July 4, 2012

The Great American Coffee Pot

On this day, some time ago, our brave forefathers declared their independence from England, as best I can tell, because they were sick of paying sales tax on tea. We've had some ugly spots since then, some rather poor race relations, gender inequality, nuclear bombings, etc. But here we are, America, land of the free, home of the brave, still bitching that our caffeine delivery vehicles are too damn expensive.

But while some things don't change, others do. Sarcasm aside, we do live in a more open and equal society today, one that is sometimes even willing to discuss said openness and in/equalities. That's what I'm here today to do, in a sense.

My last post posited a question: Is there such a thing as masculine/feminine coffee? And, well, no one stepped forward to answer, which didn't really surprise me. It's an odd topic, first of all, one that I imagine no one really thinks about. And even if you did think about it, it's a hard question to answer. What do we mean by masculine and feminine? Do we mean simply that men and women like different flavors, or different drinks altogether? Are we inferring things about cultural suppositions, or about base biology? How do we even begin to address these questions without sounding like a bigot?

Given all of those problems, it's no wonder that we shy away from these sorts of discussions. The minefield is simply too difficult to navigate.

However, I'd wager that, if you've worked at a coffee bar, you've probably done your fair share of stereotyping. Asian girls get caramel machiattos; asian guys get americanos; hipsters get coffee, then load it with cream and sugar; chubby valley girl types get "skinny" lattes; middle eastern guys get mochas; the list goes on. You don't really like that you think these sorts of things, but you do, in the part of your brain that cares for neither wholesale accuracy nor political correctness.

Of course, all of this is why we like cafes, and coffee in general. It's an Ethiopian bean, first made popular in Arabia, then brewed in Europe. It became mechanized and made a commodity, as with many things, during the Industrial Revolution. It was that desire for haste that gave us espresso in the first place, as an Italian factory owner wanted to cut down on coffee break time, and increase productivity. Skip forward a few decades, and now we've got an army of smarmy hipsters, with their tight jeans and shaggy bangs, pulling shots for the craft, and making all sorts of other drinks for all sorts of other people, thinking things that maybe aren't polite, but mostly, loving it all.

I do, at least. There is some part of me that would probably like working in a more "elite" setting, serving nothing but black coffee, get the fuck out if you want dairy or sugar. But most of me likes seeing those more diverse cliental, even if some part of my brain starts to assume things about them. Maybe I think the guy who gets the white mocha with skim is "girly", or that the any number of other people are either playing in to or thwarting whatever stereotypes I might have formed for them. Maybe they've got similar assumptions about me, and probably, a lot of them are true.

Optimistic sorts tell us that this holiday is about embracing these differences, and celebrating them. They tell us that we are a nation of immigrants, of leftovers and mismatched parts. We are square pegs that fit improbably well in the round holes we've found ourselves in.

Maybe, but I don't know. What I do know is that I like being sent, in all forms, the tired, poor, and huddled masses - so long as they're not too poor to pay, of course.

1 comment:

  1. On those cold winter nights, a cup of Gourmet coffee is exactly what we need!