October 28, 2012

Coffee, by any beans necessary...

No, I'm not talking about my favorite 1973 blaxploitation film starring the foxxy Pam Grier, which taught me how to properly conceal razor blades in my weave (demonstration below, fast forward to 0:56 for the good stuff).  I'm talking about the caffeinated brew that people pay a lot of money for and often (but not always) tastes like chalk.

More specifically, I'm talking about the coffee shop.  Many people are surprised to learn that I had never been inside a coffee shop until I was sixteen.  This is mostly because there were no cafés within a 52 minute drive of my childhood sipcode.

You see, besides the house that I grew up in, the only other residents on our dirt road were my grandparents, who now spend the majority of their time cultivating gallons of homemade wine.  So the target demographics and revenue forecasts don't bode well for a successful beverage establishment (or bookstore, or movie theater, or bar, or anything else that makes a decent example of western civilization).

During my first week of junior year at my fancy new magnet school near downtown Durham, my lab partner suggested making flash cards for marinebiology at the local coffeeshop.  I could only respond with a measly, "Um... Okay!"  Because I figured that reaction was better than revealing myself as a country bumpkin who had no idea why anyone would go to a drink shop to get work done.

In fact, the very idea of going to a business solely to buy coffee, in my mind, was absolutely ridiculous, because if you weren't buying a pickup truck full of groceries or going to church, it wasn't worth the drive.  And because coffee was fucking gross, since I had only had the Foldgers Dark Roast my grandfather put in his cofee maker, set to brew automatically at 6 am every morning.

This is tea, not coffee, but I got it in a coffee shop, so SHUT UP IT'S RELEVANT & PRETTY.  Photo: Taylor Halcomb
I walked with my lab partner across the street (no driving involved! MIND BLOWN), to Broad Street Café, and I was immediately confused.  There was only one person sitting at a table actually drinking coffee; everyone else was sitting on an eclectic mix of 60s vinyl couches and velvet Victorian parlor chairs, furiously typing on silver laptops with glowing Apples on the back of the screens.

"Oh!  There are couches!" I said, bewildered.

"Well, yeah.  It's a coffee shop."  My partner was not amused by my acute observation.

Up until then I thought I could keep it cool and pretend that I had done this sort of thing before, but I broke down and admitted that this was baby's-first coffee shop.

"WHAT?" my partner said, "Are you serious?  How could you live without a coffee shop?"  Apparently she had lived a glamorous life in the 'burbs, within close proximity to three cafés, a Whole Foods Market, and a Costco.  A small 20-something suddenly appeared behind the counter.  "OH HI give me an extra foam, non-fat latte at 125 degrees with a shot of espresso and can you stir in two packs of Splenda before the milk is added THANKS!"

I may have peed a little.

"And you?" The cashier with a crooked nose ring gave me a questioning look.

"Um... can I just get, um, the berry tea?"


I fell over.  "How much??"

"Three.  Ninety.  Five."  The barista (as I later learned they were called) spelled out the numbers with her sausage fingers clad in obnoxiously large spoon rings.

"I'll just get water, thanks."

"Ugh... CANCEL THAT ORDER!" she yelled to the other barista standing two feet to her left.

I settled into a mustard-yellow couch with blue and orange leopard print throw pillows, and made absolutely no headway on my flash cards.  I WAS IN A FUCKING COFFEE SHOP, YA'LL.

Baby's first pumpkin spiced latte.  I remain UNCONVINCED that it contained pumpkin-anything.  Photo: Greg Kozatek

 Fast forward 5 odd years and I still don't get it.  Since moving to an actual city, though, where coffee shops are far more abundant and functional, I've come to at least enjoy them.  I tend to get a lot of work done if I go to the right one, and they are fantastic locales for extensive people-watching.  I've even enjoyed a few cups of coffee!  Although all those crazy coffee drinks just taste the same to me (most recent scenario: "Greg, are you sure there's pumpkin spice in this latte?  It just tastes like coffee." "Well there's a pooper at every party...").  I usually just opt for a public affair with tea.  Mostly because it often comes in a cute pot.

So, if you're like I was and have no idea how coffee shops work, you probably never will.  Just meet friends there, drink out of attractive cups, and pretend like you know what you're doing.  Maybe the odd sensation of "what's going on here" will go away eventually.  I'll let you know when that happens. 


  1. Dylan A. Kent10/29/12, 12:01 AM

    Coffee bars are nice but like bars in general, some are better than others. Starbucks generally burns the coffee anyway. Personally, I swear by Trader Joes Dark Roast that I make at home.

    As far as tea, you've never really explored what are your favorite teas and why. I am addicted to a British tea by the Ahmad company called Ahmad Number 1. Once you go, Number 1 - you'll never go back.

  2. Honestly, I've never liked coffee. Not even the smell of it. I understand that some people go there to work, and that some go there just because it's a convenient meeting-place, but for me they're always too loud and crowded to focus. There was only one that I really enjoyed, which was True Love Cafe back in my hometown. (They won an award for midnight waffles.) And I think I liked it so much because it was very free; there were poetry slams and food and teas and anything you could imagine. It was a pretty rad place. But yeah, the overall appeal? I do not understand. You are not alone!

  3. Tea is where it's at. & Twinings is the best.


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