You’ve got to have something of a coffee fetish to operate a coffee blog–even half-assedly like I do. Being the coffee shop junkie that I am, I always considered the coffee shop to be an ideal social destination–mainly because I couldn’t really think of any other ideas. That said, I also considered the coffee shop an ideal place for doing homework, business meetings, family reunions, and sleeping. Coffee’s a social drug drink, and is therefore adaptable to a variety of social situations.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not that simple You may recall my report on my hometown being overrun by bikini coffee shops. While the subject inspired some spirited (and entertaining) debate, I never made any serious correlation between coffee and sex. I mean, bikini-clad women and coffee seemed like a pretty arbitrary pairing to me, and  it turns out that business model may not really have much to do with the coffee anyways. I figured since you could substitute wings, burgers, and internet domain name services, sex and marketing is a proven formula, coffee was just replacing the variable.

…or so I thought. To start things off, let’s hear from executive transvestite (not “weirdo transvestite,” mind you) Eddie Izzard who shares an often quoted anec-joke about the coffee/sex correlation:

So “coffee” is street slang for sex. That’s cool, but at the same time it just seems…confusing. Sure, there’s the possibility of social faux pas with heads of state, but given coffee’s wide social presence, that can’t possibly be a hard and fast literal rule. Perhaps, like all slang, you’ve got to pay attention to the context. Case in point:

Hearing this information again flashes me back about nine years to one of my very few experiences cold-asking someone out on a date. I asked a barista out for coffee and she declined, having already made plans to go to an Incubus concert that weekend. Realizing now that I had possibly propositioned and been turned down for sex certainly changes the flavor of that interchange. In my defense, she was sending mixed signals by being a barista.

Perhaps it’s not entirely about the coffee, but more about opening that door to extend (or start) the evening. If there’s anything we learned from the Land Shark, you’ve just got to have the right line (everyone loves candy!). Perhaps if your date is on the fence about you, you’ll sell them on the coffee. “Would you join me for a cup of coffee?” certainly beats a number of alternatives:

Holy hell, they totally went there.

Being a married man now, I’m forced to re-evaluate the role of going out for coffee in my life. What kind of signals am I sending when I join a friend for a casual cup of coffee? Are others whispering behind my back about my coffee shop promiscuity? Am I being honest with my wife about going out for coffee and what role should it play in our relationship? Before you ask, no, I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, but I will say that if you don’t have an honest coffee talk with your spouse, your feelings may surface in inappropriate ways.

Yeah, I’m sure he’ll get some at the plant. Perhaps the plant has a “desk sergeant” as well. Ugh. Men are such dogs. Actually, if I’m going to cite advertisements as proof, I should point out that coffee also apparently turns women into dangerous vengeful maniacs. Par for the course I suppose.

Movie poster for "Metal Man."

I really would like to know how many folks will accidentally rent this. It's almost cruel, really. Did they steal the tagline too?

Imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s also an equally effective form of marketing. It’s been biologically observed that older animals–particularly humans—lose their sense of curiosity and adventurousness as they age. Even in nature, young animals are more apt to try new foods and explore new places than their older relatives. Just as we can foster our sense of adventure and curiosity we can also erode it, and nothing quite encourages intellectual stagnancy like…marketing.

I was chatting with someone about my musico-hetero-crush on Paul Simon, which eventually led to some casual browsing of Wikipedia for information about his past non-me romantic pursuits. This, in turn, led to my investigating the work of Harper Simon, “the child of [his] first marriage” (Paul Simon, “Graceland”). I wouldn’t say H. Simon is imitating P. Simon as much as he’s influenced by him—very strongly. Naming Bridge Over Troubled Water as one of his major influences, Harper Simon’s hit “Wishes and Stars” drinks so heavily of Simon and Garfunkel that it leaves me wondering whether I’m sold on Harper or subscribed to Paul.

Tip: Buy a new album and resist the “Track 1 trap.” Play it only on shuffle and if you’re really feeling adventurous, remove the hit single from your playlist.

A year or so ago I shared my casual admiration for the work of Sara Bareilles, whose style resonated with my affinity for quirky singer-songstressess. A first listen of her new single “King of Anything” hooked me in, just as “Love Song” had initially piqued my curiosity. A second listen, however, revealed it was essentially a carbon-copy of “Love Song”—and neither of which represents her strongest work. From the rhythm of the hook, to the form, to the subject matter (“I don’t need you! You’re such a downer! I’m independent!”), it’s all been sold before.

Tip: Want a real gauge of artistry? Search YouTube videos for live performances, where the hand of the producer may not be as heavy. Heck, I even enjoyed Lady Gaga.

I have nothing against Bareilles or Simon (either one) for their work. One shouldn’t be appalled by consistency, influence, or similarity, but we should be wary of forces that reinforce it. We’re already fighting biological and psychological battles against predictability; must we fight a sociological one too?

I leave you with an excerpt from the NPR interview (link above):

Mr. MILLER: I’m no neuroscientist, but I think that as time goes on, you know, something that people tell us about that music is that you know, when I hear those songs, I can see what I saw and hear what I heard and feel what I felt when I first heard them.

KRULWICH: So they become a kind of form of time travel that tells you there is something firm, something permanent, in a constantly changing world, and that feels good. The familiar makes an older person stronger, even if they’re calling your favorite song an oldie.

You know what that means, too, don’t you?

Professor SAPOLSKY: Yup. Dipped in bronze and put up on the mantel place.

KRULWICH: So this is a double-edged thing.

Professor SAPOLSKY: It’s not pleasing.

KRULWICH: No, because in the end, Sapolsky says, while continuity may make us comfortable, it’s when you dare to do that new thing – that’s when you grow.

"Part chocolate. Part peanut butter. All hero." This  describes neither Iron Man nor Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

"Part chocolate. Part peanut butter. All hero." Note that this describes neither Iron Man nor Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Way back in a past blog life I was a lot more candid, with less concerns for pesky things like coherence, honesty, and decency. I occasionally mine old gems from blog 1.0, and one I never really let go of was “unformation.” Richard Saul Wurman, creator of the TED Conference coined the term information architecture as the idea of designing information to be meaningful. Unformation, in contrast, indicates the antithesis of information architecture: presenting of information in a manner so insipid that it does more to erode inquiring minds than engage them.

Foot Locker ad: "Don't criticize. Nike hypersize. Foot Locker."

"Don't criticize. Nike hyperize. Foot Locker." Well, at least it rhymes. It's about as meaningful as the cricket rule book read to a parakeet, but it rhymes.

Case in point: advertising. Sheer abundance of consumer products has pretty much killed off any sense of need, though it could be argued that the mere existence of advertising demonstrates the absence of need. Regardless, it’s become painfully apparent that advertising doesn’t really need to mean anything, it just needs to convince you that it might mean something. Parents groups raise concerns about children being over-exposed to sex and violence on television. What abut the side effects of long-term overexposure to utterly nonsensical advertising?

Employer: “What makes you qualified for this position?”
Interviewee: “Work. Money. Ecstasy.”

Teacher: “What is the capital of Montana?”
Student: “Montana: Part state. Part nation.  All America.”

Man 1: “Who are you voting for in the next election?”
Man 2: “Change I can believe in!”

Hm. Perhaps that last one was a bit too…topical.

For those unconvinced, lets do some comparison between “actual” news and fake headlines from The Onion. Telling the difference is tougher than you might think. The headlines below present the growing difficulty of separating real life from satire:

Christ’s final dinner portions grow with obesity crisis

Report: $14 Trillion Spent Annually on “looking cool”

Biden on Health Care Reform: “This is a Big F—ing Deal!”

Consumer Product Diversity Now Exceeds Biodiversity

California opens massive garage sale in Sacramento

Apple Releases Revolutionary New Laptop with No Keyboard

I had always believed that comedic satire had the advantage of speaking honestly and freely about how bizarre and chaotic reality really is. What’s becoming painfully apparent, however, is that it’s not about searching for weird or slanting stories toward the weird; real life is and always has been weird. It’s just unfortunate that news media has to work so hard to make things meaningless.

…and now The Onion presents: “what I hear when I watch CNN, the online retailer of one thing per day for really cheap, is renowned for fantastic deals and mind-bogglingly absurd item descriptions. They’ve got a heck of a team of creative writers over there and they truly understand 21st century marketing. Ok, that may not be true, but they are pretty damned weird. Case in point: today’s blog post which sold nothing but delivered a level of absurd that was almost too much for me. Who knew Hamburgers and velvet could be so good together?

Spice Up Your Recipies With These Surprising Flavor Pairings!

Thank you, Woot. Thank you.

Cutter's Point.

I'm totally feeling the positive difference being made in my life. The barista made me a latte instead of a wet capp, by the way.

I had some time to kill and stopped into one of them swanky coffee establishments that the greater Tacoma area seems to be a big fan of. Cutters Point sells on the glitz and polish, following the high ceiling (and highfalutin’) decorative motif that fell backwards out of a Pottery Barn truck. I’m tossing around the idea of converting my dining room into a Cutters Point location, so I gave their franchising brochure a looksee:

The Cutters Point coffee shops are unique. The use of rich mahogany wood and accents in each shop helps create a nautical theme unique for each town or location.

Look, guys, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’ve got to push the envelope pretty far to be unique, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Your use of mahogany wood is not unique (see: Forza. Or Tully’s), and if you’re using it in each shop in every town, how the hell is it unique?

We train all our staff to remember the names and favorite drinks of the regular customers –with the goal of making every customer a regular.

I quote one of my favorite college professors who was disinclined to give me a high-five if I passed my comprehensive exams on the first try: “I’m not going to reward you for merely doing what you are expected to do.” I can understand that perhaps not every coffee shop stipulates that their baristas memorize names, but it’s the type of business where regulars are part of the game. The worst baristas I’ve encountered remembered me after a few visits, and typically had some idea what I was going to order.

Every Cutters Point store offers our own line of hats, shirts and custom products. This serves as a marketing tool as well as providing quality products for our customers.

I must admit, they did have a pretty big wall of crap. I’m not sure why I’m so annoyed about their mentioning hats. Why not mugs? Or tumblers? Who the hell buys a hat at a franchise coffee shop?

We only have to look at giants like Starbucks to see the trends. Several years ago it would be unheard of for a retailer to open a store across the street from one of their already successful locations. Today, we see this all the time.

Read: We’ve got comfy chairs and shiny stuff. Bring it, Starbucks.

Cutters Point coffee shop offers fresh brewed coffee and premium hot and cold espresso drinks. Plus, most shops offer a wide variety of baked goods which include muffins, pastries and cookies.

Your pastries suck, by the way. I’m just sayin’.

In most cases, paying for coffee is silly.

Healthy offerings at Starbucks.

Eat healthy, for twice the price of normal healthy.

I don’t pay for Starbucks coffee. I don’t pay for Tully’s coffee either. I don’t pay for Seattle’s Best coffee, Forza coffee, or Stumptown coffee. There are coffee shops that do actually sell me on their coffee, but for the most part I’m paying everything but the coffee. At Marcell’s it’s the architecture, at Fresh Pot it was the Powell’s bookstore adjacent to it, at Mon Ami it’s the knowledge that I’ll run into someone I know, at Cosmo’s it was the ability to fall asleep in a food establishment, and at Starbucks I’m paying for the internet that I refuse to pay for.

It’s true, actually. I actually go to Starbucks quite frequently because it’s the one coffee shop I can go to escape the distraction of internet access. Starbucks is one of the few places that charges for internet—and they have good reason to. If people are willing to pay for it, why give it away for free? Starbucks wasn’t the first coffee franchise just like Michael Jordan wasn’t the first basketball star, yet Starbucks made paying $4.00 for fancy coffee as fashionable as paying  $125 for fancy shoes. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just their shtick. If you like spending money (or if you like frappuccino), then Starbucks just may be the place for you.

Starbucks offers iTunes free music downloads.

For example, If I spend $15 (lets say I come in with a friend and we both have a sandwich and an espresso drink, my treat), they’ll give me a holiday CD and donate $1 to fighting AIDS in Africa. The option is attractive, since I’ll need some form of karma condolence for spending $15 in a coffee shop. Today, for the $3.68 I spent on a 12 oz. “tall” coffee and a glorious apple fritter, and I got three complimentary music downloads for my trouble. Then again, I guess I could have just walked in and taken those.

The possibilities only get crazier from there. I can get mugs, instant coffee, cup-shaped mugs, CDs, chocolate-covered espresso beans in small paper mugs, espresso machines, mug-shaped cups, sandwiches, whole beans (packaged in mugs), coffee tumblers, and mug-shaped Christmas ornaments ($4.95 each!). It’s like they have their own rule of retail: you’re in the clear as long as the absurdity of product for sale eclipses absurdity of the sale price.

Photo collage at Vancouver Starbucks on Main St.

Our Main St. Starbucks team.

I’ve never had a problem with Starbucks, and until they enter phase two of their dastardly plot I don’t expect to take issue with them anytime soon. They take good care of their employees, and spearheaded the trend of putting coffee perpetually within arm’s reach. Lord knows they’re far from perfect, but I’m not asking for perfect. I’m simply asking for them to continue charging $3.99 for two hours of internet—or $19.99 for a month, as well as access to tens of thousands of AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide!

“Failure to responsibly manage the use of the Service(s) obtained from AT&T may be cause for termination of Service(s) to you and, depending upon the terms under which you acquired your Service(s), could lead to the imposition of early termination fees.”

Home is where the hotte is.

December 3, 2009

I hope someone got a bonus for coming up with "Hotte Latte"

So I returned home for the holidays to make the discovery that yet another bikini coffee hut has emerged in Lakewood with the addition conversion of Hotte Latte (KD’z Espresso) on Gravelly Lake Dr. This now makes two on a less than half-mile stretch of Gravelly Lake Drive, and four in a 1.5 mile radius. Classy!

While I’ve been a coffee shop bum for a good portion of my life, I’ve been a bookstore bum for significantly longer. My bookstore loitering goes back to elementary school, when I used to hang around the B. Dalton Bookstore in the Lakewood Mall where my mom worked in the evening. When B. Dalton–and eventually the Lakewood Mall–went the way of the dodo, I eventually migrated my loitering to the hip and happening new Barnes & Noble (now with free WiFi!) in the late ’90s.

The store. The myth. The legend.

The Lakewood Barnes and Noble was officially my very first coffee shop, and I’ve been a loyal patron since it absorbed the Lakewood Mall B. Dalton bookstore. Actually, I wouldn’t say “patron” as much as “cousin.” I can point out where the humor section was located spanning back five store re-designs, and recall the day I discovered the magic of cinnamon twists. It’s also where I fell in love with graphic novels, bought countless Christmas gifts,  reunited with long lost friends classmates, and was the site of the first and only time I ever asked anyone on a date (asked a barista out for coffee).

Lately I’ve branched out to check out some Lakewood’s other coffee offerings. I had initially not given Forza a fighting chance. In the last ten years they’ve thrived and expanded in the greater Puget Sound area. I’ve only had a chance to stop by their Bridgeport Way location for a cup o’ joe on the way out of town, and I was intrigued by their “relaxed atmosphere of dark African mahogany wood, Italian

All that and flat panel tvs? Now they're just showing off.

porcelain tiled floors and comfortable chairs near a warm fireplace.” I didn’t stay, but if I did I imagine it would be like like an afternoon of light coffee and masterpiece theatre.  I’ve not decided whether or not the knowledge that there are nearly two dozen afro-mahoga-Italia-porcea-firepla- comfy-chair locations makes it lose a bit of it’s luster. Then again, as we all know I’m not above being reined in by marketing.

If you’re feeling at all generous this holiday season, please consider a donation to the support the families of the rather horrific incident of violence at a Lakewood-area Forza. This kind of thing shouldn’t happen anywhere, let alone a coffee shop.