Drinking Coffee: an Institution?

There are a lot of legends around where and how coffee was discovered. It is thought to be from Ethiopia or Yemen. Historically coffee shops were a place where people would meet to talk about politics and ideas, during Les Lumières for example. Nowadays, we drink coffee every day without even thinking about it. The act of drinking coffee has become an institution worldwide. But how is drinking coffee an institution?

Coffee is a practice that applies to individualistic and social situations. It is considered as a fuel that keeps us going, especially in stressful and busy periods of time. It has become a ritual that rhythms the daily life: we have a coffee to wake up, a coffee break in the morning, a coffee after lunch, a coffee in the afternoon, and for some, coffee at night. You can have a break at work, to have a coffee and discuss with your co-workers, or alone at night, with this “myth” of a writer or an artist working late with their coffee, being inspired by the night time.

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Do you have a favourite coffee shop?

Coffee has become the name of the place where we drink it. We do not tell each other “let’s meet at the hot chocolate down the street”, but “let’s meet at the café”. To get a coffee, “Aller boire un café”, is an institution in itself, the same way as going to the movie, or to the restaurant. It is more about being reunited with other individuals than drinking coffee. It’s also linked to the Coffee Shop or the Coffee House in itself. It’s a place outside, easy to find and where everyone can find something to drink that they like. It’s cheaper than a restaurant, and adapts to all hours.

Getting a coffee can be something more intimate. Often, people consider having a coffee as the perfect first date. A café is a neutral place, where individuals feel safe to talk and get to know somebody. It is a social space that can be turned into an intimate one if the person wishes so.

It’s a practice that adapts to every personality. One of coffee key to success is how much options it gives in term of ways of drinking it. It adapts to everyone’s taste but also everyone’s personality. It’s also “trendy”: coffee is associated with energy whereas tea is seen as more traditional, almost for old people. You can almost match a coffee with a person. It’s actually interesting to see how coffee has now almost an identity, and sometimes even a gender or a nationality.

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A funny way to customize your daily coffee

New coffee chains such as Starbucks or Costa Café have actually understood this and created hundreds of ways to consume your coffee. There’s also new way to customize how your coffee looks, with baristas -note that there’s now a word for people serving coffee- creating design with the cream, etc. The coffee capsules (Nespresso, Senseo) works in the same way, by giving different options for your coffee. Coffee is becoming a way to express yourself, just like clothes or music taste. It is reinforced by social media which allow you to post about your coffee, such as a picture of a Starbucks cup on Instragam.

You could go to a very neutral coffee shop, or on the contrary, you can bring someone to your favourite coffee shop, which could be seen as an intimate place in the public space, because it’s your very personal choice and it reflects a lot about you too.

Coffee has now become an institution, not only the practice of drinking coffee adapts to any social or individualist situation, but also to every personality and taste. Coffee is a way to rhythm your daily life and express your identity.

By Flore Bardet (M1)

Cet article est la synthèse d’un exposé réalisé par Flore Bardet et Iris Barghon-Pons pour le cours « Découverte de la Culture Contemporaine » dispensé par Martine Beugnet.

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