Anyone who has spent even a day in a European country knows that coffee and “the cafe” play a central role in European culture. Having traveled extensively through France, Spain, Italy, and dipping a toe into Germany I know this to be true. One of the first things I do after I land in a European country and shower off the nearly 11 hours of funky flight scum, is get my hands on a respectable espresso drink and nuzzle into a seat at a cafe.
At home here in the States, I am not much of a coffee drinker. I limit my intake mostly to the occasional decaffeinated coffee or espresso (I can hear the boos, hisses, and cries that I am a poser already), as my system is very sensitive to caffeine. I will brave a full octane espresso only when I know that I will not have access to windows higher than the ground floor, for fear that I might jump out. Yes, it gets that bad, and no this is not a cry for help. Caffeine also causes me to perspire, act like a cranker, and I swear I can feel my hair growing when I have it. None of the listed side effects are particularly attractive, hence my desire to limit my descent into the imminent “crazy” to only those times when I know the espresso and the experience are worth it.
From the moment I first tasted coffee in a European cafe, I have asked myself, why doesn’t coffee taste like this at home? In the States we have amazing access to coffee beans from all over the world, we have local producers of the finest quality organic dairy products, and of course we have American ingenuity, that has to count for something, so again why? I am convinced that the answer to that question is culture.
Save places like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York, we don’t really have a cafe culture. On a whole, we don’t place much emphasis on lingering and savoring an artfully crafted “cup of coffee.” We are usually rushing around drinking coffee on the go, expecting it to serve only as a conduit of chemical fueled energy to get us through the day. If you have any doubt about the validity of my position, just count the number of people in the drive through at Starbucks, or even the number of people rushing around with a to go cup of coffee in their hand–a guaranteed anomaly in Europe. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my country dearly, but we can stand to learn a few things about taking the time to savor excellence in the craftsmanship of food and drink the way Europeans do. There is an amazing world outside of our McDonaldized, fast, cheap, and easy tendencies.
Still think I am a traitor American with a tendency toward self-loathing? Check out this really cool film by Amy Ferraris that I stumbled upon on Netflix last week called, “The Perfect Cappuccino.” Stream it. Ms. Ferraris presents her case for why Europeans, particularly Italians, have a leg up on us. She captures the essence of why the European coffee experience sends any well travelled American into blissful reverie at the mention of it. She also exposes some spooky moves by Starbucks to torment a gifted espresso craftsman in of all places Tulsa, Oklahoma! The film isn’t about bashing the States, or corporate America, rather it is a call to action for us as Americans to take the time to savor things that are truly great, and to examine the product of our own rampant, mindless, consumerism. Luckily, a few of the small operations leading the charge to whet American tastes to espresso excellence are here in the Bay Area, as she features Ritual Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee in the film. This is no work of typical leftist “commie” blather. It’s 89 minutes well spent.
On The Ranch, I am at least 90 minutes from any place where I can get a truly great cup of coffee, so I have learned to take a stab at it on my own, thanks to my Nespresso machine. Luckily, when I feel like living dangerously and having a caffeinated espresso, I only have the second story window to worry about and there are tons of well placed objects in between to graciously break my fall. And yes, I make a point to sit and savor. I dare you to do the same.
Watch the film. Tell me what you think.
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