From Ethiopia To A Stripmall Starbucks Drive-Thru

[ The fruit of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, spiced with rue ]

At the opening night party for the new Ethiopian exhibit at the Northwest African American Museum there was a demonstration of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The energizing effect of coffee was first discovered by Ethiopians, and it is deeply embedded in their traditional culture.   The coffee ceremony is typically performed three times a day and can last several hours.  It is a time for unhurried socializing.  As the woman describing the ceremony put it, they meet and talk to each other instead of going home alone to stare at screens.

Yes indeed, here in the United States, we do things a little differently.  While the relaxed chat over coffee is still a strong tradition, coffee is more commonly consumed as quickly as possible for purely utilitarian reasons—it keeps us going in the face of lives that lack proper mental and/or physical  stimulation.  Our great contribution to coffee’s culinary arts:  Folger’s instant.

The reining corporate king of coffee, Starbucks, reinvented coffee for Americans, reawakening the appreciation both for quality taste, and for the cafe as a significant social space.  But alas, Starbucks couldn’t resist succumbing to the giant sucking sound that is the American business tradition, wherein success leads only in one direction:  total domination through the virile distribution of uniformly sterile product to every last possible street corner.

And the pinnacle achievement of the debased American makeover of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony has got to be the Starbucks’ stripmall drive-thru, which removes any possibility for a social dimension, and relegates coffee drinking to the realm of mainlining a drug.    Not to mention that they won’t serve you unless you show up inside a multi-ton shell of steel and glass.  Although just to make the twisted circle complete, I bet the Ethiopian cabbies love it.