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Opinion: Medium-well and middle of the road for the majority of Canadians

As barbecue season begins to materialize, and people return to coffee shops, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their personal preferences for steak and coffee
Steak-AlonaSiurmenko-iStock-GettyImagesPlus
There are some clear regional variations on the opposite ends of the steak spectrum.

One of the nastiest glances I ever received was from a research industry colleague after I had the temerity to order a steak “medium well” when we were having lunch.

What followed was a scathing denunciation of my long-standing eating preferences, along with the promise of a significantly better experience if I switched to “medium rare” instead. Reluctantly, I followed her advice. She was right.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was practically impossible for Canadians to add the desired amount of milk, cream or other non-dairy products when they bought coffee outside of their own homes. While some chains already had a system in place to figure out how much creamer would be added to a specific order, fear of contagion presented a challenge for those who still wanted to be in full control of the process.

As barbecue season begins to materialize, and people return to coffee shops, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their personal preferences for steak and coffee. The survey allowed for a welcome pre-summer break from our usual concerns about policy, pandemic management and electoral forecasting.

The online survey showed Canadians two photographs, one with five different slices of steak and another with nine different cups of coffee, and asked them to choose their favourite shades.

Let’s start with beef. We found out that 10 per cent of Canadians do not eat steak – a proportion that rises to 14 per cent among women, 14 per cent among Ontarians and 28 per cent among South Asians.

Our perception of the perfect steak varies greatly. Only nine per cent of Canadians selected shade No. 1, which some describe as blue, while 21 per cent chose shade No. 2, the medium rare I had avoided for most of my life. More than a quarter (27 per cent) opted for shade No. 3 or medium, 17 per cent went with shade No. 4 or medium well, and the same proportion (17 per cent) picked shade No. 5 or well done.

There are some clear regional variations on the opposite ends of the steak spectrum. In British Columbia, only five per cent of residents opted for well done, while 11 per cent were content with blue. The situation changes drastically in Alberta, where only five per cent went for the rarest of steaks, and 18 per cent selected the cut that clearly spent the longest time in the heat. Still, Alberta is not the leader in preferring shade No. 5. This distinction is shared by Quebec (21 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (24 per cent).

The coffee question also provided some surprises. We can inform readers that 15 per cent of Canadians do not drink it. The incidence of coffee avoiders is highest Atlantic Canada (27 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (25 per cent), followed by Quebec (14 per cent), Ontario (also 14 per cent), British Columbia (10 per cent) and Alberta (six per cent).

While 16 per cent of Canadians of European descent say they do not drink coffee, the proportion is significantly lower among those of South Asian (nine per cent), East Asian (seven per cent) and Indigenous (six per cent) origins.

When respondents were exposed to the photograph with nine shades of coffee, black was the preferred choice for 17 per cent of Canadians, including 21 per cent of men. Residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (22 per cent) and British Columbia (21 per cent) are more likely to enjoy their coffee without any creamer, followed by Albertans (17 per cent), Ontarians (16 per cent), Quebecers (15 per cent) and Atlantic Canadians (13 per cent).

Canadians aged 55 and over are more likely to decline any cream or milk on their coffee (20 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 and aged 18 to 34 (15 per cent each).

Across the country, 18 per cent of Canadians add only what would seem to be a splash of milk or creamer to their coffee, expressing their preference for shades No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4.

The largest group of Canadians locate their own coffee cup along shades No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7, a colour that is more reminiscent of beige and well short of passing for whitish. Half of women (50 per cent) and one third of men (34 per cent) are in this category. Canadians aged 18 to 34 are also more likely to be on this middle ground (47 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 and aged 55 and over (40 per cent each).

This leaves us with shades No. 8 and No. 9, where seemingly only drops of coffee were poured into a container filled with milk or creamer. While eight per cent of Canadians choose this apparently tame mixture, the proportion rises to 13 per cent in Alberta, 12 per cent among Conservative Party of Canada voters in the 2021 federal election and 12 per cent among those of Indigenous or First Nations origins.

As expected, there is no universal way to enjoy a steak or a cup of coffee in Canada. If we were to put these findings on electoral terms, a first-past-the-post system would deliver a country of medium-well steaks and beige coffee – much to the dismay of those who express a fondness for more radical options.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 22 to May 24, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.