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The Coffee Culture in the USA
It wasn’t until I moved to the US that I started drinking coffee regularly and became what they call in Holland a ‘koffieleut’, which literally translates to ‘coffee socialite’. Although the average European drinks more coffee per year than the average American, the cultural importance and its effects on the average European seem to me to be less than that of the average American. After all, coffee is a cultural obsession in the United States.
Chains with thousands of branches like Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks dominate daily street life in the US. Especially in the morning (90% of coffee consumed in the US is in the morning), millions of white foam cups with pink and orange logos boldly emblazoned appear on the streets at morning rush hour and on the train. Coffee drinks are a saving grace for the hustling army of helmeted and tattooed construction workers. During the lunch break, men and women in smart business suits enter the cafe.
Students relax from early afternoon to late evening on comfortable couches in coffee lounges around campus. Police officers clink coffee cups as they patrol road construction sites on the highway. In short, coffee drinks in the United States can be found almost anywhere you go.
This mass psychotic ritual causes Americans to associate Europe above all with cars that surprisingly don’t contain cup holders (for an American it’s like selling a car without tires), or with the incredibly tiny cups of coffee served in European restaurants, so small that my father-in-law always had to order two cups of coffee. It is my firm belief that the easily agitated and obsessive nature of the ‘New Englander’ can be blamed on the monster sized cups of coffee they consume. It is not without reason that the word ‘coffee’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘qahwa’ which means ‘that which prevents sleep’. Arabs have been cooking coffee beans in boiling water since the 9th century and drinking the stimulating extract as an alternative to the Muslim forbidden alcohol.
Today, coffee is second only to oil as the most valuable (legally) traded commodity in the world with a total trade value of $70 billion. Interestingly, only $6 billion reaches coffee producing countries. The remaining $64 billion is generated as surplus value in places of consumption. Small farmers grow 70% of the world’s coffee production. They mainly cultivate two types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. About 20 million people in the world are directly dependent on coffee production for their livelihood.
Table 1: production in 2002/3
country % 70% Arabica
Brazil 42.03% Arab/Rob
Colombia 8.88% Arabica
Vietnam 8.35% Robusta
Indonesia 4.89% Rob/Arab
India 3.74% Arab/Rob
Mexico 3.54% Arabica
Guatemala 3.1% Arab/Rob
Uganda 2.53% Rob/Arab
Ethiopia 2.44% Arabica
Peru 2.24% Arabica
Table 2: consumption in 2001/2 world consumption % kg per capita (2001)
USA 30.82% Finland 11.01
Germany 15.07% Sweden 8.55
Japan 11.47% Denmark 9.71
France 8.89% Norway 9.46
Italy 8.59% Austria 7.79
Spain 4.90% Germany 6.90
Great Britain 3.63% Switzerland 6.80
Netherlands 2.69% Netherlands 6.48
Although per capita consumption of coffee in the world is declining (in the US alone it has decreased from 0.711 liters in 1960 to 0.237 liters currently), world consumption is still increasing due to the population explosion. Considering that coffee consists of 1% (Arabica), 2% (Robusta), or 4.5%-5.1% (instant coffee) caffeine, the average American consumes at least 200 to 300 mg (maximum recommended daily amount) of caffeine in day. only coffee consumption.
My go-to place for a cup of coffee is Starbucks in Stamford, Connecticut. The entrance can be found on the corner of Broad Street and Summer Street, to the left of the main public library with its plain pediment and slender Ionic columns. The location right next to the library is in harmony with Starbuck’s marketing plan. At the cafe’s entrance, a life-size glass window curves to the left, offering wonderful contemplative views of pedestrians on the sidewalk. As you enter, you step directly into the living room area with bookshelves stacked against the back wall. Velvet armchairs face each other with small coffee tables in between, creating intimate seating areas. The velvet chairs by the window are prime seats, which people unfortunately mistake for a wooden chair. At the back of the long rectangular room is the coffee bar and a small Starbuck’s gift shop. There is a dark wooden table with electrical outlets suitable for spreading laptops and tablets, separating the living room area from the coffee bar.
Since I’ve been cranky for weeks, I hesitate to order a regular black coffee. It is very easy to fill up on a favorite food or drink in the US due to the super large portions served. The smallest coffee cup is a ‘tall’ size (12oz.=0.35l.), after which you can choose between a ‘grande’ (16oz.=0.5l.) and a ‘venti’ (20oz. =0.6 l.). ). Half a pint of coffee seems a bit excessive to me and sounds absolutely absurd to my European mind. I finally end up choosing a ‘solo’ espresso.
Sitting in one of the booth-like seats against the back wall, unable to get a prime seat, I pretend to read my book while eavesdropping on the conversations around me. Three middle-aged men sit on three gray velvet chairs and talk loudly. A lively dialogue ensues, exchanged with half-yelling, half-screaming, laughter. They poke fun at a colleague in his absence and then furrow their brows in concern as they discuss one of the men’s daughter’s teeth. Two African-American women sit at a small table in front of the reading table under dim light, one of them wearing a yellow headscarf with black African motifs. Near the entrance, on the seat next to the animated chat, a vagabond is playing diamonds. One by one he places the crumpled, rounded-backed papers on top of each other, as if trying to join them. He gave a couple of dollars in exchange for a small coffee to feel, in the warmth of the front room, the nostalgia of a comfortable living room and revive a sense of intimacy to have your own home.
It’s a bright, sunny, early fall day, a typical New England Indian summer. Sunlight beams through the colorful, glowing leaves and casts an enigmatic shadow on Starbuck’s window. Autumn’s hand turns its colorful kaleidoscopic lens. The green ash tree by the sidewalk resembles, with its polychrome colors, something of a bronze statue: its stem of sulphurous bronze, its foliage interspersed with coppery green and golden ferric nitrate. On the other side of the cross walk, the top of a young red oak turns fiery red. These are the blooming impressions of autumn leaves for which Connecticut is ‘world famous’ in the USA.
In the world of marketing and entrepreneurship, Starbucks is a success story. It is one of those stories of ‘excellence’ that is taught as a case study in business school. Founded in 1971, it really began its incredible growth under Howard Schultz in 1985, and currently has 6,294 coffee shops. But what does her success really consist of? A large cup of coffee at Starbucks is much more expensive than at Dunkin’ Donuts: $2.69 compared to $3.40 for a Starbucks venti. But while Dunkin’ Donuts only offers a limited variety of flavors like mocha, hazelnut, vanilla, caramel and cinnamon, you’ll find quality exotic beans at Starbucks like Bella Vista FW Tres Rios Costa Rica, Brazil Ipanema Bourbon Mellow, Colombia Nariño Supremo, Organic Shade Grown Mexico, Panama La Florentina, Arabian Mocha Java, Caffè Verona, Guatemala Antigua Elegant, New Guinea Peaberry, Zimbabwe, Aged Sumatra, Special Reserve Estate 2003 – Sumatra Lintong Lake Tawar, Roast Italian, Kenya, Ethiopia Harrar, Ethiopia, Ethiopia Yergacheffe and french roast. So Starbucks offers luxury coffee and high-quality coffee dining, almost reminiscent of the elegant cafes I visited in Vienna.
Every now and then, I smile sheepishly and think about my endless reluctance to choose between the only two types of coffee available in most Dutch shops: the red brand and the golden brand. To this day I have no idea what the actual difference is between the two, other than the color of the wrap: red or gold. Not surprisingly, Starbucks appeals to the laptop genre of people: consultants, students, intellectuals, the middle class, and a Starbucks coffee is a white-collar coffee, while a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is a blue-collar coffee . At Dunkin’ Donuts you will meet Joe the plumber, Bob the barber and Mac the truck driver. But what exactly is it that attracts white-collar workers in the US to fall back into the purple velvet chairs?
I imagine their workdays filled with repetitive actions and decisions on a playing field with precisely defined responsibilities. How many of the players in these fields go through the day with its routines simply for no other reason than to be able to enjoy their daily 30 minutes – the escape to the intimacy of Starbucks where, for a brief moment during the day, you regain the illusion the human warmth and exotic associations of resistance to the coldness of high finance?
For 15 minutes you fall back into the deep, soft cushion of a velvet chair and randomly, and alas, how important is that moment of randomness, pull a book from the shelves. As, in the background, the soothing tones of country blues sound, with recognition of deep human suffering, a folk flame with a primal connection to nature and tradition, or merengue that revives passionate memories of adventure and love, you gaze out the window and ponder that simple, unsteady reflection in the moment, reinforced by the physical effect of the half-liter of watery coffee starting to sink in and the pleasure of munching on a muffin, bagel, cake, brownie, croissant, or donut.
It is, after all, that bodily ecstasy caused by a combination of caffeine, sugar and the Pavlov effect of saliva. You remember the struggling musician behind the counter taking your order, the amateur poet as you pay for his coffee and tip him a full dollar, feeling a transcendental connection in your departure from reality. You look with a compressed pulse of the first sips of coffee at the advertisements and poems on the bulletin board and fearlessly think: They are right, they are very right! and what do I care? Why should I care?
But then you look at your watch and realize you really should be running again. “Well, too bad, I have to go!”, or people will start gossiping for a long time away from your table. And as you open the door, an autumn wind blows in your face, the last of the blues solo fades away as the Hammond organ whispers, “I throw my problems out the door, I don’t need them anymore.”
Coffee in the US is a subculture that has floated massively to the surface of consumer society. Starbucks is more than coffee, it is more than just another brand in the market, it is a socio-political statement, a way of perceiving how you would like to live, in other words it is a culture. Starbucks is the alternative to Coca-Cola and much more than just coffee: it’s chocolate, ice cream, frappuccinos, travel mugs with exotic prints, mugs and live music, CDs, discounts at exhibitions and even support for volunteer work.
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