Coffee, the great unifier of people

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Day begins with fumbling filters and temperamental brewing machines
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Posted Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 10:20am

I like a good cup of coffee. Like many Americans, my day begins fumbling with filters and temperamental brewing machines. It's my morning ritual. Yet it's merely one of many morning ablutions that I go through, but the only one which relaxes and cajoles.

What is it that's so satisfying and fulfills like a razor never can? I've considered electrolysis many thousands of times to slay the pesky scruff, and have never once given a moment of consideration to tossing my grinder. To the non-caffeine drinker, Caffeine addiction might come to mind. But to us coffee-philes ... the reasons are legion as they are inexplicable. There is a melding and coming together of a thousand reasons, a cacophony of scents, flavors, and sensations.

The art and science of coffee goes back to 15th century Mesopotamia, where it is said to have originated (Both Yemen and Ethiopia compete for the honor, but the judges are still out [probably on their coffee break]). Western traders brought it back to Europe where it quickly became something of a cultural phenomenon.

By the mid 1600s it had reached England and gained a following in the American colonies, but didn't really take off until Parliament made its big gaffe with the Tea Tax of 1773. We're not talking about a screw up. Or a teensy-weensy mistake. We're talking about an absolute "you've started a two front land war in Asia" moment.

Ok, to give the House of Hanover it's due, it wasn't about the tea, rather to have the colonists reimburse the crown for military protection from French (and the occasional native) mercenaries eager for a scalp or two during the Seven Year War.

But the colonists smelled an overripe cod and turned to fiscal warfare: the boycott, weapon of mass destruction, which has been a favorite of Americans ever since. "Dump the tea in the harbor" was the rallying cry, and merchants cried all the way to the bank as coffee became the new dark horse.

America would never be the same. The "drink of the revolution" would soon be to us as Absinthe was to Bohemian Paris. Today there are literally hundreds of brands of coffee being served in hundreds of thousands of colorful combinations. Everyone takes it a little different, each to their own particular taste.

Some take it dripped or steamed. Others, French pressed. Many, with flavour shots. Some, decaffeinated. A portion, super-caffeinated. This group, vent. That group, grande. The Brits, with lemon. The Irish, with brown sugar. Turks, take it unstrained. An absolutely mind boggling assortment of decisions. Decisions, without the accountability that exist in the rest of the sphere of daily life.

Americans love options, and these options exist in part because of the significant amount of diversity that we have fostered. Though there are elements within this Nation that cherish assimilation and consolidation, it is this vast and exciting part that I absolutely love the most about this land of choice. Tony Kushner put it best in Angels in America when he called America the "melting pot where nothing melted." If it ever did, we would be giving up our most valuable national treasure.

To me, coffee is so much more than a drink. Like the Eagle, the flag, the snake, it is a symbol. In my eyes, it is the only accurate symbol of this great nation. So let's meet down at The Coffee Shop down on Main Street where I can get it my way and you can get it your way, and celebrate our differences.

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