There’s A Stain On My Notebook

Let’s be honest, coffee tastes like the underside of a wet twig. There is a reason why every single coffee shop has tables on tables stacked with sixteen types of sugar, honey, cream, milk, cocoa powder, vanilla powder, syrup, and every other invention known to man that can make the vile stuff taste remotely better, under the illusion of catering to the consumer.

The genuine coffee addict is aware of this but chooses specifically not to give a damn. When I was little I thought, “good god, how the hell can you people drink this shit?” (with fewer expletives, of course, being a ten year old and all) Now I can barely function in the morning without my medium cup of Rao’s Brazilian roast and like a true addict I am perfectly fine with that.

The reality is, a lot can be learned from the elusive coffee bean. The good, the bad, the ugly – all aspects of life reside in this tiny little kernel of Reason and Truth.

1. The Bad
Worst things first. The coffee bean represents a lot of capitalism’s evils. In many ways the Western world exploits coffee growers from all over the world (primarily in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala). The US consumes 25% of the coffee market alone, which I suppose is a function of our let’s-go-get-’em ideological baggage. We could be paying our growers a lot more than we currently are, unless you’re Rao’s and make more of an effort to pay 30% more than the Starbuckses of this country. But there is a silver lining. I’ve observed an ever-growing national movement to transition from a more colonial coffee industry to a lovely little thing called “fair trade” which started in the Netherlands in 1988. The philosophy? Purchase coffee directly from growers at a higher/more fair price, improve working conditions and economic stability….all under the fatherly supervision of Uncle Sam’s checkbook.

2. The Good
Coffee is the Waltonian vintage radio of society. It brings people together, provides the backdrop for scintillating conversation and even sets the stage for a little evening hanky panky. Throughout history coffee has provided the means for cultural dialogue, sociopolitical criticism, and modification of the norm. And it continues to do so today. As someone responsible for at least 45% of Rao’s income, I can definitively say that I’ve had many an epic conversation with complete strangers and gotten to know some really amazing people in the process. A few examples.
– That Guy in the Red Beret Who Told Me To Go to France: “If you must study anywhere in the world, it has to be Paris. Paris will change your life. You have to go.” (Oh hey, guy. I listened)
– That Lady in the Paisley Headscarf Who Inspired me to Start Appreciating Val
– The Main Barista Who Asked Me if Reading Books with Giant Swastikas on the Cover Ever Got Me In Trouble
– The Art History Professor Who Spent 40 Minutes Talking With Me About My Thesis Despite the Fact that She is Not Personally Invested In It Whatsoever

In short, coffee is the original Facebook. It may not have a photo uploader, but it has better sound effects. Instead of a doleful “shpling” you get the clink of silverware on china, the soft crunch of someone biting into a flaky croissant, the gentle ‘thwip’ of a napkin exiting those strange plastic slotted containers, and, last but not least, the roar of collective smiling.

Get a whiff of that joe- smells like discourse.