The “coffee house” phenomenon has arrived in my small town -- fashionably late but with a vengeance. Like dandelions after the rain, these casas de cafe have popped up everywhere. People flock to them by the drove. Despite the trend, I had managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the coffee house... until recently.
I became swept up in the craze because of my daughter, a college junior who has logged more hours in coffee houses than in all her high school and college lectures combined. Barely had she alit on my doorstep for the summer when she requested a ride to the nearby cafe. As I was attempting to veer the car into dropping-off position, she uttered the words that changed my life (or summer, anyway): “You come too, Mom. I’ll buy you coffee.”
We walked in to the rich, heavenly aroma of coffee, cinnamon, spices, and just a whiff of Love’s Baby Soft, which wafted from the corner table where my daughter’s friends had landed. The decor was ultra-modern, with plush armchairs, sofas, and newspapers scattered about to encourage deep reflection and conversation. Trendy but subtle music floated in the air. The atmosphere was updated, yet refined; daring, yet tame -- like a fine, aged coffee... er, wine. The place was populated with stylish and attractive people -- mainly college students with massive textbooks splayed open before them. Everyone looked important, sipping their coffee with an air of confidence and purpose.
Impressed, my gaze shifted to an overhead menu filled with daunting, eclectic names. I couldn’t find the word “coffee” on it anywhere. What was a Macchiata, anyway? Wasn’t that the guy from Karate Kid? Was Chai a drink, or had a letter “r” fallen off the end of the sign? As I tried to decipher the sign, a girl in front of us in line ordered Tazo. I replied, “God bless you!” My daughter looked at me like something green and ugly just landed on my nose. Well-versed in Java etiquette, she strode up and placed her order.
“I’d like a Super Grande Macchiata Peanut Butter Caramel with a Twist, Non Fat.”
“No, a White Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Spoon. And a Cranberry Orange Scone.”
I had no idea what had just transpired, but it seemed to involve a secret code of some sort... and what was that “name” bit? Was a background check necessary before issuing a beverage? But, it was my turn, and the clerk was eyeing me expectantly.
“Coffee?” I offered weakly.
The clerk raised an eyebrow. People behind me eavesdropped intently, as though my coffee selection would reveal some startling aspect of my personality. My daughter swooped in and ordered on my behalf. Three clerks and ten different devices were then employed in the brewing of our “coffee,” including one apparatus that shot out plumes of steam a la Old Faithful. After the drinks were shaken, stirred, fluffed, and julienned, the clerk deposited them on the counter and loudly proclaimed “Two Peanut Butter Machiattas for Lisa!” (we were standing just six inches away). I cautiously sampled mine; it was sweet, exotic, with just the barest detectable hint of coffee. I loved it.
As I sipped, I watched the room around me and swore that the college crowd was growing smarter and more chic by the minute, just by absorbing the ambiance. Then it hit me -- I was in college, too. I wanted to be hip. I wanted to expand my educational horizons while sipping a Mega Mocha Mania. I wanted to ponder cerebral issues with a cosmopolitan flair others would envy. So, for the next two months, I struggled to achieve Joie de Vivre at the local JavaBucks.
And a struggle it was. The coffee house tables were roughly six inches in diameter. While other people had no trouble balancing laptops, atlases, or briefcases on this surface, as soon as I would open my math book, it would hit the floor with a resounding “whack!” The book also left no room for my coffee. I tried holding the cup in one hand and steadying the book with the other. “Whack!” I balanced the book on my lap, then tried to reach for my drink while reading. “Splat!” followed closely by another “Whack!” Determined, I changed tactics. I brought smaller books. The “Whack/Splat!” stopped, but the noise from the SteamFiend 2000 made concentration impossible. I settled for trying to think important thoughts while I sipped. Meanwhile, I beat the learning curve in Java etiquette. I, too, could brave lines the length of the Great Wall, order in fluent javaspeak, and comprehend the difference between a blended or iced drink. Awkwardness had given way to sure routine.
Just when I thought I had victory by the cup handle, I happened to catch a glance at my reflection in the window. I didn’t look suave like my stylish fellow coffee drinkers. In fact, I didn’t look like myself, either. My daily habit had a rather nasty side effect: rapid weight gain. It turned out that my favorite libation boasted enough calories to keep a racehorse going for a week. My new bell bottoms wouldn’t fit, and I had to forego petite tables in favor of oversized armchairs. Finally, as I sipped a Berry Blaster one afternoon, a toe ring became stuck on my edematous (yet fashionably manicured) foot. As my toe turned the same shade as the Blaster, I considered summoning medical aid. Deep down, however, I knew paramedics couldn’t force their way through rush hour coffee traffic in time. I hobbled home, stuck my foot in an ice bath, and hung up my coffee mug. I realized the coffee house would never make me smarter or more hip -- just, well, more hips. I went back to diet soda and the Stairmaster, having learned a valuable lesson about trying to fit in with the “cool crowd” like my mother used to warn me about.
Nowadays, when I drive by one of my old Java haunts, I glance through the windows and see that the fashionable folk still frequent them. They still sip their coffee with purpose; still balance their laptops on a dime-sized surface with perfection. With a knowing smile and a nod, my schoolbooks on the seat next to me, I turn away and head for the local sushi bar. I hear raw calamari makes one smarter and increases sex appeal. It’s all the rage.