Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Drinking (coffee) Again
I was in Southern California last week, and it occurred to me that you could do a comparative culture study based on what goes on in a café. It was also interesting to note how your mind can get warped one way or another depending on what side of the Atlantic you live on. As I entered a Peet’s Coffee in Irvine with my brother, I had a difficult time suppressing the urge to scoff, loudly, at what passes for a café in SoCal. “Harumph!” I wanted to snort, “you call this a place to enjoy coffee, you heathens? Putain, everyone is drinking out of paper cups! How can you possibly enjoy a good cup of coffee in a paper cup!” Ah me, it was only a short few years ago, that I too, marched triumphantly through the streets of New York with my paper cup in hand, sipping out of a hole in the plastic top, feeling at one with rush hour. Of course I didn’t have time to sit down and drink my coffee, I was BUSY. Being busy is an end unto itself in New York City, and nothing quite says Working Girl like that paper cup. But wait, there I was in Southern California and not only was I not busy, but neither were the people in Peet’s. In fact, it was the weekend and they were all sitting down drinking out of…paper cups. With plastic tops. Now this used to make sense to me, or rather, I just didn’t worry about it. But now that I'm coming from another place, literally, it makes no sense at all. Let’s think about this. You are inside, not moving. What’s with the plastic tops? Are people really so sloppy that they risk spilling their doppio pumpkin frappucino on the carpet? And without getting too militant here, isn’t all that plastic and paper a little, well…wasteful?? Oops, I forgot, I was in Southern California, the epicenter of non-sustainable living. As I glanced around the parking lot filled with monstrous SUVs I remembered that this was The Good Life, the one that will be obsolete in about 50 years when there’s no more cheap fuel. What will the folks in Orange County be doing then? Jogging to work? But that is a subject for a different post, on a different website, preferably one like Grist.
But let me get back to Peet’s. I like Peet’s. Heck, I went to U.C. Berkeley, just up the street from the orignal Peet’s. I remember the delicious smell of the beans roasting and the line around the block every morning. And if the company has gone commercial and is now a chain, Peet’s in Irvine still serves a good cup of coffee, even if it is in a paper cup. And at Peet’s in Irvine I learned a remarkable thing: if you ask, they will actually serve your coffee in a ceramic demi-tasse! I felt so…well, Euro when I did this (I’m sure my brother was cringing), but I have to admit, it made me happy. And as I looked around at my fellow coffee drinkers, I saw that, in fact, they seemed like a pretty happy lot. Maybe I missed the unique atmosphere that reigns in a French café, where your waiter could most often be mistaken for Lurch and everyone seems to be in the midst of a deep, but thoughtful, depression. But I had to admire the seemingly boundless energy that oozes from Southern Californites, even on a weekend morning. People were bouncy, chatty, and dressed in workout clothes—you wouldn’t have been surprised if an impromptu aerobics class erupted between the tables. Even if I would be hard pressed to call most of the drinks they were sipping “coffee” (espresso drenched with syrup and soymilk? Eww!), and even if I still think waiting in line and having your name screamed out by someone you don’t know takes the romance out of things, I’ll admit there is something compelling about the experience. I’m not sure what, but there is definitely something.