Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Starbucks debacle heralds a new era in corporate citizenship

Once upon a time, racial profiling at a coffee shop would not be considered unusual, even if it was considered unfortunate, evoking a few platitudes from the silent majority. But the idea that an act of discrimination involving black people, coffee culture, and a racially biased store manager, would provoke national outrage would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. But then the Internet happened and a new generation, specifically millenials, came of age, bringing with them their tech savvy and progressiveness.

Last week, the video of Philadelphia policemen arresting  two young, black men (for apparently sitting too long without a making purchase in a Starbucks on 30th and Spruce) went viral quickly, igniting a wave of fury and becoming a hot topic on news networks and social media.

Rashan Nelson, age 23,

Indifference and silence---two strategies that normalize racism---help to preserve the illusion of innocence. But those days are over. It's true: Racism is alive and well in the U.S., but the democratizing force of social media is making it visible for all to witness, and a group of everyday heroes is emerging, including Melissa DePinto, a self-described upper-middle class, middle-aged white woman, who used her privilege to take the video undisturbed. Read her amazing op-ed here.
Melissa DePinto

Is the Third Space still a thing?

When I started this blog in 2008, Starbucks’ concept of the third space was just taking hold. Fast Company published an article in June 2008 introducing the concept of the third space---first there’s home; then there’s work---and then there’s Starbucks, a place you can sit, feel at home, drink coffee, socialize and get stuff done.   In fact, Starbucks has earned its third-space reputation. Over the years, Starbucks has been a champion for diversity, gay marriage, and environmental integrity---a safe space even in the most politically tumultuous times. And the implicit understanding was that the third space was to be enjoyed by all---along with the wifi. 

So last week's events were beyond disturbing---they were horrifying.

Howard Schultz, founder and former CEO of Starbucks,  currently executive chairman, said in an interview with CBS that he feels “embarrassed and ashamed” of what happened in Philadelphia. Together with CEO president, Kevin Johnson, Schultz has sought out the victims of the unfair arrest, offering apologies. (Johnson offered a F2F apology.)  But it didn’t stop there.

Racial-bias education

Starbucks has committed to educating its workforce on racial bias---what Schultz calls the beginning of an ongoing initiative. Towards that end, a team of thought-leaders has been assembled to create this training---including Sherrily Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defence Fund, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Coaltion, and Eric Holder, former attorney general during the Obama administration, in addition to others. This training, slated for May 29, will be an all-hands-on-deck event for almost 200,000 people, and lead to the closure of 8,000 stores.

As it turns out the two men who were arrested (Rashon Nelson, 23 and Donte Robinson, 23---a customer at the same SBX since age 15), were at Starbucks waiting on an acquaintance to discuss real estate investment opportunities. The acquaintance, a white man, walked in as the arrests were occuring and was mortified and angry to see these men handcuffed--at Starbucks no less!

Since then, Starbucks has committed to supporting the men as they pursue their business goals, essentially providing an opportunity for the men to leverage this unfortunate incidnent towards long-term professional success and prospoerity. Many companies would have issued a trite apology and tried to move on as quickly as possible---getting back to business as usual---everyday, benign racism, with an aura of quiet complicity. Starbucks, however, is not "many companies."

Starbucks is Starbucks. In fact, not long ago, Schultz said that now, more than ever, it is incumbent upon corporations to be a force for good---and to use their change-agent capabilities to counteract the pernicious intolerance that is festering like a cancer that has metastacized throughout our great country.

Platform for change

The reality is that Starbucks is the "number one purveyor of coffee in the world" and that success gives them a platform for change. In fact, given the current political reality in the U.S., it's not surprising that there are more rank-and-file Starbucks baristas and managers who feel empowered to unleash their inner racist self.

Trump and supporters have cynically advanced an agenda that stokes racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and classism by playing on the fears of working-class white people and manipulating the aspirations of middle-class people, who harbor underlying racism, while openly catering to the financial needs of the top 5%.

In this context, more people are likely to act on their innate racism. Ten years ago, the political climate was different (obviously). So right now, expecting young people, who live in certain environments or come from households that voted for Trump, to not become racist, is like expecting a child growing up in a neighborhood full of bars and adverts for alcohol, who also deal with alcoholic parents, to not struggle with alcohol abuse and misuse disorder at some point in their lives. People become who they are in the context of their environments.

Kudos to Starbucks for using its power to educate people about bias and the nuances of racism. My short-term boycott has come to an end, but we are all still watching carefully to see how this unfolds, looking towards Starbucks as a lodestar of good corporate citizenship.

Well done, Starbucks.

Back at my local Starbucks. Upper Montclar, NJ

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hyperion Espresso to the Rescue: From darkness to light

Easter in Fredericksburg, VA, with my family, was great.  For us it meant an early-morning egg hunt at church, lots of park time, and really strong morning coffee.

But for me, morning coffee is just the beginning. Coffee for me is an all-day affair. After an afternoon of playing with the kids, kicking a soccer ball and running after a basketball, I decided that I really needed coffee. I made the request to my father, who was driving, and he mentioned Starbucks (after he sighed, since I had been whining about coffee for a couple of hours already).

I assumed that given the holiday and the small-town commitment to family life that Starbucks would be the only coffee option in town. Turns out it wasn’t true.

I spy a coffeehouse
After leaving Pratt Park, as we drove into town, I spied a group of people standing outside of a refurbished colonial that houses Hyperion Espresso.

Hyperion, located at 301 William Street in downtown Fredericksburg, was founded in 1994, after taking over the site of an old pharmacy that closed. Since the beginning, Hyperion has been all about its espresso, which is the basis for its outstanding espresso-based drinks.

After ordering a skim latte for myself and a caramel cappuccino for my nephew, I checked out the décor and marveled at the 2-tier, marigold interior, replete with books, comfortable seating, and light pouring in through the paned windows.

There is almost always at least one coffee option…
So when you think about coffee options---regardless of what day you’re thinking of---there is almost always a coffeehouse/café scene besides Starbucks, precisely because there are people who love coffee and hanging out at coffee houses, regardless of the season or the day or the occasion. And when times get tough---there's always Starbucks!

Coffee and the Cosmos
What about the name Hyperion? It’s up for interpretation. Here’s my take: In Greek mythology, Hyperion was one of the 12 Titan children of Gaia and Uranus. Hyperion became a hero when he helped successfully overthrow his tyrant of a father. After ascending to power, Hyperion fathered the sun, the moon, and dawn.  

Hyperion was the father of the seasons, of the rising and setting of the sun---and, finally, the creator of dawn, that wonderful moment when light breaks through darkness.
This metaphor perfectly describes the role of coffee---from darkness to light--we drink coffee at dawn, and throughout the day to conquer the darkness within. Embrace the light--drink coffee.

Cool April afternoon in downtown Fredericksburg, VA.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Romancing the green bean: Coffee-and-love haiku

Coffee is an object of passionate love and extreme affection. Late-night coffee is a nice capstone for a lovely evening out, while morning coffee is an elixir---brewed to sate a universal thirst. And since coffee is both healthy and energizing, drinking it can fuel romantic adventures. And speaking of romance, coffee lends itself to poetry, including haiku. Here are a few odes to our beloved black brew.

Ritual of Joy-by Markus Heyder
Lifting it---
the coffee cup
leaves a ring

I love you-by Caroline Risman
Never enough sleep
Children wake so damn early
Coffee, I love you

Morning Coffee-by Nicole Gray
Cold rays of sunshine
You make my morning coffee
Thank you very much

Recipe for Irish Whiskey 
(While I'm not a drinker, I'm learning to enjoy once in a while---and this is a GREAT way in!)
Here's the short-version recipe: Cappucino (lots of foam) and whiskey or Bailey's (even I know what that is). 

According to Kiely Healy, who is an expert in many things: 
"You can feel jittery and tipsy at the same time---with the love of your life." 

Happy Valentine's Day! Enjoy all of the coffee and love that comes your way. 
End-of-workday coffee love
Jess & Kiely rocking the coffee love

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Baby, it's Cold Outside

Today, December 28, 2017, the temperature in Montclair, NJ, is 12 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not only below freezing, but it’s also a shock after a beautifully hospitable and warm fall and a mild winter---at least until now.  

So what else is there to do besides drink hot drinks indoors? In fact, I’ve been drinking lots of hot, healthy coffee indoors (and out)---at the ice skating rink, with friends at cafes, alone at home, and at the office (of course).

Coffee increases the perception of likability

So the obvious takeaway is that hot drinks in cold weather make us feel better. However, there’s more to hot coffee-cold weather arithmetic than physiologic comfort. In one study, conducted at the University of Colorado, researchers recruited 41 undergrads, who were primed with either hot coffee or iced coffee before walking into the testing site. 

They were then asked to complete a personality impression questionnaire, in which they were given information about a particular individual (Person A). Some of the highlighted traits were being cautious, competent, and industrious. Subsequently, the investigators asked the students to rate the individuals on warmth and likability. Students who were primed with hot coffee (versus cold coffee) were significantly more likely to rate Individual A as warm and likable.

The implications for these findings, which have been reinforced in numerous studies, with different designs and various endpoints, are numerous, but pretty intuitive. For example, if you are trying to sell someone an idea or product, give them a hot cup of coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) when they arrive. Likewise, in social interactions, when you want to put others at ease simply to make them happy and improve the experience, get the coffee pot brewing, because therein lies the secret to feeling warm and cozy in new surroundings.

Coffee + Coldness=Amped-up Calorie Burning

In reality, we can’t always be inside drinking coffee---just because it’s cold outside. Sometimes we have to be outside, or we choose to be outside. I like hiking in cold weather (not frigid weather like today though). It feels more vigorous, challenging and ultimately rewarding when there’s the added cold-weather factor. Plus, there’s a major upside. Scientists have found that cold weather increases metabolism. In fact, some people consider enduring cold weather a form of exercise, because the body has to work harder to generate body heat. 

And when you add the calorie-busting, metabolism-boosting effect of coffee, which increases basal metabolism by 5%-8%, you can really burn a bunch of calories, and even lose weight if that’s on the agenda for you.

Baby, it's Cold Outside (stay for coffee)

And now, an ode to the cold, featuring Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald: “Baby it’s Cold Outside”---such a sexy, sultry, romantic song that makes one yearn for coffee….amongst other things.

Happy New Year to you all! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

5 Things I Never Knew About Coffee

My friend, George B. (aka, the man on a quest for the best coffee in New Jersey), celebrated his birthday last week by having a private get-together at Java Love, in Montclair, in which Kristine Petrak, co-owner of Java Love Coffee Roasting Company, led us in a mini-course entitled “Coffee 101.”

So, we all know that coffee is good for us, right? We know that drinking coffee decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis, brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and death, in general. But, there’s a whole other side to coffee, besides drinking it for one’s good health. Here are 5 things I learned about coffee that I never knew.

#1-Coffee can only grow in what is known as the “bean belt’---the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The best locale should have moderate sunshine and rain, with steady temps around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (Guess I won’t be able to grow coffee in my background no matter how hard I try!)

#2-Coffee grown at higher altitudes has the most flavor and complexity---the higher the more complex. Examples of high-altitude coffee include Ethiopian, Kenyan, and Guatemalan coffee, while Kona coffee from Hawaii is a low-altitude coffee.

#3-The darkest roast is French roast.

#4-Flavor=smell + taste. The tongue only recognizes 4 distinct flavors---bitter, sweet, sour and salty.

#5-You know that foamy quality that coffee gets when you pour water on it, that’s called the “bloom,” which happens because of the lipids in coffee. If you don’t get the bloom, the coffee’s not fresh---and what’s worse than stale coffee?

Over the years, Java Love has given us many good cups of coffee, espresso-based drinks, chai and other teas, as well as 2 wonderful spaces to work, play, talk and hang out. And now, they are bringing us a chance to learn more about the brew we love so much. Thank you, Java Love---and happy birthday, George!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fall is National Coffee Drinking Season

It's been more than a week since we all celebrated National Coffee Day (September 29th). I say celebrated loosely, because for me the celebration basically focused on brewing K-cups at work, and drinking coffee to keep going so I could meet all of my deadlines for the day.

I wrote a lot of copy, but, alas, none of it had anything to do with coffee, except that one generic Facebook post that read like tens of thousands other posts: "Happy National Coffee Day!" (with the requisite link to all of the places that had coffee deals that day, including a lot of good BOGO offers, and some food add-ons (thank you Dunkin' Donuts for that awesome pumpkin donut). 

And thank you to all of the other places that had deals that day---Tim Hortons, Peet's, Wawa, McDonalds, Cinnabon, Starbucks, and Krisy Kreme. I've never been to Krispy Kreme, but I have to nod my respect in their direction. Krisy Kreme acknowledged that one day is simply not enough time to celebrate coffee---so they extended their offers through the weekend---until October 1.

Coffee and Fall---a Match Made in Heaven

In that vein, I hereby declare fall National Coffee Drinking Season. After all, it's perfect. What goes better with fall foliage than coffee (especially pumpkin spice coffee), and what goes better with coffee than earth-tone sweaters and crisp fall days? And how about coffee and apple crisp. It's very clear: Fall is national coffee drinking season. 

That's not to say that coffee should not be celebrated year-round. The health benefits of coffee are constant, as is its ability to get us up and going, ready to take on the day and be our best selves. 

National Coffee Day is a fairly new phenomemon. And although it's called "National" Coffee Day, it's an international occasion, with celebrations all over the world. In March 2014, the International Coffee Organization first proclained "International Coffee Day" as PR for part of an expo in Europe. And prior to that, other countries, including China, Japan, Nepal, Indonesia, and Taiwan had already celebrated various versions of a national/international coffee day. 

So I hope you had a good National Coffee Day---and I wish you a happy coffee drinking season. Bottom's up!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Drinking lavender coffee in the Shenandoah Mountains

And so just like that, summer is over. Whereas 2 weeks ago, we were braving temps of barely 80 degrees to go to the pool or hang out in seaside locales, this weekend,  the ponchos are out. I’m planting mums and shopping for school lunches. Summer’s a wrap. It’s a done deal.

The last weekend of summer---Labor Day weekend---tends to be the last hurrah of the summer for lots of people. We ended up going to Shenandoah State Park, which was established in 1935 by park planners looking to transform a motley patchwork of forest, fields, orchards, and private tracts of land, into a park preserve.  They succeeded. This beautiful park, located in Virginia, is like an outdoors United Nations, with people from all over the world coming to marvel at the vast beauty of our American landscape.

As we drove along Skyline Drive, from one overlook to the next, and decamped from our car for various hikes, I never expected to find coffee….but I did. We stopped in at Lewis Mountain Lodge, which functions as part souvenir shop, a place for campers to shower, and a place to simply relax. You can get pretty much whatever you want at the lodge: books, maps, clothing, hats, Virginia pottery, clothing, hats, sundries, cameras, batteries, snacks, postcards, jewelry, magnets---and COFFEE.

Traipsing along next to the bears
So what I can say about the coffee at Lewis Mountain Lodge? It was not remarkable. It was hot, it was good---and it was free, because the kind shop-owner noted my enthusiasm. We fell into a passionate conversation about how coffee makes life better, how healthy it is, and why we can’t live without it. Amidst smiles and a final thank you, I left with my coffee, happy and caffeinated. Good thing, too, because 20 minutes later, I found myself literally 8 feet from two black bears (a momma bear and her cub). Momma Bear saw me looking at her and her baby, she looked back at me, I snapped a quick photo, and I quickly ambled back to the path. I admit, I was nervous---but coffee kept me calm and focused.

Lavender coffee
During our trip, we stayed at a lovely resort near Harrisonburg, VA.  My parents had told me about the White Oaks Lavender Farm, a family-owned farm where more than 20 varieties of lavender grow---a total of 8,000-plus bushes of fragrant, beautiful lavender. White Oak farms even has culinary lavender, which  is used not only for coffee, but for tea, jams, jellies, and even ice cream (If you go, try the strawberry-lavender ice cream; you won’t be sorry!).

While I was there, I bought artisan-roasted, fair trade lavender coffee. The minute it started brewing, I could smell the lavender mixing with the coffee---a delicious smell that prefaced a truly amazing coffee-drinking experience. I could “taste” the lavender, and feel little tiny bits of lavender plant in the coffee. Like coffee, lavender has many healthy properties: It’s anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, good for digestion, good for your hair and skin, and chock full of antioxidants.

Speaking of antioxidants, it turns out that coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants in the American diet. Perhaps that’s why coffee is associated with a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, many types of cancer (breast, colon, liver, brain, etc.), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke. And what happens when you mix coffee with lavender…you get all of the benefits in one, with an overall feeling of being both relaxed and energized.  This was a first for me, and it led me to one conclusion. We live in a big, beautiful world, and there are so many places to go, so many things to learn, and so many coffee-drinking experiences left to come. Look towards the vast horizon of possibility---and have a cup of coffee while you do it.

Happy fall!