My schedule has what some might consider odd hours. Wednesday I’m working until 9pm most of the time, Sunday’s I basically spend all day at work, and most other days I end up at home when the work is done independent from a clock. My wife and I are like most millennials in that we love to watch Netflix. We haven’t paid for cable in over 3 years and don’t have any plans to. Lately she has been super into watching Anthony Bourdain in The Layover. It’s a fantastic show. He quickly goes around to a bunch of spots in a random city. I learned a lot about food in Atlanta and I’ve lived in the city for 4 years. I also loved getting confirmation that some of the spots I love to visit were on his must hit list. The part that got me thinking and ultimately got me to write this blog was when Anthony kind of went off on Coffee Culture. For Anthony, let’s just say he’s not a huge specialty coffee fan. To him as long as it’s warm, dark, and has caffeine, that’s more than good enough. While I don’t want to make this into a tirade against the man. I do want to explain some of the things that I have noticed about the reality of coffee culture in this country and what the best attributes about it are.
There is no culture around coffee. Coffee is a beverage, not a culture. A coffee culture would be the shop owners banning together to throw these deadbeats out in the street. – Anthony Bourdain
Coffee Creates Community. This was the theme I took into competition at the 2016 US Barista Championships and it is the reason why I know there is a coffee culture. While working in a cafe I noticed the world will come to a coffee shop. Every age, race, gender, religion, and political view is represented by customers who come in to enjoy a beverage. There are plenty of people out there who don’t like coffee or don’t care about the sourcing, production, roasting, and preparation of it. And that’s totally fine in my opinion, but there is an undeniable fact that people come together at the modern day watering hole. Maybe it’s just an excuse to get out of the house, maybe people think it’s better than hanging out at a bar, and honestly, it’s cheaper too. Whatever the reason when you go to a cafe and truly look around at the individuals hanging out in a third wave shop, you see an eclectic mix of the world. It’s one of the greatest joys of being a part of the industry.
Coffee Culture is searching for excellence. There are plenty of coffee nerds out there of which I would consider myself one. People who are looking for the best way to extract the precise amount of total dissolved solids or looking for the perfect espresso ratio. They use tools like scales, tamps, refractometers, and their tasting palate to deliver something delicious. This pursuit of excellence I believe is a divine calling. Something within me won’t settle for mediocrity when it comes to coffee. Sure, I’ll drink waffle house coffee and sometimes I just want my coffee to be more like a dessert, but you can’t fault a person for doing everything they possibly can to be the very best at what they do. I love that their best isn’t even for themselves but for others to enjoy. When you make 100 lattes in a given day I’m going to guess you didn’t consume all of them. There can be days when customers are being a bit out of line and you might not be able to take the inappropriateness of their comments. Those days you might pursue excellence for yourself alone but even when you only do your best for the sake of doing your best it is other people who enjoy the fleeting delicious drink you prepare.
Coffee Culture is a feeling. It’s that feeling you get when you wake up in the morning knowing you want so desperately to fall back asleep but the prevailing thought that keeps you awake is: “but I get to make coffee.” It’s that feeling you get when it’s just cold enough outside that you wrap up in a sweater, take your cup on the porch and are able to see the steam rising into the atmosphere as if it’s shaking hands with the world. It’s that feeling you have of turning off your brain for a minute, not worrying if it tastes like strawberries or walnuts and just enjoy the fact it’s smooth and delicious. It’s that feeling of being accepted when people don’t care about your appearance as much as they care about your heart and desire to share in something common. It’s a feeling of explosion when your mind is blown by a beverage you never knew could taste like this, feel like this, be experienced like this. It’s a feeling completeness seeing farmers meticulously caring for each seed all the way to a dark liquid in a cup. It’s a feeling of stillness, a peace in the thin silence of the world that often alludes us.
Coffee culture exists to combat the norm of people being taken advantage of and exploited to make cheap coffee the rule and expensive coffee the exception. Coffee culture is taking back the norm and working towards an economy of love in which the supply chain is treated with respect while being paid a living wage. These are just a scratch of the surface of what I know to be coffee culture. I wish I could explain to you the community and loveliness of a cupping, or the intensity of a coffee competition, or how serving others is at the heart of coffee culture. So I invite you to experience it for yourself. To have an open mind and see community blossom revolving around this complex and infinitely interesting product. Maybe I’ll see you in the shop one day, your cortado is on me.