Coffee has become an integral part of the human experience. Every single culture has a traditional way to take their coffee — espresso, iced, with a dollop of whip cream. As the weather gets colder and the sky becomes drearier, people across the world are cozying up against fogged windows, clutching a steaming cup of joe in their hands.
When seeking inspiration for this column I reached out to a friend who I don’t think would be offended if I referred to her as a coffee snob. In her self-awareness, she suggested I write a column on “beverages.” When I pressed her further she explained: “Why are frappuccinos hated on but you can have an affogato while still being ~unique~ despite the fact that they’re basically the same thing.” And thus my distaste for coffee snobs was reignited.
More than 64% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day, according to a survey conducted by Reuters. Coffee is a staple of a daily routine. Whether people are drinking it for the wake up, the taste or just the pure aesthetic, Americans run on coffee. And yet for such a universal drink, so comforting in its malleability, still there are people who insist that a large majority of that 64% just don’t “get” coffee.
In recent years, American coffee companies and cafes have seen a push for so-called gourmet coffee. The token generation to be accused of pretension — millennials — are creating demand for the market, with nearly 50% telling Reuters they had a cup of coffee they consider to be gourmet the day before.
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the coffee gatekeepers started their reign, but I’m going to trace it back to the establishment of Starbucks in 1971. These days, admitting you like Starbucks in Seattle is like wearing a sort of scarlet letter on your chest, admitting to the crime of adultery against local hipster shops. Across the country, similar sentiments have taken hold.
In Kansas City resides a shop that many foodies consider to be one of the top cafes in the United States. Oddly Correct Coffee Bar — a part of “third wave” coffee shops that turn their nose up to flavors, sugar and cream — lives on the principle that you don’t really know what you want to drink, so let the hipster in the Carhartt beanie tell you. Here in Ann Arbor, such experiences can be a daily occurrence for visitors to the town’s many local coffee shops.
I was once looking for coffee grounds at a local shop when I asked a person working if there was a certain roast they recommended for iced coffee. After giving their recommendation they said, “but it shouldn’t be used for like, frappuccinos, or whatever.” Perhaps it was my fault for trusting a notoriously snobby shop with my questions that led to this comment. Or perhaps it was the fact I was a young woman and there was no possible way my delicate taste buds could handle anything other than a sickeningly sweet frappuccino (which, by the way, they are delicious). But this exchange demonstrates the problem with coffee snobs, and their insistence that anyone who drinks anything but a pourover black coffee is a phony.
Walking into any “indie” store as a young woman can be cause for instant insecurity. Just last week I was in a record store when I heard the two men behind the counter turn to each other and ask if they had gotten in any more of those “new Taylor Swift CDs.” Do I love Taylor Swift? Yes, of course I do. But I don’t need two men clearly making an assumption about me, loud enough for me to hear, as I’m looking to patronize their store. It’s not very serious, but it adds a layer of self-consciousness that is only reserved for women trying to go about their day. We shouldn’t feel the need to “prove” ourselves to a stranger that we are giving our money to. That gaggle of tween girls buying frappuccinos are as much a customer as the businessman walking away with a medium plain dark roast, their dollar is not worth any less.
If I’m going to drink something every day, I want to enjoy it. Sometimes that means black coffee, but sometimes that means a caramel brulee latte with extra whip and sprinkles. Coffee is about as common a drink as water now, but are you going around judging someone if they get their water from the tap versus Brita? No! Do you really need to explain to someone the subtle differences between a flat white and a latte? Don’t expect a second date! Life is too short to suck down a black coffee every day when gingerbread lattes exist. So put your chin up proudly and go order that pumpkin cream cold brew before it’s too late, I promise that I won’t judge you.
Daily Arts Columnist Samantha Della Fera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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