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A Coffee “Tug of War”

In addition to being hot and black, coffee has qualities that do more than describe its form and appearance. Unlocking social interactions and creating a language that needs no translation across cultural and physical borders, coffee has the ability to create community as a social playground for exploring different palates, curious noses, and adventurous souls.

Almost like a greeting phrase, “I just need some coffee right now” has become a mandatory part of everyday life. For some, a vanilla latte is exactly what they need to get their day going. The feeling and belief that everything will be so much better as soon as your body gets that caffeine-fix is real for lots of people. Maybe that explains the never-ending line of cars in Starbucks drive-throughs at all times.

Lately, this trend has been growing into a deeper fascination for coffee. Starbucks has become too generic for contemporary culture. The 90’s kids who grew up with McDonalds and Gameboys eventually turned away from the mainstream. After 20-something years of no big and dramatic changes, it seems like we all just one day woke up to find a Facebook-post telling us that change is a good thing. To fit into the 21st century of today, you have to stand out.

We continue to hear about the pressure that is put on today’s youth, and how social media direct and dictate our lives. Analyzing and evaluating the effect digital technology has on us is both frightening and enchanting. The ‘tug of war’ is real. In one moment, the appreciation and admiration of the desire of life to be simple, original, and meaningful is in the lead, but in a matter of seconds, the paralyzing power of endless opportunities can grab the better grip of the rope.

How interesting wouldn’t it be, to learn about the first couple of decades of the 2000’s in a retrospective view in a history class 100 years from now? What would be listed as causes and what would be listed as effects when discussing social change? Fads and trends make us gamers, hipsters and bloggers. An exceptional change in recent society is how media has taken a huge and integral part of our functional existence. What we call social media has been questioned as to what degree it actually is social.

The typical argument of how social media is not actually sociable because it makes people stay on their smartphones instead of hanging out with their friends in real life, might find its counterargument in the fact that a smartphone can actually provide a type of company that makes people dare to go out by themselves, ending up meeting new people. In this way, people move their living rooms out to public places where they can bring a book, journal, or newspaper and be alone together with others. Coffee shops offer the facilities and atmosphere that seem ideal for this; an office desk rented for about 2 to 5 dollars for however many hours you want. And you get coffee too.

Maybe it is the realization of the increase of unsocial activities that has prompted the need for doing casual, usually in-home activities out in public. In this way, we have witnesses to testify that we indeed do go out and spend time amongst our fellow citizens. Even though this is just one possible speculation about the invasion of public places, I believe this combined with the atomic pressure on creativity and self expression has made coffee shops a perfect stage for the youth of our days to act on.

This is where the ‘tug of war’ moves from intellectual to emotional. The joy in the fact that more people find interest in coffee takes the lead at first. Then the confusion over the lack of knowledge takes a pull, and seems to conquer the excitement from people wanting to think and talk about coffee. My concern is that good amounts of people who seek specialty coffee shops do so only because that is exactly what people do these days. Perhaps more so, than for the perfectly crafted experience of a quality cup of coffee itself. It seems like this part of our social lives is seen through a coffee filter.

Or filters on Instagram. Those filters are the ones most common for people to see through. Social medialists seem to be judging a shop based on the numbers of followers, and the potential the shop holds for their own Kodak moments. Whether we would like to admit it or not, we thrive on rewards. Likes on pictures, treating yourself with ice cream after an exam, retweets on Twitter or the free coffee after you have paid for 10. Rewards function as motivation for a bunch of different actions. This might explain why some people get into the specialty coffee industry. It is no secret that simply selling cups of coffee ain’t no chest of gold. Investing time, money and passion is done without regards of financial success, or the lack thereof. I have found this uncapitalistic mindset to be true for both sides of the counter.

My budget has also revealed that for me. Coffee seems to overwrite any default and sensible amount to be spent on a treat. For some reason I justify my spending by telling myself that coffee is my accountability for feeling happy. As long as you don’t mention that a couple of months without splurging could make me the owner of a sparkling stone of some sort, my coffee budget never strikes me as alarming. It is the necessary escape from, or maybe approach to, reality.

“It is just coffee,” people say. And I do agree, it is just coffee, but it does not have to be just coffee either. This startling fact seems to fascinate more people than just yours truly. Coffee has become a social meeting point in so many different arenas. A group of construction workers who gather in the break room over a cup of Folgers, might consider the cup as the survival for the day. Coffee shops seem to be a casual pick for any college boy and girl on a first date. Creative and experimental souls have setups in their kitchens with precise measuring tools for heat and weight, as they play around with extraction time and different grinding settings. The flexibility of coffee amazes me. Getting into an argument about quality might be risky, but in discussing taste everyone is a winner. Atmosphere, mood, and company might tell you what to think about the taste of your coffee. Combine this with a consideration of the careful crafting and precision found in the science behind your cup, and then you have sketches of a picture portraying this curse of knowledge ‘tug of war’.