The US Chronicles: A Welcome Pitcher of Coffee!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 8:37 PM

(With this post starts a series of write-ups about life in America, from an Indian’s perspective who recently moved to this country)

It all started with the advent of the Coffee Mania. From the day I arrived in Chicago almost a year ago, I have constantly been baffled by the number of coffee mugs consumed by each person, per day. Across colleges and offices, the day starts with either a strong Espresso (black coffee), Cappuccino (espresso, milk and milk froth), Americano (a single shot of espresso added to a cup of hot water), Caffe Latte (single shot of espresso added to three parts of steamed milk), Caf au Lait (traditional French drink similar to caffe latter, except a weaker form), Caf Mocha (cappuccino or caffe latte with chocolate syrup or powder) or Caramel Macchiato (combination of espresso, caramel and foamed milk). On almost every desk is a steaming mug of coffee, exuding delicious aromas every morning and enticing you to buy a mug of your own.

As you down your first cup, it’s time for a refill in a couple of hours. As the day progresses further beyond noon, out comes the post-lunch wake-up coffee. This coffee keeps you alert and restrains you from falling asleep on your desk or work station after a hearty meal. As evening approaches, come more mugs of coffee to keep you focused till you wrap up and get done for the day. And there is no dearth of coffee shops to appeal to all types of tastes. The most famous ones are of course Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee Company Inc., Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts. Office-goers go here because of the ease of accessibility. Students are found thronging these chains too and lots of coffee is consumed over chat sessions that last several hours. Extra points go to Starbucks for making coffee ‘cool’. Free wi-fi availability at some of these locations make them even more appealing. Gloria Jean’s Coffee, Lavazza, Panera Bread, Aroma Espresso Bar, PJ’s Coffee, Tully’s Coffee, Port City Java and Coffee Beanery are some of the other chains that see mass following from daily coffee consumers. Non-traditional coffee outlets like McDonald’s have gone the extra mile to aggressively brand and sell their coffee as well.

To me, it sometimes feels like drinking coffee is not merely a hobby, but a sport in America. Like all sports, people have staunch loyalties about taste and source. Some sophisticated elite who only have their coffee with butter and attend coffee-tastings (the regal aura of this activity would put wine-tasting to shame) throw a distasteful scorn at Starbucks. Their coffee preferences reflect their cultural and social persona. For others, coffee means social get-togethers and they are fully capable of enjoying a simple mug of Iced Coffee and Lattes at Dunkin’ Donuts. Whatever coffee might mean to anyone, the irrefutable truth about living in America is that you love your cuppa.

I and my husband were in New Orleans for Christmas last year. A family member introduced us to a new form of coffee – the Cold Brew (marketed by the New Orleans Coffee Company). Cold Brew basically refers to the process of steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for an extended period of time. This liquid form of coffee needs to be kept frozen and can quickly be mixed with some water or milk to render some lip-smacking coffee. My husband took a real liking to Cold Brew and now my freezer is jammed with its various varieties, including one in hazelnut flavor! Cold Brews can also be found in popular food chains like Trader Joe’s but are a tad bit more expensive than regular coffee.

Another coffee find in New Orleans was America’s most popular coffee shop – Café Du Monde (800 Decatur Street at the French Market in New Orleans, LA). We made multiple visits to this café during our trip and invariably always ended up waiting in queues before being seated. The joint was forever teeming with hoards of eager tourists and coffee-lovers. Everyone wanted a chicory-laced caf au lait and the addictive sugar-dusted beignets. Beignets are pastries made from deep-fried choux paste (made of butter, water, flour and eggs). They are served as a dessert in the US and come with heaps of powdered sugar mounted on top. Warm beignets make perfect companions with hot coffee and can taste good at any time of the day!

A survey was conducted by Live Science, Coffee 4 Dummies and Coffee Research and released on July 12th, 2014. It presents interesting facts about coffee consumption in the US. The survey reveals that 54% of total Americans (over the age of 18 years) drink coffee every day. The average size of a coffee mug is 9 ounces. The average price of an expresso-based drink is $2.45. Almost 35% of the total coffee drinkers prefer black coffee. An average coffee drinker consumes 3.1 mugs of coffee daily. 65% coffee-drinkers added cream or sugar to their coffee. The total amount of money spent on importing coffee to the US each year is a whopping $4 billion!

According to the Huffington Post, Chicago tops the list of America’s Ten Most Caffeinated cities. It is followed closely by New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Jose, Portland (Oregon), Miami and Minneapolis. The ranks were decided by analyzing average household spending at city coffee shops, based on data from 20 million anonymous Visa and MasterCard holders. The larger pictures that I am trying to paint here is that coffee consumption in America is a serious business. Surveys are conducted to gauze coffee spends, extensive research is undertaken to stay abreast of people’s changing taste preferences and Starbucks remains the third most popular food chain in America (after McDonald’s and Subway).

I somehow still haven’t caught on to the trend. But my husband seems to have mounted the coffee bandwagon with gusto. At work and in school, he is a loyal Starbucks patron. At his business school, one can get a coffee refill for just $1 if they carry their own coffee mug. Each time I sit with him to audit a class (spouses have the liberty to do that here), students all around us have their proud coffee mugs mounted on the tables. Breakfast can be skipped but skipping coffee is a strict no-no. Professors sometimes have coffee mugs of their own perched perilously at the edge of their lectern. My sense of wonder and amazement refuses to die down. I still relate more easily to cup of tea than I do the addictive mug of coffee. But that hasn’t stopped me from looking up and experimenting with creating different coffee tastes in my own kitchen. I am far from good at being a competitive coffee chef, but I do hope to catch on one day. Till then, Starbucks zindabaad.


Haresh D. says:

"The ranks were decided by analyzing average household spending at city coffee shops, based on data from 20 million anonymous Visa and MasterCard holders."
Therein lies the flaw. If true rankings were based on all forms of payment -- cash included -- the most caffeinated city would, by far, be Evanston Illinois!!

Haresh D: I agree, masser! Sadly, I had to rely on whatever the study-doers had decided to work around. Thanks for reading and the comment :)

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