Coffee Culture in the City

 PHOTO: Lauren Clewes

PHOTO: Lauren Clewes

If coffee culture in (sub)urban North America is a shot of Espresso, they definitely over-roasted my cuppa. All taste in my mouth is bitter, which leaves me salty.

I curse the pretentious coffee shops with their wooden hand-carved tables upon which throngs of MacBooks and MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros perched ever-so haughtily stand and salute their owner’s efforts to look busy and important.

“Ugh”, sighs a wedding/event/life planner sitting in the communal open-concept board-room at Jimmy’s Coffee on Bay Street. It is decidedly clear to everybody in the room of the many things she must do and how little time she has. Those in her vicinity note the importance of her existence and carry on with their day.

We seemed to have developed a penchant for being pretentious in this city. From where this starts; I don’t know. I couldn't venture a guess either. But Iittle do know it extends to our caffeine intake and the culture we in the Western world have created around it. I find myself shelling out as much as $3 for a cup of espresso served to me by an over-enthusiastic barista touting organic fair-trade beans which have probably lost their “ethic” somewhere along the shipping/distribution process. Unbeknownst to him, of course.

It hasn’t always been like this. Coffee Times and McDonald’s and sports bars in Little Portugal/Italy remind us of our humble pre-gentrification past and stand as solemn guards judging our every sip.  With the return of Zaza and other modern takes on an Old World sentiment, we see signs of a move in the right direction; and for only $1.90 a cup at Zaza, it’s a cheaper direction.

    “I’ll have a quad long shot grande in a venti cup half calf double cupped no sleeve salted caramel mocha latte with 2 pumps of vanilla”, drones on Brent, an avid caffeine lover, to the poor soul working behind the Starbucks till just trying to pay for tuition. “I swear I can’t start my day without it”, he laughs half-heartedly.

I guess I can’t be too hard on us. Taken from a different perspective, one can easily say that quite a large number of cultures have their own unique intricacies when it comes to coffee consumption. For example, in Italy, one usually has a cappuccino after breakfast and an espresso after dinner. In some parts of Ethiopia, social gatherings require the women of the house to perform a coffee ceremony. It’s as much about the social as it is about the brew. People gather to talk about the mundane and the profound, the silly and the serious over coffee.

Well that sounds eerily similar. The same thing happens here in Toronto- everywhere actually. The social function that coffee offers isn’t a bad thing - nor do I have qualms with. Nothing wrong with catching up with friends over a cuppa, I just wish people here would get off their caffeine-fuelled high horse.

But that’s probably just our unique way of doing things. Can we so easily conclude that pretentious, complicated orders are just our own “cultural intricacies”? I hesitate to say yes, because places like Tim Hortons and other coffee shops try pretty hard to act unpretentious. It works for the most part, and leaves our city in a landscape divided. Different roasts for different folks, I guess? Perhaps, but it’s still my opinion that coffee culture here should be taken simply honestly.