September 14, 2007

Coffee culture

Seattle skyline, home to Starbucks

My Dad wrote that the Stop 'n Shop supermarket in West Hartford, Connecticut has opened a Starbucks' bar for customer convenience inside the store. To promote it's opening, they were offering pumpkin spice latte and chocolate chip coffee.

Why? Sounds disgusting and really has nothing to do with coffee, that strong bitter zing that we know and love, but Americans, instead, love anything new and different and having lots of choice -- even at the expense of a good cup of coffee -- the more flavors and options, the better.

The Italians would rather just have a good cup of coffee -- quality over choice. Although they can get rather picky about whether it is served long or short, in a cup or a glass, with or without a drop of cold or hot milk and such, tasting the quality of the coffee itself is the point.

The man behind the counter at a local bar, across the street from an American study abroad center, confided one day that he could not understand why the students were always asking to create their own sandwich combinations instead of being satisfied with the standard ones on display. "These are the best combinations that have filtered down over generations: tomato and mozzarella, tonno e carciofini, ham and cheese, bresaola e rughetta." Sacrificing a tasty sandwich to the altar of "choice" was way outside of his cultural code.

Choice and trying new things is at the top of the American value scale, anything new is intrinsically better. Sometimes this leads to innovation and other times simply to bad taste, like pineapple and chicken on pizza.
Guy with cowboy hat hanging at Starbucks.

We stopped in a Starbucks while on a one-day layover in Seattle this summer. My sons, being Italian, were diffident at and overwhelmed by all the crazy combinations on the board and nearly ordered a regular coffee. But the waitress (very cute and just their age) said, "How boring, you must try something flavored." So they did (one with hazelnut and another with vanilla and something) and after a few sips of the sweet and sticky liquid, threw it out.

We stuck to regular coffee for the rest of the trip.

a domani,


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh - maybe that's why I've always hated flavoured coffee and never "got" the whole Starbucks thing. I'm a third culture kid and my Australian side must take over when i enter a Starbucks so I become paralysed by choice and just end up ordering a regular drip coffee. :)

BTW - thanks for the book rec - I'm ordering it from


Elizabeth said...

Kataroma -- love to hear what you think about the book. Actually, Gillian, if you are out there -- she is talking about your TCK book. We'll have to all get together!

Brendan said...

I have come to the conclusion that Italy is the only place in the world that can make a decent cup of coffee!

Kataroma said...

Brendan - try France. The coffee there is sublime. :)

Anonymous said...

well, there are plenty of adventurous open-minded italians who love the whole "different" flavors and options in america. i have tons of italian friends who come to america and become obsessed with things like hazelnut coffee and beg me to send them stashes of it a couple of times a year!