One of our local coffee houses, Cafe Bonjour (formerly Mello Joy) is closing this week. The interior was not particularly exciting. The coffee was not the most awakening. There wasn’t even any latte art to ooh and ahh about. But it was the only cafe in Downtown Lafayette, and our essential meeting spot. Jack’s nearby closed a few months ago. They sold hot dogs and coffee from Oregon. It was good, but it was a drive-thru. A new Art Cafe opened recently, but it’s bright and the owner claims to serve “fresh” food (“just take it out of the freezer and pop it in the microwave” fresh). I don’t find it inviting, which is probably why I’ve never been there. So, I should probably shut up about it now since I’ve never even had the coffee.
I am living in a small city drenched in tradition. Fantastic tradition. Tradition that I’ve never found anywhere else, and that I crave when I’m away. Tradition that I beg my out-of-state friends to travel to and experience, promising them they will never be disappointed. But I live within walking distance to downtown. And while I have taken mainly to making my own coffee (black) in my Italian Moka Express in the mornings, I still yearn for meet-ups at the local coffee shop. I revel in reading the NY Times Dining Out section on Wednesday mornings before work while sipping on an iced mocha and greeting friends coming and going. And while our current downtown may manage to exist without a bounty of boutiques and funky shops, how can it without a coffee shop? I think that just may be sacrilegious. I could rant about a few other changes going down in the center of town that I don’t necessarily agree with, but let’s keep it about coffee today.
There are plenty of ‘perfect’ spots to open up a new coffee shop nearby (the one closing will become office spaces – eek), and I’ve been enjoying a bevy of revolution-wreaking conversations with friends about what ‘our’ new cafe should look, smell, and taste like. This, in turn, has prompted me to do a little research, realizing that I do love coffee, but what do I really know about it?
In the 11th century, coffee (from a genus of plants known as Coffea) made its way from Africa, up through West Asia, and spread throughout the Mediterranean. Once folks realized it wasn’t a pagan elixir, the trend caught on, and finally made its way up to England (thanks to the British and Dutch East India Companies), back down to France over to Austria, and then eventually to the Americas. France was our main link to coffee due to colonization and coffee plantations.
Coffee seems to first have landed in the U.S. around the 1600s, and prospered mainly in the Italian-American immigrant communities of New York, Boston, and San Francisco. But it soon spread throughout the country as a cowboy campfire and diner counter staple. In the 50s and 60s coffeehouses offered more than just coffee, however. Folk musicians and philosophers reigned finding their niche where they might debate the world’s future as well as their own existence.
San Francisco was well known for its superb coffee; however in 1971, Starbucks opened its first store, which eventually led to Seattle being known as THE home of coffee in the U.S. Many a small coffee shop has opened up since then offering everything from traditional drip to masterpiece brews and artwork, and can also include anything from cupcakes to sake.
So here we find ourselves today shaking up to our eyeballs in caffeine, foam and Splenda (ew), with coffee as a natural part of our day… what gets us started… what keeps us going… and what feeds our souls. So what do without a place to gather together and experience that?
It’s all up to you, where you find your niche… your second home. While either grabbing a quick espresso at a counter or spending all day with your laptop or a good book, there is a cafe out there for everyone… it just might not be in your town… or could be found in the comfort of your very own living room.
I’ve listed some helpful and interesting sites on coffee for your perusal. I wish you good java hunting and bon appétit!
P.S. Thanks, Tony, for all your lovely wisdom. It’s definitely being put to good use.
Coffee Articles – NY Times
History of Coffee – Wikipedia
National Coffee Association of the U.S.
History of the Coffee House – Wikipedia
Northwest Shade Coffee Campaign
History of the Diner – Wikipedia
Espresso Glossary and Lingo
Buying Coffee Equipment – About.com
Seattle Coffee Work
Latte Art Photos
Latte Art Techniques