Saturday, January 7, 2012

Coffee culture?

Okay, so I don’t pretend to be an authority on Portland or about Tennessee or Appalachian culture. This is just my own experience. And let me tell you it is an experience. I haven’t posted since my initial post for a variety of reasons, but I have a long list of posts I want to make, so we’ll see how this goes.

Moving from one place to another always makes for some surprises, but to be honest, I am surprised by how many surprises I have come across. One difference is that of speed. I remember thinking as I drove more than one state away for the first time that even the speed gas pumps is slower the closer to the middle of the country you get. I might be wrong, but it seems that way to me. I was struck again by this realization in a new way this week.

So coffee is a touchy subject for us north westerners. I don’t profess to be a coffee expert, but I do proudly profess to be a coffee snob. Being from the Northwest, where coffee is weaved into the culture, gives me a clearly different perspective about what makes good coffee. Clearly Northwesterners did not create coffee or even first make it well, but there is something special about the relationship people from the Northwest have with their coffee. Even people who don’t drink coffee participate in this part of the culture. Even my 87 year old grandpa participates. 

As I write, I am sitting in a cute little café with gelato, lattes, and paninis. Fun. It is cute and fun but it isn’t a cultural experience. Earlier this week I had the wrong kind of cultural coffee experience. I have an hour lunch break on the days I work in rural areas. I asked some of my coworkers for some ideas about coffee shops. After several failed attempts to give ideas, one of my coworkers chased me down the hall to tell me about an idea. It sounded like it was about ten minutes or so to this place and that it could be worth a try.

To be clear, I wasn’t expecting much. This is East Tennessee we are talking about, right? Even still, disaster doesn’t even begin to cover it. It ended up taking about 15 minutes to get there with one wrong turn involved. I found it though which impressed me since to get there, you drive through a beautiful country college setting and then through what looks like an old mining area (I have no idea), across some deserted train tracks and through a couple of farms. I did find it and it looked promising. I went in and ordered my simple drink: sugar-free vanilla latte, and a chocolate chocolate-chip cookie. Simple, right? Nope.

Thirty minutes later, I the only think steaming.  The “barista” looks up saying, ”It will just be a few more minutes, I am warming up your milk now. What?! I step a bit more toward the counter where I can see what she is doing. She is making me cup of Keurig coffee with warm milk. I could have made that at work! FOR FREE!!! I try not to cry as I take the Styrofoam cup into my hand. She goes to the “pastry case” and puts two chocolate cookies into a Styrofoam container and says, “I gave you two cookies since you had to wait.” I almost cried but instead I laughed and and drove the 14 minutes back to work.

For those of you who can do math (which is more than I can say for myself), this means I was late getting back to work. All for a crappy cup of coffee. Seriously, I could have gone to the gas station.

The next day I ran across a visitor to the volunteer state who had had Stumptown Coffee in New York! It made me miss home so badly. Thank God I still have some Stumptown from my Christmas trip home. 

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