Coffee Culture Reaches Fevered Pitch


I don't know how many of you remember the great charcuterie tsunami of the mid-2000s, but you have it to thank for the prevalence of mid-grade house-cured meats that you can now find on the menus of nearly every restaurant in or around an urban center. Taken from a distance, this is a fine trend—who am I to begrudge cured meats? But when poorly executed it doesn't matter if it's housemade. I cite this historically relevant culinary event only because I fear it has begun to happen with coffee.

Cool kids, do you remember a time when Blue Bottle and Ritual meant something? (Sara chronicled the rise of the coffee culture for 7x7 four years ago in "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.") They marked the evolution of our tastes from the Starbuckian hegemony, our appetite for ristrettos and Gibraltars fueled by the superiority that consuming them lent us, the converted. We waited in line. We first invented a word for, then oohed and ahhed over, something called "foam art." We tolerated snobbery and long lines at the Ferry Plaza Blue Bottle kiosk, even while we smugly remembered a time when it was just a little garage door on Linden, and Four Barrel just a tiny back alley operation.

Oh, but how times have changed. Have you noticed that now every restaurant seems to be throwing the words Ritual, Blue Bottle, Sight Glass and Four Barrel on their menus? How, though a comparison to Peet's and Starbucks is hardly fair or right, this city seems gripped in a full-scale boutique coffee takeover of the highest order? It's not just here in our West coast-obsessed town, either—down New York way, Stumptown is making some major inroads, and Blue Bottle owner James Freeman is in the process of making over the coffee program (yes, you read right, a coffee program) at Gramercy Tavern. An ordinary cup of coffee may soon be impossible to find at a cafe near you. Not that I'm necessarily mourning the loss of the water-dressed-in-brown, but maybe I am mourning the time when our little local boutique brands were just that, nothing more. Now James Freeman is a Nifty 50, and the Times' has launched a blog all about coffee (really).

How to celebrate success while simultaneously realizing you have to share something good with the world? No mean feat, friends. Guess the cool kids will just have to find something else to fetishize. But what?

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