NYC Coffee Wars

08/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What is it about coffee that frequently evokes a visceral response in people?

I have my favorite caffeine retailers too, but I willingly admit I have received a bad cup of coffee from the same. The fact that others and I keep going back probably says more about habit than taste; we just don't want to admit it. That being said can we handle change?

Let's see what happens with the Canadian invasion. Just when you thought the Big Apple was largely a battleground pitting Starbucks against Dunkin' Donuts, here comes Ontario-based Tim Horton's. This is the company's first foray into the Manhattan coffee war and it fired its first volley with free coffee and doughnuts for commuters and pedestrians.

Tim Horton's is replacing 13 Dunkin' Donut outlets in Manhattan, including the ones in Penn Station. Commuters picking up their last Penn Station Coolatta's on Friday sounded a little nervous about walking into an entirely new franchise on Monday morning.

The franchise-holder, the Riese Organization did some advance prep work to try to ease the transition. "We created a menu translation for our employees, so that if someone asks for a Coolatta, they know to give them an iced-cappuccino, says Jamie Galler, Riese Senior Executive Vice-President. "If they want Munchkins, we'll hand them Tim-Bits," he adds.

The Tim Horton's outlets elsewhere have earned a reputation for their sandwiches and lunch fare. In fact, that's one of the reasons Riese wanted to dump Dunkin', a disappointing lunch business. Besides the point for coffee drinkers making their daily pilgrimage to their particular Mecca of caffeination.

"I am not happy about this," said one woman I informed of the change at Penn Station.

"If it's free, I'll try it," said a man with a latte in his hand. And then I had to push the envelope a little and ask why each is so devoted to a branded brew.

"Dunkin rocks," said the woman.

"I'm used to my Dunkin'," said the man.

"I really don't know what they're complaining about as long as they don't touch my Starbucks," said another woman. And if I had put the three of them together, another great coffee debate would likely have occurred.

I guess coffee is just one of those personal choices that makes us perk and we don't like to explain why. We may also be so wired with the caffeine we can't focus long enough to dissect our taste. It's frequently grab and go and gulp. Do we really taste it or just feel the heat going down? Perhaps we just identify the flavor from the logo on the cups.

Whatever the reason we choose one brand of Joe over the other, fans will seek out their preference. The grand opening of one of the new Horton's outlets on West 59th Street was filled with Canadian transplants, long deprived of their favorite brew in Gotham. A rose by any other name may swell as sweet, but when it comes to coffee, the name is the game.

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