Saturday, September 3, 2011
C is for Coffee (and Coffee Shops, Too!)
Coffee is so central to my life. This may seem like a hyperbolic statement, but it truly isn't.
As a child, my mother had an old-fashioned coffee percolator. I remember helping my mom make coffee each morning and listening to the rhythmic-whoosh-suck-grind of the pot. When we had guests I was in charge of brewing the coffee and offering a cup to each guest. My coffee consumption consisted of Folgers with milk and sugar up until high school.
I lived in a rural, backasswards town, so I was never really involved in the coffee shop culture until college. In high school I made maybe a half-dozen trips to the nearest coffee shop, which happened to be about 20 minutes away.
In college I dashed in and out of the local coffee shop (well, the three local shops) for the occasional cup of joe. I came in for a medium cup of coffee or for a quick stop for scones with college friends and then it was back to campus. I did consume massive amounts of not very good, hastily choked down coffee in college, but I wouldn't have termed myself a coffee freak.
Graduating from college in 2004 was a pivotal moment in my coffee life. I graduated and stayed in Gainesville to work and all my friends pretty much left or they were consumed with senior year. I was so lonely. I no longer had a place to discuss movies or books or politics. Then I found myself wandering to The Coffee Shop of Horrors.
I was (still am) an introvert so I never spoke to anyone at the Coffee Shop of Horrors. Listening to the conversations around was great fun, but I mostly hunkered down in a seat and read my eyeballs out while consuming cup after cup of delicious brew. During my time there (before they closed down around 2006ish) I noticed a very tall, handsome guy with a mohawk with an addiction to coffee, but I'll reveal who he is later in the post.
When that coffee shop closed, I began going to Starbucks. The other coffee shop in town had turned elitist and would kick readers out after 30 minutes. At Starbucks, I began broadening my horizons. Instead of a cup of coffee I had cappuccinos and lattes and espresso shots and cafe au laits. I tried syrup shots and french pressed brews. I began to develop my coffee palette. I tend to love light to medium roast coffees with a wee bit of sugar or milk, lattes with warmer notes (pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, french vanilla, hazelnut), and I figured out the best way to drink French Pressed coffee (very hot, very dark, and turned into a cafe au lait by adding a fair amount of hot, steamed milk). Oh, and the tall, mohawked guy was there; I noticed him and he noticed me.
The tall mohawk-wearing guy is Sam. And it is impossible to talk about my love of coffee and the significance of coffee shops in my life and not mention Sam. Coffee (and then tattooing) brought us together. I think we got to the point where we were both at the coffee shop so much we began to say hello and we didn't even know each others' name. Then we started chatting over cup after cup of coffee. In the space of a year we moved from running into each other at the coffee shop, to dear friends catching up at the coffee shop, to Sam Taking Me to the Coffee Shop in a date-like way.
A new coffee shop in walking distance to my home opened up the same month Sam and I began officially dating. Hello, Inman Perk. Now we had a locally-owned shop to go to. Inman Perk further progressed my coffee nerdom. I went from a customer to a Regular. I've learned how to pull a good shot, a bit about roasting and blends, and I might smell like espresso most of the week. I even worked the odd shift or two in the summer.
In the three years Sam and I have been together we've had birthday parties, baby showers, gatherings, wedding planning sessions, an adoption celebration, and nearly every date-day at Inman Perk. After our wedding we went to Inman Perk for coffee. I think that part of the reason why Sam and I work so well together is that we like the same elements of coffee shop life: great conversation or solace with company. We can sit around with our lattes and chat with friends for hours or we sit next to each other with our solitary pursuits (me - reading, Sam -- drawing) and we are perfectly content.
Now I know why an alcoholic shouldn't marry another alcoholic; Sam and I increase coffee consumption in each other. Every trip we take features time spent in a coffee shop. We compare the atmosphere and the coffee to coffee shops we've known in the past. In fact, we drank so much coffee on our honeymoon I thought I'd be sick.
Coffee shops are unique places, I can't compare the atmosphere to any other social gathering place. I have a little espresso machine and a coffee maker and I can buy Inman Perk coffee, so why do I go to the coffee shop? It isn't just for the coffee, but for the companionship, the great places to read, and generally atmosphere that feels home like to quirky folks like myself. But if you take the coffee away, I probably wouldn't go. It has to be that perfect marriage of coffee-deliciousness and coffee shop loafing.
By the way, I had intended on posting this earlier in the afternoon, but I didn't get around to it.... because I was at the coffee shop.