A Hot Cup of Culture

Starbucks is a cultural phenomenon, especially here in the South, the Mecca of culture. The southern man owes much to Starbucks. It is the power of a cup. Without ever attending an opera, or an art gallery, or actually reading a book the southern man can proudly raise his Starbucks cup, the one with the trendy temperature sleeve, and suddenly the good ole boy is cultured. That cup of coffee imported from Seattle, described only in Italian, is nothing but a hot cup of culture. The cup can make a man wearing a Dale Earnhardt jacket suddenly look executive. Early in the morning, on his way to the lake, the southern man no longer swings by Hardee’s for a 99 cent biscuit; he now goes to Starbucks for a three dollar cup of coffee. And there, on a secluded lake, he sits in his bass boat with a hot cup of culture.

In thirty-four years I had never tasted coffee, and so until recently I was still an opera credit away from being cultured. As cool as Starbucks people appeared, I could not break into the fraternity. I was a Starbucks outsider; until July. Standing on the sidewalk of a strip mall, waiting for ice cream a mom of five girls pulled out a Starbucks card and sent her three youngest girls for a frappuccino. I was totally repulsed by the thought of a decent mom feeding her five year old coffee. I expressed my dismay.

“A Vanilla Bean Frappuccino has no coffee”, she said defending her decent momness.

It was an epiphany. Suddenly I no longer needed an opera credit to be cultured, I needed vanilla bean frappuccino. Vanilla Bean Frappuccino – a very cool sounding Seattle/Italian drink, a freezing cold cup of uncoffee culture.

That cold cup of culture got me through the early fall. As long as the weather was hot my cold cup of culture told the world around me that it was too hot for coffee in Alabama. Little girls everywhere agreed. While the weather is hot, frappuccino is in. Thanks to vanilla beans, I was in.

For a couple of months I consistently ordered little girl drinks at Starbucks. But the weather cooled. It would not be long until I would be exposed. By November everyone would know I was a poser, a fake, a southern man hooked on little girl drinks. As the nights began to cool I could feel the pressure mounting, the vanilla bean would soon be out. If I were to retain culture it was either opera or a bean of another sort, the coffee bean.

Coffee smells good. It smells very deep, very robust, very cultural. But I had never actually tasted it. Smelled it, but never tasted it. Apparently we taste what we smell, or is it that we smell what we taste? People taste things and compare them to things they have smelled but have never actually tasted. I think there are several flavors of slushies that taste like suntan lotion – smells. Not that I have an intestinal SPF. I have never actually tasted suntan lotion, but I have had slushies that taste like suntan lotion – smells. Little girls love slushies. I have never tasted paint. But fish cooked weird can sometimes taste like paint – smells. Maybe it’s the lead.

Coffee smells cultural. Coffee smells manly. It was time for me to put down the little girl drinks at Starbucks, embrace winter, and become a cultured southern man. It was time for coffee. I enjoy the smell of coffee. Surely I would not be disappointed by its taste.

While driving through South Carolina I pulled off of I-85, found a Starbucks, and determined to purchase my first hot cup of culture. I poured over the menu, rehearsing the Italian words silently so as not to give myself away as a coffee newbie. I listened to others as they ordered and smiled along with them subtly signaling to them that I agreed, they had made a fine choice. I was with them. I was Starbucks. So it was my turn to become a man. The counter was mine. My subconscious subtly reminded me to act like I had been there before, exude confidence. I had been there before, for little girl drinks.

If you have never heard me talk you are missing a treat. God called me to preach, to talk for a living. And so to keep the Almighty entertained He raised me in North Georgia and gave me a brogue that makes “Gone with the Wind” look like it was filmed in South Detroit. Therefore, Italian is a challenge for me, so is English. And so to the very cool, very cultured college aged guy behind the counter, my ordering a Tall Caramel Macchiato with a shot of Espresso must have been an adventure in linguistic audio.

Proudly I walked through the store out to the sidewalk where several people, all cultural giants, sat looking very cool sipping Starbucks. And I smiled, because for the first time in my life I held a hot cup of culture with a Starbucks logo on the temperature sleeve. This was not a little girl drink, this was espresso.

I took a drink.

Not that I have ever actually tasted these things, but I have smelled almost all of them. So let me tell you how coffee tastes.

Coffee tastes like jet fuel.
Coffee tastes like sulfur.
Coffee tastes like lava.
Coffee tastes like burning leaves.
Coffee tastes way stronger than it smells.

I do not like coffee.

I tried for several miles to get there. I sipped, gulped, and drank for half an hour, but with no success. I looked so forward to legitimately entering the ranks of those who pay more for a cup of coffee than they do for a gallon of gas. I too wanted an addiction that required fluent Italian. I wanted to be perky in the morning. I wanted to ruin the interior of my car with Starbucks stains. I wanted robust breath. I wanted to be cultured without opera, but my body could not handle the taste of hot culture. My stomach sent a signal that if I took another drink I would indeed destroy the interior of my car.

So here I sit and write, reflecting on failure, sipping green tea. Green tea looks like an eight ounce cup of anti-freeze, but it tastes better. Not that I have actually tasted anti-freeze, but I have smelled it. Green tea is not a little girl drink. Green tea is a big girl drink. But I like it. If I ever lose my tongue in a freakish accident like a forest fire or a lightening strike I will try coffee again. But this winter I will Google opera tickets and long for the heat of summer, when I, along with many little girls, can again be cultural and legitimately order frappuccino at Starbucks.


Anonymous said…
If ever preaching fails for you, Brian, a career as a comic might be just the thing for you.
Stace' said…
Try again MINUS the shot of espresso.

There IS a coffee drink out there you'll like...
Anonymous said…
Interesting read. I'm assuming you finally found a drink that you enjoy. Isn't it a vanilla latte? You should try the caramel hot chocolate. It rocks!

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