November 15, 2010

It's a Huge World, After All

There is an oft noted myth of American superiority, which persists to most all things at all times. It is noted in sports, where the American champion is called the world champion, despite having competed with no team outside of the United States - save, perhaps, the odd Canadian squad.

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series, you may, have heard, defeating the Texas Rangers to claim the title. It is worth noting that the United States has never won the fledgling World Baseball Classic, however. And so it must be said that a team from Japan, Colombia, Venezuela, or Cuba, could, in a seven game series, take four from the Giants. This is not to say that it would happen, of course. And it is worth noting, American sports - excluding soccer - tend to be the best funded, and thus attract the world's best talent.

But that example, at the end of the day, is not terribly controversial. Most accept that MLB is the world's best professional baseball league. There are other instances where that notion seems laughable, of course. Ryan Hall, the fastest American marathoner ever, would be soundly crushed by at least ten currently running Kenyans. And no one insists that the MLS champion could compete, on a weekly basis, in England's Premiere League, Spain's La Liga, or even Frances Ligue 1.

But even with those examples, there is an arrogance to be found. That is, there is a question of why Americans aren't the best, which contains the inherent supposition that America and its citizens are gifted beyond anyone else, and quite capable of ruling any competition they set their collective minds to.

People want to know what America needs to do to win the World Cup; because of course, America has the athletes to do so, they just play other sports. This is trotted out every four years, with laughable results. What if LeBron James played soccer? Or can you imagine Chris Johnson as a winger? This is an absurd, one way comparison, that assumes these sports are somehow more athletically taxing, and that the world's best soccer players couldn't have turned out to be the world's best American football, or basketball players. Who is to say, for instance, that Frank Lampard would not have been Peyton Manning, had he been born in America?

The assumption in distance running is that, either Americans don't work hard enough, or that there is some inherent advantage to running at the high altitudes of East Africa. Those two things well be true enough; but neither ought to suggest that, with the same mileage at the same altitude, the best American should be equal to the best Ethiopian.

There is this notion in coffee, as well (yes, I finally made the connection). The United States and Italy, most seem to think, drink coffee the most, and prepare it the best. Italy did it first, and America, as we've established, is though by Americans to be great at all things. And so it logically follows that the best baristi in the world must reside in those nations as well.

Simply, this is incorrect. Norway drinks, per capita, more coffee than any other nation. The next three are Scandinavian nations as well. The USA is 9th, and Italy 12th, for the record. But so what? Those countries are cold. Thus they drink more coffee. This is, simply put, not news. What of quality?

On that, Scandinavia wins as well. Granted, the World Barista Championships has only been contested since 2000; but in that time, Denmark has four winners, Norway two. Mike Phillips of Chicago did win the USA's first title last year, but no Italian Barista has ever placed in the top three, even. Australia and Great Britain have also made consistently strong showings.

Now even by my standards, this is a lengthy post, with nothing resembling a cogent point. Not yet, at least. And so let me try and make one, here at the end. There are many ways to make coffee, and to drink it. The American way, the way we are most familiar with, is not the best. In fact, there may not be a "best" way, so much as there are different ways. And so I would like to make more posts, in the future, on the type of coffee most associated with a given region. But for the moment, I'll stop.

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