By Logan Long
Chances are, you drink coffee. We have three coffee shops on campus, coffee in the cafeteria, coffee pots in each department’s break rooms and more than likely a few coffee makers on your floor or in your apartment. Coffee culture is in vogue among millennials right now.
Coffee culture is more than a five-dollar cup of Joe. Coffee culture reflects the Millennial’s values of quality, justice, and community. That five-dollar latte satisfies the craving not for diner-quality coffee, but for that attention to detail in the blend of flavors. Spending more on it makes sense, since the barista and workers get a fair cut of the cost. Perhaps more than anything, the coffee shop that makes that latte is the perfect place to meet with friends or just spend some down time. Coffee culture has woven itself into the fabric of our culture, becoming a part of Millennial life. It’s no longer about the drink alone, but everything around it. Coffee, tea, or smoothie, millennials have come to want more from their lattes.
For coffee, it comes down to the bean, the roast, and the preparation. A bean (really more like a cherry or fruit) gets its flavor from where it is grown. Costal regions tend to produce fruitier flavors while mountainous or inland regions tend to produce more nutty undertones. This means coffees from different regions can taste totally different. A Tanzanian Peaberry, for example, has a sweet, vanilla flavor, whereas Hawaii’s Kona has a fruity, mango undertone. An Ethiopian Yirgacheffe even has rich, chocolaty undertones. For many, Brazilian and Guatemalan beans are a safe place to start.
According to the National Coffee Association of the United States, the roast makes beans go through chemical and physical changes. Light roasts are a light tan or brown with almost no oils on the surface and have milder flavors. Medium roasts are a brown or hazel color with some oil on the beans’ surface and more rounded flavors (this is because, as the water evaporates during the roast, the sugars and more complex carbohydrates begin to caramelize). Dark roasts are a dark brown or black color with an oily surface, having a bolder, more smoky flavor (the flavors that are left begin to carbonize, including oils and sugars). So, depending on the roast, a variety of flavors can be had.
Finally, how you prepare coffee affects its flavor. Scott Rao, professional barista and author of the Professional Barista’s Handbook and Everything But Espresso, has spent much of his professional career writing about how to prepare coffee. He notes how finely or largely ground beans can be paired with how the coffee is prepared. Making an espresso? The more finely ground the beans, the bolder its flavor will be. Using a filter (drip machine, pour over, or chemex)? Using a medium grind and a slower pour will help get that pointed profile from the beans. Fancy a French press? Be sure to steep coarse ground beans for four minutes to maximize that more rounded flavor from the beans. And in all cases, the better the quality of water, the better the coffee will taste. With a little attention to detail in the preparation, the flavors can work together and speak for themselves.
Coffee culture seeks justice. Whether it is fair pay for workers or fair trade coffee. But what exactly is fair trade? According to fairtradeusa. org, the non-profit that created term/movement, it is “products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated.” This basically means paying better wages for farmers in lesser developed countries. While this does good work to create sustainable jobs for many communities, sometimes these jobs are simply farmer labor jobs with another company owning the plantation. So while they may have more money and a sustainable job, the workers may not be much more than laborers. Yobel coffee takes fair trade a step further by not only offering higher-than-fair-trade wages, but also gives land, supplies, and training to workers who then own the co-op themselves; they don’t just have a job, they have a quality enterprise. For those looking for more ways to fight economic inequality and still enjoy a high-quality bean, Yobel coffee comes highly recommended.
Coffee culture is more than just a product; it is a community. Kenzie Roberson, a senior at Olivet who has worked as a barista and spends a good deal of time in coffee shops, sums up coffee culture like this, “Coffee shops are places which facilitate conversation through the ability to linger over a cup of coffee. They are often designed with the intention of being comfortable locations with a focus on relationships and being in the moment.”
Coffee shops have the power to bring us together, to integrate into the community, and to become a part of our cultural identity. Maybe that’s why we can never seem to leave them.