Resist The Refinement

by Katy on October 26, 2008 · 13 comments


I have never understood people who put time effort, and yes, money into developing a refined palate. Whether this be wine, coffee or even ice cream, It’s the same result:

You’re no long able to enjoy the cheap and easily available pleasures in life.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a store called “Trader Joe’s.” It’s most famous for its three buck Chuck, which is the affectionate name for $3 bottles of Charles Shaw wine. These bottles fly off the shelf, and is served at events, high brow to low. 

But . . .

Were you to work on refining your wine appreciation, this nectar of the fabulously frugal would no longer be acceptable.

You just shot yourself in the foot. (Or at least the taste buds.)

Another example is ice cream. When we were kids all ice cream was sold in those big half-gallon bricks. 

And we were happy.

Nowadays, the good ice cream is sold with fancier packaging,  in often smaller amounts. We have trained our palates to only accept the high end. 

Saturday night is dessert night at my house. So I took my ten-year-old son to the store last night to pick up a treat. We perused the ice cream isle, taking in the frozen desserts in all their glory. I noticed that the store brand bricks were $2 apiece, while everything else was at least twice that price. I felt a little bad making my son pick from the cheap stuff, but then asked myself this — why?

The $2 bricks were going to make everyone happy.

Had we lost the ability to enjoy store brand ice cream? Had we become ice cream connoisseurs, unable to enjoy the cheap and available in life?


My son happily chose a box of cookies-and-cream ice cream.

And we ate it up, and no one complained.

Have you refined your palate to the point where cheap coffee, wine or ice cream is no longer acceptable? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

thepennypincher October 26, 2008 at 10:38 pm

LOL! Well, a true connoisseur is the one who can find the great tasting plonk. As for the ice cream, I prefer the old fashioned, the one that is not low fat, not low calorie, and usually very cheap and tasty.


Elizabeth B October 26, 2008 at 11:55 pm

Guilty as charged, ma’am! I like vanilla ice cream best and the cheap stuff uses imitation vanilla and I’m not having any, thanks very much anyway. Give me vanilla bean ice cream/gelato or give me something else for dessert. 😉 Really, I’m so refiiined that I don’t even like the regular vanilla Haagen-Dazs. Hopeless, just hopeless.

OTOH, it means I don’t eat ice cream as much. *eyes much-expanded waistline*


Marlaina Abbott October 27, 2008 at 4:44 am

Honestly, I don’t think you’re looking at the whole picture here. There are a couple of aspects that you have failed to mention…

First of all, in many instances, the more expensive items are actually healthier than their less expensive counterparts. Take ice cream… Ben and Jerry’s ingredients are typically more natural and the brand overall is less preservative laden than a lot of the cheaper brands.

Then there is the issue of taste. Plain and simply, some of us enjoy a finer tasting wine. I shop for wine NOT based upon the price tag but instead based upon the taste. Two Buck Chuck (which I do like and buy regularly) is an exception to the norm because it is made with the leftovers from some of the better vineyards. Of course, I enjoy saving a buck (or ten) anytime I can. And, yes, I buy less wine than I would if my everyday favorites were two dollars a bottle instead of $15-$20. I would prefer to save for a couple of bottles of the “good” stuff (or cartons in the case of ice cream) rather than have more of the crap.

Coffee? I buy the good stuff simply because I believe in free trade organically grown coffee. Yes, I even check-up on the eco-friendliness of the brands I support.

Quality over quantity makes more sense to me! And, occasionally, you find a “cheap” option that’s as good or almost as good as the more expensive stuff. That’s why Two Buck Chuck is so wildly popular!


CanadianKate October 27, 2008 at 5:51 am

We cruise on an upscale cruiseline where you dine (we always just ate dinner – there is a difference.)

After the first cruise we were terrified that we could never go back to our old ways again. But the first night off the ship we were back at Pizza Hut and it was just fine. In fact the Italian ship couldn’t make a decent pizza if their life depended on it!

On the other hand, we did learn that we love beef tenderloin (I had never had that cut of meat before) and now we buy it from Costco, cut our own steaks, use the excess tidbits for a beef stir fry and are happy. My dh used to insist on a 6 – 10 oz cheaper steak just for himself but is happy with 3 – 4 oz of the ‘good stuff.’

We have also learned that olive oils have different tastes and are exploring that a bit.

Tenderloin is lower in fat than many other cuts thus cost me fewer Weight Watcher points. And WW requires me to have 2 tsp of oil each day, so now I have a good way getting that oil in enjoyably.

All of this points to better health since we are focusing on quality which we find satisfying, rather than quantity which we found we wolfed down.

We don’t drink alcohol or coffee so have never faced the problem of developing an expensive palate for those. And to me, sparkling water is sparkling water, be it Perrier, San Pellagrino, seltzer or club soda.

I have cut artificial sweetners and high fructose corn syrup from my diet and that has cut a large amount of low-end items from my diet. So that has me looking at higher end juices and sodas but I’m finding, as with the meat, just a tiny amount (2 – 4 oz) is satisfying. Gone are the days when I would mindless down 1 – 1.5 quarts of soda a day (yes, you read that correctly.)

I haven’t checked my grocery bills to see if eating less is saving me money or not. It does when we are traveling and I’m eating out all the time. I now often share an entree with my husband and fill up on the salad or vegetable sides. But at home, there may be little difference in the bills since the higher costs offset the savings of buying less.


Emily October 27, 2008 at 7:58 am

I’m glad CanadianKate mentioned high fructose corn syrup. I am trying to avoid giving that to my children (and myself!) whenever possible, but it is hard! Look at the cheaper ice creams – HF corn syrup is often listed before sugar. And it is in many breads, cereals, granola bars, even campbells tomato soup! I was hoping this whole ethanol thing would drive the price of HF corn syrup back up above the cost of good old sugar, but it still is in too many products.


Kate October 27, 2008 at 8:21 am

I go back and forth between cheap for the reasons you mention but then more expensive for some of the reasons your commenters mention.
What I really wanted to say, though, is man prices are cheaper down there! I would never find a $3 bottle of wine or a $2 brick of ice cream up here.


Red Icculus October 27, 2008 at 11:53 am

This post makes me so sad. I work in sales in the beer and wine industry. I think back to college when I knew nothing about wine and how I really wasn’t able to appreciate it. Now I know what I like and am able to budget for it and enjoy it so much more.


Andy October 27, 2008 at 3:37 pm

I used to get Carlo Rossi wine, $10 for an entire gallon glass jug. Of their many varieties, a few are actually pretty good. But this year I’ve spent about $30 on alcohol (I go to a “sustainability happy hour about twice a month and get one local beer), $0 on coffee, and $0 on ice cream. I think people just get addicted to these things and spend a lot of money on them. I like to think that the money I save by not getting this stuff is going towards tasty local foods or a good trip somewhere.


Rebecca October 27, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Tea. I took a class on Japanese tea ceremony, and now the cheapest stuff, which was never my favorite, is completely undrinkable. However, now I really, truly enjoy tea–the smell, the taste, the way it goes with certain sweets–and it’s a totally different, extremely calming experience for me!

The good news is I can afford my newly acquired tea snobbery because I live frugally, and as such, have some money I can dedicate to it, and can consciously decide that spending the extra money is worth it to me. I find making and drinking good tea to be an experience that really enriches my life. It gives me a moment to relax, reflect, be thankful, and find a little bit of peace and beauty in a hectic world. Isn’t that why I live frugally and consume mindfully–so I can dedicate my time and money to things that genuinely improve my life, instead of cluttering it up?

A little bit of refinement can lead to a lot of enrichment for some people, which is why I dedicate my time and money to finding and drinking a good-quality tea.


Joy October 27, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Amen to that, sister! I have to say, that though I love very good chocolate like Godiva and Lindt and our own local Lake Champlain Chocolate, I still really, really love Dove bars. Solid. Milk chocolate. Though I’m trying to wean myself off “regular” chocolate and onto fair trade types. Anyone have recommendations for a creamy and delicious fair trade brand?


jjrzut October 27, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Great post! I think I can count my palate as slightly refined. Two Buck Chuck is certainly not on my wine shopping list but it is littered with my other favorite Trader Joe’s Wines.


Alison October 28, 2008 at 7:07 am

Sounds like there’s a need for a blog on how to enjoy the finer things in life in a fiscally and environmentally responsible way!


Magdalena Julie Bragdon Perks November 2, 2008 at 11:46 am

We like most cheap wines and we don’t eat ice cream but a couple of times a year. Cheap wine is sort of a grocery staple for us, but it is more expensive here in Canada so it is something that we sometimes ignore for months. We need to give up coffee again, since the cheap stuff is getting worse and worse, or I’m getting less and less tolerant of it. The old monks drank nothing but clear water and communion wine (which you always have to share, except the priest gets to finish the cup. And its usually really bad wine – for a reason.) If you like expensive cane sugar sodas, try mixing imported fruit syrups from Poland into club soda. You’ll never know the difference and it is just pennies a glass – a couple of tablespoons of syrup to a large glass of soda.


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