Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Espresso is to Italy, what champagne is to France."

He was my cream, and I was his coffee -
And when you poured us together, it was something.
~Josephine Baker

Gourmet coffee beans.
Image from Scott's Coffee House.
There was a time in Europe where the word coffee had never been spoken.  Coffee came to Europe from the Islamic world in the 16th century.  The legend is that it originally came from Ethiopia, but it is known that it was first roasted in Arabia in the 15th century.  The word came with the bean.

It's hard to imagine a world without coffee now in the present.  There are coffee shops everywhere, and people make coffee in their own kitchens.  Coffee has become an integral part of our culture.

I used to think I hated coffee, back when I was a girl.  But my sister, who was as addicted to it as my dad, talked me into trying a sip of hers, "blonde and sweet".  With the cream and sugar in it, I liked it.  The problem wasn't a dislike of the taste of coffee, but with the taste being too strong.  I started drinking it that way.  Before long, I liked it black right away, though I've never drank coffee often.

Beatniks in Gaslight Coffee House,
NYC, 1959.  Image from
Old New York Tumblr blog.
Legend has it that the first coffee house was opened in about 962 in Constantinople.  Over time, they were found throughout the Middle East and Ottoman Empire.  Coffee houses came to Europe with coffee and soon were found across the continent.  They came to the United States with the Italian immigrants, but soon became popular outside these communities.  In the 1950s, they became a place where folk singers frequently sang, and became popular with beatniks.

In America, a definite culture has grown up around coffee houses.  They are a place where ideas are born and discussed (as was the case in Europe and the Middle East as well).  They are a place where folk and indie music is played live.  They are a place where poetry is spoken, and the main home of poetry slams.  They are casual, relaxing, and non-threatening, a neutral place to meet.  And not everyone drinks just coffee at coffee houses.  I usually have a steamer, which is basically steamed milk with flavoured syrup.  Sometimes I have Italian cream sodas.  A friend of mine always has hot tea.  I've even had a beer at Cold Creek, one of the local coffee shops.  Coffee shops often offer pastries, and sometimes even offer full meals.  They are more about the culture of coffee than the drinking of coffee now a days, though drinking coffee is no less popular.

First Starbucks coffee shop
in Seattle's Pike's Place Market.
Image from Spicer and Bank blog.
Traditionally, coffee houses have been a local affair, locally owned, locally ran.  There were no chains, at least nation wide chains.  Starbucks changed all that, bringing franchising to the coffee house "industry".  Other chains have followed in their footsteps, but Starbucks really changed things.

Starbucks started as a local coffee house in the 1970s in Seattle, Washington.  The name comes from the first mate in Melville's famous book, Moby Dick.  In the 1980s, a new director, inspired by the espresso bars in Milan, Italy, wanted to transform Starbucks to a different style of coffee house.  The owners rejected his ideas, so he started his own chain.  This new vision quickly took off and he ended up buying the original Starbucks chain and transforming it into his vision.  In the 1990's and most of the 2000s, Starbucks expanded across the country and over seas at a tremendous rate of one per work day.  Though growth has slowed down, Starbucks is very popular.

Starbucks does coffee its own way, though.  If you go to any coffee shop that does coffee the Italian way and order a Macchiato and are used to Starbucks, you will be very surprised with what you get.  And many coffee shops won't make a frappicino.  You could say Starbucks is kind of the McDonald's to your local burger joint.

Yesterday, I was talking to someone that works for the University of Wyoming.  They just expanded the Business College building and the original plan was to open a coffee shop in it.  The University wouldn't let them, though, because they thought it was too close to the one in Coe Library and they would put each other out of business.  I laughed and said they must never have been to Seattle, then.  The joke is that Starbucks put a Starbucks in the bathroom of another Starbucks.

Mocho coconut frappicino
from yesterday.
Later that day, we happened to go to Starbucks.  The Starbucks here aren't really coffee houses.  For that, you have to go to Cold Creek or the Grounds.  Hasting's has a coffee shop that's pretty close called the Hard Back Cafe.  There are a few drive up coffee shops in parking lots as well.  There are two Starbucks, one in Safeway and one in Albertson's.  The one in Safeway has a couple tables in the corner, but the one in Albertson's doesn't have any.  But we were just picking up frappicinos (which aren't served at any of the other shops, though the Hard Back has blended drinks that are similar), so we didn't need tables.

Normally I get a caramel frappicino, but they were advertising a new flavour, a mocha coconut frappicino, so I decided to try it.  It was very different, but very good.  I'd recommend it.


*Subject is a quote by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

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