So, strange thing: in Sydney, people actually go to coffee shops to drink coffee. This is amazing (to me,) because in New York, people seem to go to coffee shops exclusively to buy coffee to spill on the floor, or to work on their novel. Yes, I know I have issues. New York can do that to a barista. The city is a study in the principle that coffee only makes boring people even more boring. I guess I'm thinking about it today because going past a closed Starbucks still gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
The average cafe menu is a lot simpler here in Australia. It also contains a lot more actual coffee. For example: Pie Face, which is like their non-creepy, pie-providing version of Starbucks, offers cappucinos, lattes, espressos, long blacks (a.k.a Americanos), and flat whites. Now the fun thing is that up until about a year ago if you asked a random Sbux barista to make you a flat white they would look at you as if you were speaking German.* Because we never, ever, ever had boatloads of English tourists coming in and asking for them. No sir. We also didn't know how to properly brew a cup of bloody tea. I used to think really that the English may take the whole tea-chauvinism thing too far, but their idea of having a basic way to screen for general competence may have something to it.
But I digress. Which is harder than it looks when you don't know where you're going. There are a lot of very good articles on actual coffee already on here. Francis Bacon said all that needs to be said anyway**: 'They have in Turkey a drink called coffee, made of a berry of the same name... This drink comforteth the brain and heart, and helpeth digestion...' which the Turks suppose '...expelleth all fear, do all condense the spirits, and make them strong and aleger.'
I always thought of Francis Bacon as the G.K. Chesterton of the 17th century, but I haven't read enough of either of their works to determine whether that's really accurate. So I'm not even
going to pretend that I didn't have to look that quote up.
I also don't have the temperment necessary for a thorough survey of coffeee; I'm not going to make another blueprint of the wheel. I am interested in how people respond to coffee though, and I've enjoyed watching Australians enjoy their drinks. As opposed to gulping them down because they don't have time to get lunch and god forbid that their productivity drop in accordance with natural circadian rhythms and lack of actual cognitive rewards. Coffee-drinking in New York is, like everything else in New York, a little dysfunctional. I'd been drinking coffee for years, and was pretty good at managing my dosages. Until I started working at a coffee shop and had to abuse the substance to manage the working hours. Perhaps it's never occurred to someone who's had their name spelled with four extra 'e's and a 'k' in it, but the people making your coffee are simultanteously sleep-deprived and high. I'm not just exagerrating for effect. If you're a small person like me, who is managing themselves so that they're not acquiring caffiene resistance (an elaborate process that requires too many decaf and half-caff Americanos to count,) if you have enough caffeine you look like you're having crack-jitters. Except instead of being kind of pasty and sweaty and dirty looking and like you'll attack the next person who so much as looks at you, you're wearing a green apron and a black hat, and you're pasty and sweaty and dirty looking, and seem like you'll attack the next person who looks at you. And you might be wearing makeup. Whether you're a guy or girl really; it is New York after all.
So, after having spent some time dealing with the overly caffienated, I can understand the anti-caffeine viewpoint. "May God deprive of this drink the foolish man who condemns it with incurable obstinacy" is an early example of a caffeine junkie getting a little too worked up. And if you want someone to sit down and calmly accept new ideas, an adrenaline analogue is probably the last thing you want coursing through their system. Which makes you wonder if that's just the teeniest, tiniest contributing factor in how the world is the way it is. Just saying. Maaaybe. On the other hand, people who don't run on coffee seem to be pretty uninspirational too. Because when you stop drinking coffee: "...finally the tension on the harp strings eases, and one returns to the relaxed, meandering, simple-minded, and cryptogamous life of the retired bourgeoisie." (To quote a writer I don't particularly admire. Balzac reminds me of a French Charles Dickens...)
On another note: I do love tea. I grew up drinking tea (and coffee,) and I was the only person at my store who knew anything about tea (pre-and-post-Teavana-merger), and it is wonderful to be able to get cheap, nice tea, and to have electric kettles everywhere. Even if it doesn't cut quite the same figure as coffeee. I don't even know why I was thinking about this, and this took three+ cups of tea rather than the more normal one-cup-of-tea-log.
And yes: I'm shamelessly Walpoling. I never got to make nerd jokes with my baristas. Sorry.
Almost all quotes are taken from Uker's fabulously entertaining All About Coffee (1922), and nothing can be a substitute for reading the source material.This poem though seems to perfectly sum up the New York coffee culture:
When you are worried, have trouble of one sort or another— to the coffee house!
When she did not keep her appointment, for one reason or other— to the coffee house!
When your shoes are torn and dilapidated— coffee house!
When your income is four hundred crowns and you spend five hundred— coffee house!
You are a chair warmer in some office, while your ambition led you to seek professional honors— coffee house!
You could not find a mate to suit you— coffee house!
You feel like committing suicide— coffee house!
You hate and despise human beings, and at the same time you can not be happy without them— coffee house!
You compose a poem which you can not inflict upon friends you meet in the street— coffee house!
When your coal scuttle is empty, and your gas ration exhausted— coffee house!
When you need money for cigarettes, you touch the head waiter in the— coffee house!
When you are locked out and haven't the money to pay for unlocking th e house door— coffee house!
When you acquire a new flame, and intend provoking the old one, you take the new one to the old one's— coffee house!
When you feel like hiding you dive into a— coffee house!
When you want to be seen in a new suit— coffee house!
When you can not get anything on trust anywhere else— coffee house!
*In case you're feeling particularly smart-alecky: I hate to break it to you, but most baristas do not in fact speak German. At the risk of sounding utterly snooty: I sometimes wonder whether they speak English.
** As he did so often. Damn you Bacon for stating the obvious so much more beautifully than I ever could.