Monday, March 15, 2010

Drinking Coffee With the Tiger and Reinvigorating Coffee’s Proud Tradition of Liberalism

Last month, the year of the Tiger came roaring in. Chinese New Year celebrations were held around the world---and though coffee is not traditionally a beverage widely enjoyed in traditional Chinese culture, there were lots of people participating in the festivities drinking coffee. I was one of them. En route to my mother-in-law’s house in Brooklyn, I made my husband stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. I love the young baristas there, who are constantly telling me that Dunkin Donuts is as good as Starbucks. “We have skim milk,” they exclaim. I smile and say, “Great. Please put a little in my large cup of coffee. No sugar…and thank you.”

I don’t need to be convinced. I have drunk coffee all over the United States and Europe. Though I like good coffee, I tend to be pretty broad-minded, especially when purveyors are willing to stand by their coffee. I also have a weakness for good copy. In fact, recently, while driving with my husband, we passed an Exxon where there was a mini-billboard advertising “Java for your journey.” I was desperate for gas, though I use very little in day to day life, and our tank was almost full. I wanted java for my journey—their java. Frankly, I want java for all my journeys, even when I’m walking around.

So how about Dunkin’ Donuts? Turns out, it’s been around longer than Starbucks. Dunkin’ Donuts was founded by William Rosenberg in 1950 in Quincy, Massachusetts, as a fast-food type coffee and donut shop. Each summer, while traveling back to New England for vacation, I give up Starbucks and happily embrace Dunkin’ Donuts, which is the predominant coffee chain in New England.

Dunkin’ Donuts is low-key and based on d├ęcor, somewhat lowbrow, but the coffee itself is good, if only because it is so evenly brewed and well tempered. In 2007, there were approximately 7,000 stores globally—and that number is expected to grow to 15,000 within the next 6 years. There is value in that cup, and in this economy, that's something that we can all appreciate.

Though I am not intensely political, I too am aware of economic, socioeconomic, and political concerns. So Annabel Park’s recent facebook post got my attention. Her exultation…

“Let’s start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. geez. ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss ‘em off because it sounds elitist . . . let’s get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.”

…has spurned a nascent movement. Who knows where it will go, but it’s another way for people to get together, to drink coffee, to be excited about ideas, and to be calm while discussing them. In reality, coffee parties are the continuation of an age-old tradition of using coffee to aid open-minded, well-educated discourse. Can’t wait to attend my first one!