Coffee’s mass appeal is supported by its enticing aroma, bountiful taste, caffeinated energy and flexibility of presentation. However, to get to the purest allure of coffee, you must get to the ritual.
Just like the Sunday family dinner, smoking a cigarette or attending a luau, the symbolic ritual behind the coffee drink is as important as the beverage. That ritual began in the early 20th century with the creation of the marketing genius the “coffee break.”
The coffee break meant that the dreary sweatshop labor of the 1910’s and 1920’s halted for 10 minutes so the workers could imbibe in coffee. The 12 hours of hell at work was boiled down into 10 minutes of pleasure, of humanity and of camaraderie. It was the first milestone of an otherwise joyless, repetitive job.
Leave it to American corporate acumen to develop a coffee culture, and the ability of the U.S. servicemen and servicewomen to “enjoy a cup of Joe.” This was the second marketing coup d’etat, equal to providing free cigarettes to the fighting man and woman. The horrors of war were spelled out at home by the photographs of G.I. Joe enjoying a cup of coffee while smiling and sitting on his battle helmet.
From the beverage of Everyman, coffee has now come full circle into an elitist ritual that has captured the rich and poor alike. Drinking coffee has become a class society. The lower castes drink their coffee loaded with cream and sugar at the local diner or convenience store. The cream and sugar make the bitter beverage a bit more palatable, no matter how long it has sat waiting. The more elite connoisseurs indulge their habit at the more upscale coffee shops, including the dreaded “S” word.
But observe the behaviors of the characters in the coffee shop or at the convenience store counter, and you will notice a ritual goes with each one. Some must pack their sugar with multiple flips until it all gathers at the bottom. Some must line up a proper row of individual creamer cups, open them and pour them singly into their coffee. Others must make a spectacle of taking theirs black, sucking down a huge swallow for all to see the virility of such a dominating Alpha individual. Still others must badger the barista with a barrage of questions every time they order, only to fall back on their old faithful mocha.
It’s the ritual and the inclusionism/exclusionism of coffee drinking that has allowed the coffee to reach its public pinnacle in the 21st century. The true measure of a great cup of coffee is the one made with your choice of coffee, in your OWN home, made in YOUR coffee pot, especially for YOU.