RE­GARD­ING COF­FEE - - COFFEE STOP - Vinni Dlamini for

It is a point well be­yond anec­do­tal that ev­ery sub­cul­ture has its own set of le­git­i­mat­ing prac­tices. Prac­tices that of­ten have a ring of uni­ver­sal­ity in them, such that any­one in the world can iden­tify as part of that sub­cul­ture. A sort of lan­guage if you will, that acts as short­hand for those who are part of the cul­ture. This, of course, is true for cof­fee. Con­sid­er­ing the fact that cof­fee fu­els most of the west­ern world, it would be fair to as­sume that there ex­ists a rudi­men­tary lan­guage for it.

I re­call the early it­er­a­tions of the Seat­tle Cof­fee shop or­der­ing coun­ters would of­ten have a small no­tice board just be­hind the barista ti­tled “know the lingo.” In it where cof­fee terms meant to en­able the ease of or­der­ing, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­nect­ing in­di­vid­u­als to the lan­guage preva­lent in these style of cof­fee shops. This, of course, was mod­elled af­ter, if not based on, a sim­i­lar lin­guis­tic code that was cham­pi­oned by Star­bucks in Amer­ica. These were early forms of iden­ti­fiers within the cul­ture and com­mu­nity, in­deed, the ini­tial ten­drils con­nect­ing nu­mer­ous cof­fee shops that were sprawl­ing across city and coun­try lines in the fran­chis­ing of pop­u­lar cof­fee es­tab­lish­ments. As more and more peo­ple started to get on board with the idea of cof­fee be­yond just as a stim­u­lant, more com­plex forms of lin­guis­tic prac­tices emerged. There was now a way that one could talk about their ex­pe­ri­ence of cof­fee, In­clud­ing the var­i­ous flavour notes that one could pick up from a sin­gle cup. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, though was the in­creas­ing grasp of the cof­fee sup­ply chain and the im­pli­ca­tions thereof. This could be seen com­mer­cially, in the form of the short­en­ing gap be­tween cof­fee grow­ers and cof­fee pur­vey­ors. And for con­sumers, a grow­ing con­cern for the whole­sale bean and with it a fas­ci­na­tion with what form of ex­trac­tion would best suit the said beans based on the type of roast. With this, the lan­guage for con­sumers in­creased and with it a new class of cof­fee ar­ti­san known pro­fes­sion­ally as baris­tas. A ca­reer in cof­fee be­came a place holder for mil­len­nial artists and cre­atives (but this is a dis­cus­sion for an­other time).

Also worth not­ing was the co­a­lesc­ing of a com­mu­nity of cof­fee en­thu­si­asts. This com­mu­nity brought closer cof­fee grow­ers, sell­ers, and con­sumers in a space that al­lowed cross-pol­li­na­tion of a va­ri­ety of ex­per­tise. This is not to say that this type of com­mu­nity was the first of its kind. Cof­fee has had a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing for cen­turies. What made this cof­fee com­mu­nity dif­fer­ent was the per­va­sive dis­per­sion of cof­fee knowl­edge. No longer an es­o­teric prac­tice mas­tered by a few, any­one with an in­ter­net con­nec­tion would have ac­cess to a vast bank of knowl­edge re­gard­ing the best way to ex­tract max­i­mum flavour from a cof­fee bean. It is this writer’s opin­ion this un­fet­tered ac­cess has meant a lot for the cof­fee con­sumers in terms of va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ence. One of the ways that this has hap­pened is the con­nec­tion of cof­fee to per­sonal sto­ries.

I started tak­ing cof­fee semi-se­ri­ously in the late 90s early 2000s. I say semi be­cause I had no clue what I was do­ing be­yond the mere ex­trac­tion of en­ergy from the shot of caf­feine into my body that some­how con­vinced me that all man­ner of things were pos­si­ble. Although to be fair, cof­fee had been ex­ten­sively ubiq­ui­tous through­out my child­hood in a form se­verely shunned by most cof­fee en­thu­si­asts, in­stant. In any case, I would soon de­velop a taste for cof­fee in an en­vi­ron­ment where most es­tab­lish­ments had one of three op­tions, espresso-based cof­fee, fil­ter cof­fee, and if you were for­tu­nate, French press cof­fee, col­lo­qui­ally known as Bo­dum cof­fee. The name, of course, re­flect­ing the widely avail­able brand of cof­fee plungers at the time. One of my most en­dur­ing cof­fee mem­o­ries was buy­ing ground cof­fee beans at Colombo tea and cof­fee on Grey street in Dur­ban. The en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence was mul­ti­sen­so­rial, the fresh smell of roasted cof­fee beans heavy in the air from the roast­ery up­stairs. The black and brown bur­glar guards in front of the cof­fee counter and of course, the brown pa­per filled with 250 grams of African cof­fee. It was the best of times.

As far as home brew­ing was con­cerned most work­ing-class homes, in­clud­ing mine, re­lied heav­ily on in­stant cof­fee. But if you could get past the pro­hib­i­tive costs, per­co­la­tors were rea­son­ably ubiq­ui­tous, along with plungers and mocha pots. If you had the fis­cal depth, you could buy a com­pact sin­gle-cup espresso ma­chine. With the emer­gence of the spe­cialty cof­fee mar­ket, all of the above in­di­vid­u­als would con­verge on a sin­gle pre­ferred es­tab­lish­ment to break cof­fee as it were. Re­sult­ing in more and more peo­ple de­vel­op­ing an un­der­stand­ing of cof­fee and its po­ten­tial.

In­deed, cof­fee has be­come a med­i­ta­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for most, a type of re­li­gious prac­tice if you will. Com­plete with its own prophetic voices and sa­cred rit­u­als. More­over, a litany of le­git­i­mat­ing prac­tices held onto with re­li­gious fer­vour.

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