FACE TO FACE: Canada vs. America, blue collar vs. white collar, Tim's vs. Starbucks?
For my wife and me, it's not even close.
Starbucks coffee is richer, deeper and consistent wherever you buy it. Even the most committed Tim Hortons disciple will admit that Tim's coffee is inconsistent from location to location. While Starbucks coffee has a distinctive, predictable taste, it is difficult to distinguish Tim's coffee from a good cup of coffee made at home in a Mr. Coffee.
So it's clearly not Tim's coffee that evokes the strong, almost nationalistic attachment so many feel to Tim Hortons - it's the ritual.
As a young teacher, I could not start my day without a 20 oz. coffee from 7-Eleven. Years later, at a school with no 7-Eleven nearby, I realized that the coffee was, in fact, awful. The staff room coffee I was forced to drink was much better, but you couldn't have convinced me of that when my convenience store coffee stop was a daily ritual.
And so it is with Tim Hortons. It's not fabulous coffee but a strong cultural habit.
Tim Hortons enjoyed 20 years as the unopposed destination coffee chain in eastern Canada. Tim's became a part of life, a last pleasure before work. On the streets of eastern cities, a Tim's cup became ubiquitous - symbolically Canadian.
Then along came Starbucks with its pretentious jargon, its western genesis (shudder) and its venti skinny caramel macchiatos.
"I just want my Tim's," cry Tim's lovers when faced with Starbucks.
They dismiss the brew from the Seattle-based giant as a boutique place for Lotuslanders and networkers while Tim's has become the coffee of working Canadians.
Like the aforementioned young teacher, the taste buds of the Tim's nation lost their objectivity to an ingrained habit.
Frankly, I wish Tim Hortons did serve better coffee than Starbucks. Always a supporter of working Canadians, it is difficult for me to throw in my lot with the iPad, half-caf, let's-do-lunch Starbucks crowd. Unfortunately, the coffee is better at Starbucks and worth the special stop.
Clearly, better coffee costs the same at Starbucks as at Tim's. Like me, you don't have to use jargon or wear designer-label clothes - and you get to doctor your own coffee and sit in an overstuffed chair listening to Sarah McLachlan.
Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.