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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow this is weird....i live in irvine and was at peet's on that same saturday with my friend sonia who was raised in paris, ....but in the afternoon..... i had just come back from my first trip to london, paris and provence....and she wanted to hear all about it......i went with my husband, two sons and a daughter in law......we stayed in a flat on st. honore while in paris.....it was fabulous.....and here's the funniest part....your book was THE only book we packed along.....no kidding......we were on and off trains, and metros, so we limited ourselves to one book....we found it very helpful.......i found your sight last night....and laughed as i used to live in laguna niguel.....small, small, world, huh? do love my peet's....i used to order it from the bay area and have it mailed to irvine before they gravitated south......thanks for a laugh or two.....truly a small world! donna

Margie Rynn said...

That is pretty amazing! It would have been even wilder if we'd actually met at Peet's. You didn't got to my high school (LBHS), did you? I'm glad you liked the book and that you enjoyed your trip!

Anonymous said...

no...i grew up in whittier, and moved to laguna niguel in 1971....i do have a girlfriend leslie from LBHS....my youngest child was born at south coast hospital......i do understand what you mean when you address the "niceities" of this so. cal culture.....you always feel like you get the very top layer of someone's personality......that flip-floppy "hey how's life" kind of thing......it is funny though that i can tell by your word usage, and stlye of expressions that you were raised in this area....(not a cut or compliment....just a fact!!!) loved being in aix....have an art degree, and aix stole my heart......i knew it would.....i have lived in 2 other states, so i at least have a stand back at look at what's going on in calif. view......i am an unusual soul though, for orange county.....organic garden...composting etc.....but i do agree that there is something compelling about this area, or the population would not be increasing as it is! donna

Pamela said...

I just wrote a post about the joy of drinking from a ceramic mug on my blog. (I am a Cal grad too, and was raised on Peets. ) My French friends have shown me a better way, sitting and drinking from a cup and talking, having coffee not taking it to go.

I will be in Paris next week, can you recommend a cafe where I can get a soy latte?

Pamela said...

I just wrote a post about the joy of drinking from a ceramic mug on my blog. (I am a Cal grad too, and was raised on Peets. ) My French friends have shown me a better way, sitting and drinking from a cup and talking, having coffee not taking it to go.

I will be in Paris next week, can you recommend a cafe where I can get a soy latte?

Margie Rynn said...

Soy Latte?! You can't imagine how foreign a concept that is here. Though I am not a fan of Starbucks, and am even opposed to it's presence in Paris, it is the only place you can get a soy latte in Paris. Sad to say, there are Starbucks sprinkled around the city, and I fear they may put some old fashioned cafés out of business. My suggestion? If you are coming to Paris, be Parisian! Go to any old regular corner café and order a "café", which is a bit weaker than an espresso, or if that is too strong for you, order an "allongé". There's no milk involved so you won't have sensitivity issues, and you'll have a real Parisian experience, instead of an American import. Have a great trip!

Pamela H said...

Thanks. I do not want to go to Starbucks, though I know where there is one near our hotel. Since I am coming next week, I have been reading Paris blogs, and having a great time. If you have any tips that you want to share, you can e-mail me at pamelahornikatyahoodotcom. I am leaving all four kids w/ in laws and have four days to explore!

Abfab Art Studio said...

Oh my goodness, Margie, if I didn't know better I'd say we're related!

We first crossed paths when I wrote about coffee on this blog prior to my recent Paris adventure in June 08.

Now I've just spotted you writing about PEETS COFFEE in CALIFORNIA!

Holy cow, BatGirl, of ALL the coffee I TRIED to drink when I lived in California, it was PEETS who won my heart :-)

Took me a few goes to get them to add an amount of coffee to their cups to bring it up to the level I'm used to in Australia (i.e. coffee that tastes like coffee, not hot milk) - so I order a triple shot latte (normal size) at Peets.

Ahhhhhh I love the difference between ordering coffee in Sydney (or Melbourne), Paris and San Francisco - and the experience of sitting in the cafes therein.

But I'm with you - paper cups are only for walking with coffee - not sitting down and savouring the flavour and the ambience.

Merry Christmas from Teena, currently in Australia!

PS - Pamela, hope you found your soy latte! I'm thinking Cafe Malongo (there are several) might have soy lattes ...

http://www.a-night-in-paris.com/french-restaurants-and-cafes-in-sydney-bitton-gourmet.html

Abfab Art Studio said...

I have found a great cafe for soy latte - I wrote about it on my website for the next time you're in Paris

http://www.a-night-in-paris.com/find-soy-latte-in-paris.html

Au revoir!
Teema

dnt said...

As someone originally from San Francisco and now living in Geneva (and visits Paris often), I related a lot to this post. The cafe culture differences are so vast. Another I noticed is that people here do not use cafes as a study haven the way we do back home!

Also funny to read your descriptions of the people all happily buzzing around and wearing workout clothes, it's so Cali...:)