If you were even slightly aware of broadcast television in the 80’s and 90’s, you’re probably vaguely aware of the coffee people. They started out in commercials in the UK, then later in the US, in a kind of viral-marketing-before-viral-was-a-thing on-going serial that featured two very sophisticated people meeting and falling in love gradually through increasingly far-fetched coffee related interactions. At the height of the coffee people craze here in America, TV Guide actually ran advertisements about when the ads were going to be on. No, seriously, people were that wrapped up in the ongoing drama of these two coffee-obsessed commercial characters hooking up that they actually tuned in just for the commercials.
Last night, D-Rock and I were watching Manchild with Bronwyn Green and Jessica Jarman, via Yahoo! Messenger and Dropbox because we are not bound by the constraints of traditional face-to-face socializing. Anyway, while we were watching, I brought up the subject of the Nescafe Gold/Taster’s Choice commercials Anthony Head starred in during the 1980’s and 90’s. The conversation between D-Rock and I went something like this:
Me: Do you remember those commercials about the neighbors who liked coffee or whatever, and it always seemed like they were gonna bang?
Me: You know, where the woman comes over to borrow coffee or whatever, and then you’d have to watch the next ad to see if they were gonna hook up? This was in the 80’s or the 90’s? They were on for like, ever.
D-Rock: Oh my god, yes! I totally forgot those!
D-Rock: And people were into those!
Me: Tony Head was in those.
D-Rock: It creeps me out that you call him Tony.
Me: Well, he was in them. He was the coffee guy.
D-Rock: Do you think those are on the internet?
Me: Everything is on the internet.
Well, dear readers… the internet did not disappoint:
Maybe it’s that time is a sort of varnish on people and events, and when you revisit those things the finish wears off a bit, or maybe its because these were five years worth of advertisements compressed into one eight minute video, but when you watch these ads all together like this, they become deeply weird. Oh, and before we get into this, if you’re weirdly sensitive about liking shitty coffee, this post may offend you. But really, if you’re that prone to dramatic reactions over beverage choices, there’s nothing I can do to help you.
The advert opens with this lady– I don’t think we ever learn their names, so I’m going to call her CL, for Coffee Lady–
showing up at the door to the Coffee Guy (CG)’s apartment. This is CG:
CL is in a pickle, because she’s having a dinner party, and she’s run out of coffee. CG invites her in, then he makes a face like, “I’m gonna tap that… even though this is 1987 and ‘that’ is probably constrained in layers of pantyhose and giant nylon underwear because for some reason contemporary women’s fashion dictates that any garment worn on the lower body must reach a minimum vertical height of the wearer’s bottom rib.” He goes to the kitchen and gets the coffee, Nescafe Gold Blend, and then he says:
CG: “Will Gold Blend be too good for your guests?”
Okay, back it way the fuck up, Baby Giles. You just met this woman, and you’re like, insulting her friends? Gold Blend is what is marketed in the US as Taster’s Choice. It’s freeze-dried instant coffee. It’s literally the worst thing you could ever put in your body. There should be something in the Geneva conventions saying you can’t use this shit to torture prisoners. Is he being sarcastic? Like, he’s making a jab about his embarrassing taste in coffee? I don’t know. All I know is, CL handles it like a boss:
See that face? That’s the face a cat makes when it finds its prey amusing, but ultimately it knows it will end up eating the mouse alive. CG is that mouse. If you haven’t watched the video (and why would you deny yourself?) let me assure you, the sexual tension is palpable.
Back at her dinner party, a friend asks CL if she’s met her new neighbor, and she says she’s gone over there for coffee. And it’s like, right away, you know something is up.
This ad, by the way, aired in November of 1987. Viewers had to wait until June of 1988 to see the next installment. I wonder if a second installment was ever intended, or if the restrained British heat of the first commercial formed an audience that demanded closure. But for whatever reason, people had to wait like six months for the next one.
This ad opens with… WHO IS THIS BITCH?!
How dare she? We have waited six long, agonizing months– and these are 1987 months, so they’re like, thirteen times as long as the months we have today because of inflation– and CG is having dinner with another woman?
Well, CL rings his doorbell, and she says:
CL: “You saved my life the other night.”
CG: “The dinner party?”
CL: “The coffee. Very successful.”
CG: “How can you ever thank me?”
CL: “I’ll try and think of something.”
Oh, you know how she’s going to thank him. Other woman having dinner in the apartment? You better not pin your romantic hopes on CG. Because he’s taken, and he doesn’t even know it yet. CL brought him another jar of shit coffee to replace the shit coffee she borrowed, but he doesn’t invite her in, because, you know. That other woman.
CG: “Look, I’m in the middle of something right now, but perhaps–“
And then they leave it like that. They leave us teetering perilously on the very edge of ecstasy.
You know who I feel bad for? The woman in the apartment having dinner with CG. Because he’s going to go back to that table, make polite conversation, he might even fuck her, but he’ll be thinking about CL the whole time. He’ll make some vague promise to call her, but he won’t.
Man. I’m sorry, other lady. I’m sorry I called you a bitch.
The next advertisement didn’t come out until October. Seriously, October. How long did it take to make a commercial in 1988?
CG is showing up to a dinner party, super late. The hostess is annoyed and tells him that they’re already on the coffee. And he sees it’s Gold Blend and he slaps her right across the face, because only the very worst people would ruin a fancy dinner party by ending it with freeze dried coffee. No, just kidding, he’s totally fucking psyched that they’re having Nescafe Gold. So psyched, he says the brand name out loud.
CG and the hostess go into the dining room, where he spots CL at the table. The gaze they share is positively dripping with unfulfilled longing:
The hostess tries to introduce them, but CG says he already knows her, and CL answers:
CL: “We, uh… share the same taste in coffee.”
The same terrible, terrible taste. CL asks CG if he’s always late, and he says he won’t be late tomorrow when they have dinner, which is smooth as hellllll.
CL: “What makes you think I’ll accept?”
CG: “You can’t resist my coffee.”
Now I want to know what’s wrong with this dude’s personality that the only thing he has going for him is coffee. And it’s really, really shitty coffee.
Midway through 1989, the Coffee People returned to us. They’ve just had dinner. One assumes this is the night after the dinner party they were at six months ago, so they are really stretching out the suspense here.
CL: “If this were a restaurant, they’d be putting chairs on tables about now.”
CG: “And I would be asking you back to my place for coffee.”
Look at this suave motherfucker right here:
He has her over for dinner at his apartment, so the question of whether she’ll come back to his place or not is pretty much answered. Then, of course, they banter about coffee. They end up pretty cozy on the couch, so you just know that tonight is the night.
Just when you think they’re going to make the artistic choice that sends their storyline the way of Moonlighting, CL gets up and says she has to go home, because she’s on an early flight to Milan:
CG: “That’s terrible.”
CG: “They don’t serve Gold Blend in Milan.”
Damn Italians and their appreciation for good coffee.
The next ad came out in November of 1989. I’ve seen paranormal romance series that released faster than these commercials. How on earth did this captivate people for so long? I remember when the American ads were airing, people scheduled their viewing around them. People talked about them. I specifically remember my grandmother saying, “When are these two going to sleep together, already?” For some reason, my memories led me to believe that all of this happened within a few months. But this craze went on for years.
So, the next installment begins with… WHO IS THIS BITCH?!
CL says she’s going to go get changed. CHANGED! With another man in her house!
The homewrecker sees a cup of Gold Blend just sitting there, and he fucking picks it up like he owns the place:
So, CL goes to change, and of course, that’s when CG rings the bell, and this fucking joker answers the door. CG is visibly crushed:
That is the face of a man with a broken heart, and the restraint necessary to keep his fists from flying.
Then the interloper, the vile, vile interloper, has the fucking nerve to ask CG if he wants a cup of Gold Blend. I say again, how very dare you!
CL comes back from changing and asks who was at the door. And that jackass jerkwad guy in her house, who shouldn’t even be in her fucking house, says it a neighbor and that he told the neighbor that she was in the bedroom. And look at how pissed off she looks:
She’s upset because the guy, the homewrecker guy, didn’t tell CG who he was. The ad ends on this suspenseful note.
Fuck that homewrecker guy.
In June of 1990, the next installment aired. Are June and November considered sweeps weeks or something for British television? Because these are always right around those times. So, anyway. When we last left them (a paragraph ago) CG had just had his heart broken when he found another dude in CL’s apartment.
You know what I’m just starting to think? How the hell did people keep track of this story? It started in 1987, and it’s now 1990. That’s three years. Three years, and these things are like forty seconds long. How did people keep track of this convoluted romance?
Anyway, the commercial starts with CG going on a trip:
The elevator doors open and:
I’m so glad she has her keys in her mouth. Because she was too perfect. She was just unbelievably perfect and beautiful and able to resist the strong sexual advances of 1980’s Anthony Head. She had to do something to make her seem more realistic. And who among us hasn’t been caught doing something momentarily embarrassing in an elevator?
CG tells CL that he’s going on a business trip for a month. Actually, he says he’s going on business and she’s like, “Long?” and D-Rock said, “Yes. Very. With some girth.” Which is probably why we don’t write ad copy.
CG: “I called round last night, but you had company.”
Oh snap, he’s calling her out on the dude in her apartment. Homewrecker is about to get his comeuppance. But it turns out that homewrecker is her brother! Oh my god, what a completely unanticipated turn of events! This changes everything!
Also, I’m sorry I called your brother a bitch.
But now CG’s going away on business for a month.
D-Rock: What the fuck kind of business is he in that he has to go away for a whole month?
Me: International drug dealer.
CL is having a cup of coffee (natch), when her phone rings. Guess who it is?!
It’s CG! He’s calling her from the airport, so you know they’re in true love! He tells her he’ll be in New York, and she asks if he took Gold Blend with him, and he’s like, “Why the fuck would I? That stuff is terrible. They have real coffee in America.” But actually, we still have shitty Gold Blend here, it’s just called Taster’s Choice. So either way, he’ll be fine. He also tells her that he’s going to be staying at The Plaza.
Now, what is she supposed to do with this information? The two of them live in an alternate timeline, wherein a day is equal to six months. These commercials come out literally every six months, and it’s always the next day. So, if she decides to go to New York to meet him, the next two commercials are going to just be booking the flight and checking into the hotel.
Of course, she wouldn’t have to check in. She could just stay in CG’s room. *eyebrows*
December, 1990. Okay. This is the one. This is the big one. Gird. Your. Loins.
CL is at work. It’s late. Everyone is going home. And then, who should show up, but:
CL: “You were supposed to be in New York.”
CG: “I didn’t like the coffee.”
This is really the first time when the coffee seems intrusive. Here’s why: every other situation they have been in has called for coffee. When you end a dinner party, when you have someone over, when you’re entertaining people in your home, generally, you offer coffee. No big. But this is like, she’s at work…
and she’s using the same fucking coffee cup. In fact… everyone is using the same fucking coffee cup:
So, there’s another frightening aspect of this alternate universe. Not only does time move differently, but there is only one kind of coffee mug. And it is super small.
CG says he thought CL would have come to New York, and she tries to play it off like she wasn’t planning on it… but her plane tickets are right the fuck on her desk. This is the moment, dear reader. No more pretending.
Just as they’re sharing their first, delicious, probably coffee-flavored kiss, the one we have been waiting for, at this point, for three years, the phone rings, interrupting them, and the ad is over.
Now, the next installment didn’t come until over a year later. A year. Can you imagine? Something like two whole days will have passed in their universe. What happened during those days? Did someone invent a new kind of coffee cup?
CG is at work, which is awesome, considering he was supposed to be in New York for a month and he came back because he didn’t like the coffee there. I mean, obviously, that’s a thin excuse, because he’s drinking instant coffee, so it’s not like he can tell the difference between good coffee and bad coffee. But still, why didn’t he get fired? He’s on the phone to CL. And things aren’t going well:
CL: “I don’t think this is going to work.”
CG: “You may be right.”
CL: “We…we don’t seem to have much in common.”
Except for the fact that you’re both more in love with Gold Blend coffee than you are with each other. That’s something in common.
They list all the ways they have nothing in common, then arrive at the inevitable conclusion: they only thing they have in common is their coffee.
Later that night, CL calls CG, who is already in bed, and tells him she wants to see him.
Do you know how long they made everyone wait to find out what happens?
Not as long, actually. The next ad rolled in December 1991, if the YouTuber who uploaded it is correct. CG answers his ringing doorbell, expecting to find CL. Like, he hasn’t even bothered to get dressed, because he knows what is going to go down. But the woman on the other side of the door?
Now, I am hesitant to call this person a bitch. Because she might not be. I can’t allow myself to keep having these anti-feminist knee-jerk reactions, especially when the couple I’m rooting for is on the rocks, anyway. But I’m a little pissed off that this woman gets a name– Laura– when I don’t yet know the name of my beautiful, perfect Coffee Goddess.
We’re sticking with CL for her, by the way, because two CGs would just be confusing.
Laura just waltzes on in to the apartment, while CG tries to explain that he’s expecting someone. And Laura asks for a cup of coffee. Excuse me, Laura, but the man is expecting someone. He is expecting someone while in his bathrobe. He is busy.
CG answers the door for CL, and she’s totally psyched to hook up, but as she’s kissing CG, Laura comes in and starts talking:
And Laura is drinking coffee. Probably Gold Blend. Out of the same damn coffee cup:
And CG is like:
Okay, can we just consider for a moment that this advertisement is actually working against the product it is trying to sell? Seriously, this is a ballsy move. In the past, the coffee has been the thing that brings them together. Remember, it’s the only thing they have in common. The coffee is the glue that holds their fragile union together. And then this b–Laura waltzes in and just takes it. Why didn’t CG order her out? Why did he let her stay and have coffee? This doesn’t even speak highly of the fact that this is instant coffee. This advertisement is saying, “If you use this coffee, it won’t be finished fast enough that your girlfriend or ex or whoever isn’t still standing in your living room drinking it when the hot piece next door comes by for a booty call.”
Speaking of booty, go back up to the top and rewatch those commercials, but mentally substitute “booty” for every time they say “coffee.” Thank @esposa_de_olivia for that one.
So, now we’re associating Gold Blend with the destruction of a television relationship we’ve been invested in for four years. Who thought this was a good idea?
The next ad doesn’t come out to clear up whatever was going on until August of 1992. In it, CG pulls his car up next to CL’s and tries to explain about “last night.” He says Laura is just an old friend, and CL seems pretty unconcerned about the whole thing, but in that way women seem unconcerned about stuff when they’re suuuuuuuuper pissed.
At work, using the same damn coffee cups, a suave Italian gentlemen compliments CL’s choice of Gold Blend, and her presentation, and asks her to dinner.
Here he is, clearly confused by the English custom of talking mainly about coffee.
On their way out of the building, a receptionist stops CL to tell her that “he”– the unnamed CG– has called five times. So, he’s seriously trying to get her back.
The saga concludes in the advertisement that aired in December of 1992. Let’s really get our heads around this: it has been five years since CL first batted her big doe eyes at CG and asked to borrow some awful coffee. And in the interim, it’s been a whole week. A whole week! So what the world viewed as a torturously unrequited love affair was really just a whirlwind courtship between two people who get serious with romantic partners way too fast.
Anyway, this is how the story ends. CL is at dinner with the Italian businessman.
Oh my god. The Italian Businessman’s Coffee Lady. It could be a Harlequin Presents novel.
Anyway, she’s at dinner with the Italian businessman, and who should show up to crash it?
He runs up to the table and says:
CG: “Always the same restaurant. I thought we had this thing under control.”
CG: “Can we afford another scandal? Even the children are starting to ask questions–“
IB: “Excuse me–“
CG: “I’m sorry, you wouldn’t happen to be Italian?”
CG: “Opera lover? It’s always Italians.”
Basically, he just shows up and makes it seem like he and CL have a much deeper commitment than they actually have. Keeping mind, it’s only been like, what? Seven days? Even if we gave it the benefit of the doubt and said, “Okay, he was in America for some time, possibly weeks,” this is still incredibly creepy behavior. Even worse, he physically lifts her out of her chair and ushers her away.
At another table, I assume at the same restaurant and not, you know, at the second location, they have this conversation:
CL: “I don’t know why I let you do that.”
CG: “Because I s–“
CL: “Because you serve better coffee.”
CG: “[something I can’t quite catch] Because I love you.”
He loves her. Really think about the timeline of this thing. Maybe this kind of stuff is normal in the nightmare hellworld they inhabit, where awful coffee isn’t just the only available beverage, but the only topic of conversation, but it’s not normal in real life. The genius of these ads, however, is that they doled out the crazy in small doses, over a wide swath of time, so that the viewer probably ignored all that “last night” business and mentally reconfigured the timeline.
CL never responds to CG’s declaration of love, and there weren’t any more ads. Well, there were, but they were in America for Taster’s Choice, with the same actors using unconvincing and mildly insulting American accents, and the whole courtship angle started over and went off into a different storyline. If only, if ONLY, there were some way to find out what happened after that night. If only I could spend more time with these people in their strangely fascinating alternate universe. If only–
This is on Amazon right now. Say thank you to @Kinelfire for this.
I am not even going to pretend that I did not buy this book IMMEDIATELY. And my expected delivery date is VALENTINE’S DAY.
It’s like they know.