Some thoughts on coffee…

Coffee.  So much is in a word.  The way it punctuates the day. The way it can act as both an invitation to social interaction, and a buffer against it. Its fascinating and varied history. How it has become one of the most ubiquitous, conspicuous consumption items of choice for middle class Americans.  Its ability to give people a sense of personal identity (Triple non-fat dry cappuccino anyone?!)

We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup…You don’t even really need a place. But you feel like you’re doing something. That is what coffee is. And that is one of the geniuses of the new coffee culture. – Jerry Seinfeld

I write this while sitting among the caffeinated masses in a popular local spot.  Everyone here who’s not chatting loudly about their drunken escapades from the previous night is immersed in their laptops and earbuds with looks of concentration (such that I also probably have right now) that would give the impression that one is writing the next great American novel, or at the very least curing cancer.  When in reality, we’re all just working on crafting the perfect Instagram caption and/or trying to devise a witty hashtag.


Office civilization could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.” – Alain de Botton

My day is punctuated by when I am having, have had, or will have coffee. It is my time stamp, and one of the key indicators that time is indeed moving along. Take my most typical day for example: Coffee upon waking up (7am). Coffee when I get to work (9am).  Pre-lunch coffee (11am), Post-lunch coffee (2pm). Occasional bank lobby coffee (5pm), post dinner coffee (8pm). It’s how I know whether I’m coming or going.

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” – Dave Barry

The Viennese coffee culture has existed for centuries, but until Starbucks made headway in the American suburbs, the idea of “going for coffee” was a primarily urban, city dweller activity. Before Starbucks became ubiquitous, coffee for most people meant a black, watery substance that served as a vehicle for a morning pick-me-up.  Taste, quality, and variety were certainly not a concern.  Now, soccer moms and yuppies alike partake in double espresso macchiatos and dry cappuccinos.  However, the elevation to the mainstream that Starbucks has allowed for in American coffee culture has only created a backlash of sorts among the original, pre-populist, coffee aficionados.  Thus the rise of the “non corporate” coffee culture. It is antithesis of and reaction to the demystification of coffee perpetrated on the populace by a green and white Siren.

“Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle’s Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” – Sarah Vowell

Have you ever noticed that every TV talk show has coffee cups present? It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I’ve always wondered whether it’s actually coffee that is in there, or something else.  But then again, what’s the point of using a coffee mug if you’re just going to put water or juice in it?  Why not just a plain glass? Perhaps the coffee mug elicits more candid responses from talk show guests…getting back to that whole idea of coffee-as-social-lubricant, thing.

“Do you know how helpless you feel if you have a full cup of coffee in your hand and you start to sneeze? ” – Jean Kerr

Why does my bank want me to have coffee?  I see the free coffee stand to my right and think, “I know it’s 5pm and I’m heading home, but then again, this may take a while…The struggle is real.

Perhaps the bank coffee is a primer, a subliminal message of sorts, that coffee and banking go hand in hand.  It would make sense, since every bank commercial seems to feature coffee as an essential part of the “at home banking” process: a cozy atmosphere (perfectly fitting), comfortable clothes, laptop – all of the accoutrement one needs. The actors in the commercials are poised for banking success. Achievement with a capital “A” is imminent. Coffee, no doubt, has played a key role in this. The subtlety is not lost on me. And yet, I still pour myself a quick cup, adding to my already caffeine addled brain, and fill out my deposit slips.