Saturday, May 17, 2014

Memories of Coffee from a Tween's Eyes

By Cal Orey
A Historical Testimony
The coffee was boiling over a charcoal fire, and large slices of
bread and butter were piled one upon the other like deals in a lumber yard.
--Charles Dickens (1812-1870)(1)
Coffee in different forms treated my pre-teen, green taste buds. My budding imagination took me to foreign lands where coffee trees grow and flourish and people enjoy coffee sophisticated coffee drinks.  I observed adults sip coffee spiked with alcohol and non-alcohol. It was intriguing to discover a new spin on the beverage that was forbidden for kids like me to drink.
After one dinner party at our home, my mother (coffee must have been the gift that gave her boundless energy) served slices of cheesecake paired with a dark colored coffee in small white porcelain cups. I asked her, “What is this dark stuff?” She answered, “Espresso. I drank it in a bistro in Paris.” Since her trip to Europe, when I was in the third grade, she came back home with coffee attitude.
Served in a 3-ounce demitasse (espresso cups) the beverage presentation looked cute like something in an Alice in Wonderland scene. I wanted to taste the strange, dark brew, but was timid. It looked like the coffee cup picture on the cover of a French menu that my mom brought home from her trip abroad to France, Spain, and Italy. Actually, the Italian-sounding “espresso” word (which I incorrectly pronounced “expresso”) originated in France since the late 1800s and was appreciated in Italy later.
So, I shut my eyes (like diving off a block into a cold pool at swim club) and sipped the dark mud. “This tastes awful,” I exclaimed. I was still a kid (like a coffee plant that had not fully matured), what did I know? I swapped my coffee for a bowl of coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup.
At the same time, during the 20th century, coffee roasters and retailers were also discovering what titillated the palate of Americans. Coffee company pioneers understood the demand for the caffeinated brew, from coffee breaks in the workplace to coffeehouses. They knew that coffee had a place both at work and play. And these findings have been embraced and are now expanding to buzz-worthy health news effect of coffee to the mainstream audience...


Speaking of the French Mediterranean, the 20th century coffeehouses actually rooted from the popular espresso bars in Italian American communities, such as Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s North Beach. These coffee shops glorified coffee in the Bohemian Beatnik era of the 1950s—the decade I was born in and grew up to experience the coffeehouse phenomenon.
            In the 1960s it was a time when poets and folk singers, from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez, paved the way to a cool hang-out where anti-establishment young people sipped black coffee, smoked cigarettes, talked politics, and socialized.  In my teens, I recall hitchhiking in the sixties north to San Francisco where coffeehouses were a place to meet strangers and escape.
Once Starbucks made its mark in the coffee world in the early seventies, coffee shops became an American trend that swept through the nation on into the 21st century and offered an array of coffee specialty drinks to coffee lovers.
            In the late 20th century, coffeehouses became more sophisticated with its coffee selection, and today are a place where you can order coffee roasts from around the world, flavored coffees, organic coffee, hot and cold coffee drinks, and an espresso bar type of atmosphere. Bookstores, including Barnes and Noble, offer coffee and snacks, from bagels to cookies. It’s a place where people set up their laptops to work or play, as well as interact with others.
            Socializing contributed to the rise of coffeehouses. Like centuries ago, people sit and enjoy coffee, which not only provides health aspects in relaxing and communicating, but also a dose of healthful coffee was and still is part of the coffeehouse package that is here to stay. As time passed, in the 1980s and 1990s, coffee shops or family-style restaurants served regular coffee, meals, and pies. As a kid who lived through the coffeehouse period, I experienced the transformation—and I worked as a waitress serving coffee to people (all ages).
            These days, in the 21st century, during financial ups and downs, coffee is still a beverage that people enjoy at coffee shops that specialize in coffee, like giant coffee chains Starbucks and Peets. It’s the caffeine jolt to the flavor of specialty coffee drinks made by a barista that keeps the coffee shop in America alive. These places that offer java in all sizes, shapes, and flavors are a place where people go to relax and work.
       Even though I’ve never been to a European café, I have been to European-style bistros in San Francisco and on the Bay Area peninsula up to Lake Tahoe. Cafés with a European flair offer an outdoor terrace or sidewalk with seats, tables and parasols. Once a place for solely face-to-face socialization, in the nineties cafés in America were becoming a hot spot to use computers. Computers and Internet access in a café or bookstore with an espresso bar offer Wi-Fi—a place to work and relax. And coffee shops, like these, continue to be a mainstay in the U.S. as well as around the world.       
Excerpt from The Healing Powers of Coffee (Kensington)                               

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