On Coffee II
I’ve travelled America across both time and space. The way you can tell the difference between the two modes of transportation is that things change quite a lot for one and not at all for the other. Even moving between continents rapidly presents a tableau of culture and trends that are almost disturbing in how similar everything is, even when separated by thousands of miles.
Most of my “time travel” has shown me Atlanta, seeing horse farms turn into strip malls. Travelling across America over a smallish timeframe, however, is mostly a tour of the same strip mall over and over. The accents change, but the traditions around gas stations and along the roads are more or less the same. The coffee is always the same, cheap and thin and oddly oily. Not like the coffee at “home,” which has developed in the years since I moved to Dublin into something delicious and precious.
The same coffee I left in my beloved capital city was waiting for me in Portland, Seattle, California, and DC. It was available in any city that believed itself cosmopolitan enough to go through the expense and effort of sustaining an industry based on the idea that people will pay ludicrous premiums for a luxury as long as each point of payment is perceived as small. Thus has Starbucks grown from a stall in a market in Seattle to an international cliché.
I hadn’t ever been to Portland before this trip, but it had been hailed as a new Mecca for hipsters and foodies. I’d expected it to be the platonic form of the small, hip places I already knew in Dublin and had frequented in London. The city ended up being far more like home than I expected, with a warmth of welcome that balanced the slightly chilly air.
The coffee was very similar. The food, chosen and crafted to take advantage of fresh local ingredients, also was more like home than I’d expected (where I also tend to choose things that involve fresh local ingredients). I realised that I probably have more in common with the hipsters in cities I’ve never seen than I might have with people in my own home, just because the hipsters and I read more or less the same things and are interested in the same trends.
You could have taken my favourite coffee place in Dublin and dropped it into Portland, replacing it with a Portland coffee place, and probably no one would have noticed. Putting my coffee place into a different neighbourhood in Dublin, however, would have been more foreign than either the locals or the non-local clientele could have stomached. The aeropressed, single-origin coffee I could have in either Portland or Dublin would be unwelcome in a neighbourhood that was used to Nescafe and preferred the familiar taste of that, thank you very much.
It felt odd to be so very far away from home, any home I had ever known, but still be more “at home” than I would be in some parts of my own city.