Growing up, the local Woolworths was a place one came for a fresh slice of apple pie and a hot cup of coffee. Sitting down to enjoy your coffee was expected. In a hurry then your jitter juice would be dispensed in a blue paper cup with a Greek-style motif around the lip. Not quite the pattern of bone china, but a luxury back then.
To have a take-out container in the early sixties was to publicly declare you were too busy and important to sit down and have your java. It made a statement then. No insulated or plastic cups, just a lid on what was a first generation disposal item and certainly no cardboard insulator to protect you from the heat. If it was too hot, then you need to slow down. Outside of that add more cold milk or request the tepid pot sitting next to the freshly brewed one. Still too hot, then wrap a napkin around it, so you don’t burn yourself. The choices were lean. With milk, cream or without and the same true with sugar. No guava, honey, stevia, white death, brown or coconut sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate or vanilla. No skinny, soy, lactose-free, unsweetened, sweetened almond milk, syrups, whip creams, chocolate sauce, maple sauce, peppermint or pumpkin spice. It was coffee, not a dessert. It has now become a culture.
My mother percolated the stuff, and we had no way of knowing whether it was good, bad or indifferent until the drip machines came around. It was hot, so we drank it. The alternative was called ‘instant’ and came in a package that you added boiling water to which never made it into our house. With that came the powdered creamer that some loved and would make others gag. My Italian friends were lucky, they had espresso brewed in the old school aluminum percolators typically drenched in more milk than coffee with a ladyfinger biscuit or biscotti on the side. Not exactly a breakfast from the Canada Food Guide back then but as most immigrant kids we were grateful for what was in front of us. We all drank coffee. It was the hot beverage we would partake in before marching off to kindergarten which I suspect would be somewhat shocking today. There wasn’t a lot to reach for in the area of hot drinks. Coffee, Ovaltine, and tea were about it. As for hot chocolate, it was considered a dessert and in some houses a luxury.
A recent study spoke to millennials more concerned about having funds for their morning coffee than their retirement. Multiply a few coffees a day by a few weeks, and in no time you’ve got the coin to indulge in one lovely bottle of perfume.
Fast forward five decades and I find myself in one of those capsule infused coffee boutiques situated in a mall whose square footage boasts the likes of luxury stores you’d see on any mink mile. The employees fused to their screen in dark suits. I’m wondering what they are all looking at and whether I’m in a Stanley Kubrick film. Are they studying the chemistry of the soil the beans are grown in or are they behaving that way because they’re drinking a spiked corporate kool-aid while being programmed?
I feel myself turning into bitch mode with the unnecessary delay in service as the line grows. My meter on life is ticking, and I’m lining up for coffee. I too have bought into the culture desiring one good cup each morning, and it stops there. The fact beans went through a civet cat and were defecated to create Kopi Luwak doesn’t interest me. A straight up fresh cup of coffee to cover my palate and I’m satiated. Most recently I ordered precisely that – a coffee and confused the hell out of the barista. She panicked, surrounded by her arsenal of syrups and accruements confused by the notion of not having to have to reach for any of it. Her autopilot rattled.
Coffee has gone from a time to pause to a chance to create a distraction in one’s day that is socially acceptable. I have yet to see one person at Starbucks working on spreadsheets as they down their your third cup of java. Instead, I pass by reams of entertainment news, and current events which dot the screens. At five bucks a pop it can be more than draft beer costs during happy hour. As a freelancer, I’m curious how everyone can afford to lounge in the various coffee shops during the week but then to be fair, it dawns on me just how much things have changed. I must confess I’ve taken to this practice myself on weekends grabbing a coffee and a stroll with a dear friend.
Finally served, I buy a couple of sleeves of the most boring coffee this high-end boutique offers. The simplicity in the purchase against the backdrop of pretense brings me comfort recognizing I can distance myself from whatever the hell this all is. An older woman huddled in a corner catches my eye as she downs the coffee like a glass of champagne insistent on capturing every drop. I’m offered one of their ‘fabulous’ new flavours at their coffee bar as my transaction completes itself and I graciously decline. They don’t do take out cups, and I’m not committed to stand and stare at a wall having to focus on my hot coffee beverage.
Oh my, didn’t I just come full circle.