Thursday, January 17, 2013

they put coffee in their coffee in Brazil




From its beginnings in 15th century Yemenite monasteries, coffee has become a staple in the life of 100 million Americans. Ward Cleaver, Steve Douglas or Mike Brady wouldn't have dreamed of starting a day without it. When time-traveler Marty McFly stumbled upon his father's adolescent hangout, Lou the counterman served him up a steaming cup of coffee when the request came for "something without sugar in it." Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza spent nine seasons picking apart their lives over a cup of coffee. Special Agent Dale Cooper wouldn't have made it through an investigation without a slice of cherry pie and "a damn fine cup of coffee."

I began drinking coffee in high school. Once I started art school, I drank coffee daily, downing three or four cups on some days. As an adult, I start every morning with a cup of coffee. A year or so ago, we purchased a Keurig single-cup coffee maker and things couldn't have gotten more convenient. I have a cup of coffee before I leave for work and another one when I arrive at my office. Sometimes, I'll even swallow an additional cup in the late afternoon. I've been doing that for years.

Coffee was the original no-frills beverage. It didn't get much simpler than hot water forced through ground coffee beans. It was quick. It was hot and it was cheap. As reflected in the 1955 setting of Back to the Future, coffee was a nickel a cup. The classic panhandler begged for a few spare coins for a cup of coffee. The cheapest date you could plan was "Hey, let's meet for coffee." You could impress (or repel) a girl for under a buck.

Then something happened to coffee.

Coffee became the drink of choice among the coolest members of society. Coffee connoisseurs began to spring up everywhere. Exclusive coffee specialty shops opened on every corner. Ordering a hot beverage was as intricate as giving instructions on landing an aircraft. And then, those complicated instructions got compacted into truncated code. A secret language only understood by elite coffee drinkers and seasoned baristas. There's another word — barista!  Who ever heard that word  before Starbucks invaded our lives?

Now, before you spill your tall skinny half-caff double-shot vanilla latte, I am not about to knock Starbucks. Look what Starbucks has accomplished. They have succeeded in making us go from starting our mornings with a small, dark cup of plain brewed Maxwell House to carrying a bucket-sized container of overly-sweetened coffee that looks like an ice cream sundae and costs as much as two dozen donuts. And they did it in about a decade. Starbucks has spawned a number of copycats and together they have turned the humble cup of coffee into an 18-billion dollar industry in the United States. Homeless can no longer just ask "spare some change for coffee." At that rate, it would take months to accumulate enough money for a "short" (or as we long-time coffee drinkers say: "small"). As a supporter of free enterprise, I have no problem with Starbucks. More power to them. I just don't like the taste of their coffee. I do, however, admire their achievement in getting society to accept whipped cream and chocolate syrup in the same "coffee condiment" category as sugar and half-n-half.

I'm gonna run out for some coffee now.

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