Sunday, November 22, 2009
Here's an interesting thought...

the number one traded commodity in the world is crude oil.
the number two traded commodity in the world is coffee.*

in many respects, oil runs the hardware of our everyday lives,
while coffee runs us.

i was reading an article the other day about, among other things, the prevalence of coffee in everyday american life. i found it not particularly shocking, but somewhat surprising that 54% of american adults drink at least one cup a day, and amongst coffee drinkers, they average 3.2 cups/day.**

coffee has become a lubricant for fast-paced american culture. so much in this life happens over a cup. business meetings, first dates, artistic expression, philosophical debates. the drink stimulates the minds of over 160 million americans every day, and yet, as integral as the drink is to our lives, i sometimes feel it gets taken for granted. drinking coffee is no longer about enjoying the history, ritual and complexities of each cup, but more about juicing oneself for the rigors of the coming day.

in times such as these, in the throes of global financial meltdown (or, to be fair, recovery) the last thing we need is more rigors. i mean, scurrying around all day trying to make ends meet is stressful enough, but add to that a giant caffeine buzz from the 20 oz shot in the dark you just pounded whilst stuck in morning rush hour and you're at serious risk for an embolism before your boss even utters a word about how this quarters falling stock prices are inexplicably linked to your actions.

all i'm saying is, it's time we brought some of the enjoyment back into drinking coffee. this is a drink steeped (thank you, thank you...) in history and ritual. its been enjoyed all over the world, from peru to pennsylvania, from sumatra to san antonio. in ethiopia, the birthplace of the drink (and the only region of the world to which coffee is native), natives sit in a circle while coffee beans are roasted, ground and then brewed, passing a vessel around the circle so that everyone may enjoy the drink communally. in italy, there are over 270,000 baristas dedicating their lives that each of the 14 billion espresso shots consumed annually is better than the last.*** coffee has tradition, and it has a passionate following, and it's a shame that the majority of americans enjoy the drink "on the go," gulping it down before it has a chance to make any lasting impression on their taste-buds, much less their lives.

in recessionary times, it has been said that people tend to turn to one or two indulgences to get them through the rough spots. people go to bars, they go to the movies, they go shopping, they knit, they do whatever it takes to distract them for a short time from reality. i would love to see people turn to coffee shops in this manner. let's reinforce the ritual, celebrate the history. let's make coffee a relaxing part of the day and not an added stress. there's no reason to wait in line for twenty minutes, constantly glancing at your watch, worrying you might run late, all for a 20 oz burned cup of brown-drink. it just isn't worth the stress. that same cup of coffee can be produced at home, in somewhere around 5 minutes, and you'd have to try pretty hard to make a cup of coffee at home that's as abused as the stuff you buy in the typical starbucks or quiktrip.

just picture this little scenario: you rise from slumber one morning and wipe the sleep from your eyes. slowly, you amble downstairs and flip on the television, surfing for a moment until you find an interesting news story. you then walk over to your pantry and take out a freshly-roasted bag of ethiopian coffee from a small farm just outside of yirgacheffe, known for organic farming methods and traded fairly and directly with quality-driven importers in the states. you pull out your french press and your nondescript grinder and grind a small amount, just enough for a couple cups. from within the grinder you can smell the light floral notes, maybe a hint of strawberry and blueberry, maybe a little vanilla. you dump that into the press, add some hot water and then amble back upstairs to hop in the shower.

elapsed time, from bed to steeping brew - 6 minutes.

by the time you get back downstairs, there will be waiting for you a steaming mug of the most beautiful coffee in the world. the aroma may meet you as you step out of the shower, it may meet you when you hit that last step, but it will meet you, and it will brighten your day.

so, in an effort to use coffee as a way to relax, and not let it add to everyday stress, here are some things to think about:

1. take a few moments with the cup. sip it as you eat some toast and bread, watching the news. since this whole lecture is about leisurely enjoying the cup, i would advise keeping it out of the car.

2. explore the drink. read up on it. study the history. more knowledge of the drink will foster a more fulfilling, satisfying drinking experience.

3. try cupping. cupping is the coffee equivalent of a wine tasting, where cuppers are able to compare three or four coffees side by side, calibrating their palettes to the distinctions between the offerings. in my opinion, it is the best way to expand ones coffee palette. better, in fact, than simply drinking a lot of espresso. basically, when one drinks two or three coffees side by side, he or she is able to compare distinctions between the coffees immediately. there's really nothing like it.

4. use coffee as a way to reconnect with friends and loved ones. schedule a meeting at your local coffee shop, take a date, whatever. just find a way to make connections over a mug.

5. use your local coffee shop as a reference, not just for the end product. most local shops sell home brewing equipment such as french presses and pour-overs, but some also sell the more heavy-duty stuff, like home espresso machines. the baristas at these shops will be more than happy to discuss the virtues of any brewing technique, as well as which coffees are best suited to each. so pick their brains. and when you pick their brains, tell the baristas you'd like to pick their brains. they love hearing phrases like that.

6. buy your beans at these local shops. forgo the pre-ground, mass-market stuff in the grocery store. chances are its old, and of dubious quality. the beans at local shops will be the sorts of beans the baristas would want to sell, and the sort they would drink themselves.

7. finally, when you must get a cup on the go, get it at that same local shop. buying independent fosters a sense of community, of belonging. having a regular coffeeshop is like having a regular bar or barbershop. after a while, you develop a rapport with your barista and the shop becomes more than just a spot to get ones morning fix, it becomes an escape, a respite from the tedium of everyday life.

so there you are.

key thing to take away from this is that coffee can be a relaxing experience, it doesn't always have to be the fuel for future stress.

i hope you all get out there and enjoy some coffee.

-dan

* Top Traded Commoditites
** American Coffee Consumption
*** Italian Coffee Consumption

Daniel Stewart Mueller at 6:18 PM |

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