls regarding what coffee they were using while Rory was in attendance, though I’ve discovered that they are, as a University, quite serious about their coffee. The Klein Biology Tower café, the 2012 winner of Food Management’s Best Renovation Award, opened in fall of 2011 and features coffee roasted onsite. They also offer classes on roasting, brewing, and cupping. It’s currently unclear whether their espresso machine has an adjustable steam wand for me to scald Logan with at future alumni events.
When we last saw Rory, she had gotten a job reporting for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007, so it’s safe to assume that she's had a chance to visit some of the nation’s top coffee spots in the years since. Barack doesn’t drink coffee, but he could’ve pointed her in the direction of an Intelligentsia during Chicago trips, or Ultimo Coffee in Philly during his swing-state visits to Pennsylvania. The sky's the limit for young Rory and her budding taste buds. And while the show's been off the air for almost 6 full years, who knows where that unseen interim time has taken the Gilmore girls of ‘Gilmore Girls'. Who knows? Maybe Rory went to grad school in Portland. Maybe Lorelai discovered there was better coffee just a few miles away. Maybe Luke finally bought a grinder.
Eric J. Grimm is a working barista, academic, and pop culture philosopher prince (our words, not his). Born and raised in Tennessee, he now resides in New York City. This is his first feature for Sprudge.com.
‘Gilmore Girls' on Wikipedia.
More dithering about ‘Gilmore Girls' from Thought Catalog (natch).
Recent Amy Sherman-Palladino interview from A.V. Club.
An active, ribald ‘Gilmore Girls' fan fiction community. (NSFW, depending on where you W)
Still more dithering about ‘Gilmore Girls', this time from The Awl.