I definitely have entered a new world — the coffee culture. I feel it most in a Starbucks. I’ve been twice since taking up coffee. It’s like entering a foreign culture where the people speak a different language and know how to navigate the crazy traffic.
There are cappuccinos, Frappuccinos, lattes, espressos, regular coffee, Guatemalan coffee, and Lord knows what else. And that’s just the drinks. It’s mind-numbing.
When I enter a store I don’t know where to go or what to order. Yesterday, I picked the first thing on the menu.
“A tall Pike Place Roast,” I say, like I know what I’m doing.
“Room for cream?”
My mind reels. I wasn’t expecting a question, but I navigate it quickly. “Yes.”
Then I look around for the cream. I don’t see any of those little cups of cream that seem to be with every pot of coffee. No Coffee Mate non-dairy creamer either. So I forget the pretense. “I’m new at this. Where’s the cream.”
The guy is nice, doesn’t condescend to my obvious coffee illiteracy. He points to a nearby counter with two pots–one a non-fat and one a half-and-half. I don’t know what the latter is so, I choose non-fat. But nothing will pour out. A young lady is waiting. I loosen the lid; still nothing. I take it off and solve my problem.
I explain to the guy behind the counter that I just started drinking last year on a trip to Guatemala.
“Have you tried our Guatemalan coffee?”
“Would you like a sample.”
But he doesn’t give me one, so I figure he forgot. I take a seat, and in a few minutes he brings me half a cup of Guatemalan coffee. It’s good, but I’m not discerning enough yet to tell much difference.
Everyone else who comes into the place seems to be known by the workers. I started talking to a guy sitting nearby who is studying for his GRE test. Turns out he actually works there and has hung around to study. He wants to do graduate study in Hebrew–impressive.
The Starbucks culture reminds me of the old “Cheers” TV show where “everyone knows your name.” I don’t go to bars, so I could really like this coffee hangout thing.
It fits with the stuff I’m reading about community. John McKnight and Peter Block use “community” as a “general term to describe what occurs outside systems and institutions. It also refers to an aggregation of people or neighborhoods that have something in common. It is both a place and an experience of connectedness.” (The Abundant Community, p.5)
(Now, I will hasten to add that McKnight and Block, in their book, are talking about community in a different sense, one that is much richer, I think, than the Starbucks-type community. I will write some on that soon after I’ve read some more of the book.)
The coffee culture is a form of community that transcends systems and institutions. It can be found in virtually every business, in many churches and just about anyplace where you can find people. The Starbucks culture seems to be a community that has arisen within an institution. The business made it possible, but the culture is more than the commodity-for-money transaction.
And, of course, my Louisiana friends have already made it clear to me that the best brew is Community Coffee–possibly aptly named.
I don’t begin to understand much about this coffee culture yet, but I find it immensely interesting and inviting.