Mulhall column: ‘Spobe’ was the workplace coffee of choice before niche java shops

Mitch Mulhall

A recent PI column espoused the virtues of coffee shops — the kind that specialize in coffees that require you to cram a mouthful of nouns and adjectives together to place an order.

Coffee shops fill a niche. A place to meet someone when neither of you have time for a meal. Sure, a face-to-face over coffee can add substance to acquaintance, purpose to common ground or context to first-world struggles.

But, on a purely practical level, coffee is, if you’re anything like me, a mental jump-juice essential to kicking the day toward efficiency.

With the advent of the modern coffee shop, gone it seems are the days of the mail room’s double-barrel Bundt brewers with amber carafes crusted black by caramelized tar that no amount of soaking or scrubbing can completely remove.

Work forces have developed a taste for coffee-shop brews; so, at work, the Bundt has been replaced by the Kuerig machine, a device that guarantees a uniform brew of almost any product you can find at a coffee shop.

Few remember what’s been lost.

The Bundt office line consisted of simple drip-brewing systems. Employers interested in maximizing worker productivity invested in one of the two-pot models.

Some workplaces even went so far as to connect the coffee machine to a freshwater source to speed up the brewing process.

Dump the filter and soggy grounds in the trash, chamber a fresh filter, pour in more black powder and flip the brew switch. In minutes, you had another pot of black hot goodness, and co-workers lined up behind you for another pour.

A former colleague of mine called this work brew “spobe.” No matter where you looked or what you tried, you couldn’t duplicate spobe’s never-shrinking, high-acid flavor.

As the day went on and the vagaries of work grew more complicated, the spobe got stronger.

Afternoon pots always got brewed darker and often sat a bit longer on the brewer’s flame-throwing hot plates, condensing the coffee into a tongue-staining concoction guaranteed to keep you up through Letterman’s monologue.

That’s pretty much what coffee consumption amounted to until the 1990s.

At least, that’s when I remember drinking my first designer coffee. A latte, they called it. It was good, and it had a name that was easy enough to remember.

The trouble was it was no easy task to make. Espresso makers did fly off the shelves one Christmas but, eventually, gathered dust on the kitchen counter before relegation to storage.

You had to grind your beans fresh, pack the grounds into a portafilter and steam your milk. While the outcome was decent, you spent more time cleaning the coffee maker than drinking coffee.

And that, perhaps more than anything, gave rise to coffee shops, at least as we know them now.

One essential element of any morning coffee is, at least for me, speed. Any benefits of a sit-down coffee shop are lost on me.

I don’t care if my latte is served in a porcelain mug or whether the barista expertly forms an aspen leaf in the milk foam. Moreover, finding a spot to sit where I won’t be noticed is never preferable to the driver’s seat of my Jeep.

That’s why the Expresso Hut in Glenwood Springs is my go-to.

That, and the fact that they must add a secret ingredient to their coffee that makes you crave it at 4 a.m.

The virtues of coffee shops notwithstanding, I prefer the Hut’s drive-through. If you get there before 7 a.m., there’s usually no line, and you can be one with your preferred beverage in short order.

Unless, of course, you’re after spobe. Thankfully, not even the Hut sells that.

Educators interested in innovating student STEM education through iMec may email me at

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