I hoped the dose of caffeine would help me read maps. It did not. I was lost all over London, though it didn’t matter since I was just a tourist. One late afternoon I turned the wrong way on Euston Road and ended up at the British Library. I squinted at a Bronte manuscript, but the room was very dark and I needed caffeine to find where I was supposed to be. I found a Starbucks.
Coffee used to be an important part of my life, and I have spent hours at the Sheep’s Head in Iowa City (long gone), the Runcible Spoon in Bloomington (still there), Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe in D.C. (still there), the Linger Longer in Allegany, Grounds for Celebration in Des Moines, Cafe Diem in Ames, Aromas in Omaha, Fresh Grounds in St. Paul, and Starbucks Starbucks Starbucks. At an airport, Starbucks makes me feel at home.
When I was an adjunct, I allowed a student to write a term paper on coffee. I wasn’t vested in the term paper thing after I learned from the department head that I could only give A’s or B’s. If the students didn’t earn a B, I had to give them extra credit, and what a pain that was. So, fine, if a student wanted to write a paper based on Starbucks brochures, let her. I made her add nine more sources and called it a C (whoops, a B).
I prefer tea to coffee, but coffee is more romantic. In the HBO series, Girls, writer-director-actress Lena Dunham plays Hannah, an Oberlin graduate who works at Cafe Grumpy in New York. When a hunky doctor (Patrick Wilson) comes into Grumpy’s to complain that Grumpy’s trash is being dumped in his garbage cans, it leads to a brief affair with Hannah, who likes putting the garbage in the cans in front of his brownstone. Do you think if I went back in time…? No.
There are also many books with coffee themes. In Doris Lessing’s short story, “The New Cafe,” in her collection, The Real Thing, the narrator watches a growing friendship/flirtation between a handsome young man and various women over coffee and delicious cakes. In Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2004, the heroine, Sunshine, a baker at Charlie’s Coffeehouse, helps a good vampire fight the bad vampires. (We all know the good vampire/bad vampire paradox.) In Karl Ove Knausgaard’s’s My Struggle, Book 2, the narrator goes out for coffee every afternoon, but switches cafes every five days so he won’t have to chat with a barista.
There’s plenty of coffee in life, literature, and film What are your favorite coffeehouses and coffee scenes?