Coffee schmoffee! I don’t get it.
Then I married a coffee lover and entered the world of Sumatra, French Roast, Italian Roast, Guatemala Antigua and Konas blending with other exotic locales from around the globe. You can have it caffed, decaffed or half-caffed, frapped or capped, whipped or mocchiatoed and I still don’t get it. Whatever happened to a plain ole cuppa Joe? I mean really, if I did go to a coffee house, I’d be so stressed I’d be shaking just trying to translate the menu, never mind caffeine jitters.
OK – full disclosure - I didn’t grow up in a coffee culture. My family didn’t love coffee, unless you count Breyer’s coffee ice cream. Oh, my parents had one of those tall, shiny silver electric coffee makers they’d pull out for dinner parties, and my mom did make coffee in one of those old-fashioned perk pots on the stove now and again… but coffee wasn’t their “thing.”
What I knew about coffee I learned from television commercials… “Chock Full O’Nuts is that heavenly coffee” or “Maxwell House, good to the last drop.” And the movies taught me that there were actual coffee houses. All seemed to be in Manhattan where, in a dense cloud of cigarette smoke, beat people dressed in black, hung out playing bongos while reciting very bad poetry.
When I started working in Manhattan, I discovered coffee shops (not to be confused with coffee houses) and their menus of cheeseburgers, grilled cheeses, and tuna melts. I suppose people did go there for coffee, but none of my friends did. And I’ll never forget those wonderfully convenient, often on a street corner, Chock Full O’Nuts luncheon counters where its famous cream cheese sandwich on date nut bread trumped any thoughts of coffee for me.
We (my husband and I) left N.Y. for L.A. around the time Starbucks, like wire hangers in a closet, began taking over every available space on every “Main Street” (and “Back Street”) in America, even if those spaces were across the street from each other or just down the block. Other coffee chains chimed in and mushroomed, as did the privately owned, only one of its kind coffee houses.
Like those “bongo-playing, poetry-reading” coffee houses in Manhattan many people (often still dressed in black) go to Starbucks, Peets, Seattle’s Best or Joe Schmo’s Coffee Café to drink coffee and hang out. OK, I get the drinking coffee thing (sort of – caffeine is an addictive drug, after all), just not the hanging out part.
One of our many Studio City (and there are many!) is my husband’s hangout of choice. He sips his lattes, reads the New York Times then does the crossword puzzle before he comes home to start his writing workday. But there is free wi-fi if he wants to bring his computer and do research for his latest play there.
Lots of writers spend hours in coffee houses noodling on their computers and I’ve always thought it was because the environment must be more pleasant than the garrets they’re living in. But this is Studio City and these writers are not starving artists. Not at those coffee prices. I don’t get it. It’s not even for any social inter-action, since the only people most of these coffee lovers talk to are the baristas or their Twitter-mates.
I know, I know, the machines in these “houses” make better coffee. But they also make the coffee more expensive. Which doesn’t seem to matter. Sweating joggers jog in for iced frappucinos (what is a frappucino, anyway?), moms (and dads) stroll in with their babies in strollers to get their Venti non-fat cappucinos and a juice box for the aforementioned babies. Tall, Grande, Venti?!?! What was wrong with small, medium and large?
Recently, my husband told me about a woman in Starbuck’s with a suitcase who found a comfortable seat and table and set up not only her computer, but her printer, and started working on something forever and a day… all for the price of a cup of coffee. The coffee may be pricey, but that is a great rent for office space. No overhead and no bad office coffee.
It seems coffee and coffee houses have become as important to Americans as tea and tea parlors are to the English. As I tried to understand this coffee culture, I watched our town’s storefront landscape change as more and more coffee houses (are they even called coffee “houses” anymore?) popped up like those annoying pop-ups on my computer screen telling me I need to debug or asking me if I want to “leave the page.” Half of them seem perpetually empty making me wonder how they can all make a profit. I mean, really, how many coffee lovers can there be in Studio City?
Maybe, like General Hospital’s mob king Sonny Corinthos’ coffee house where “business” is conducted in the “backroom,” some of these houses serve another purpose? Hmmmm. Too Hollywood? You tell me. Over a cuppa Joe.