How “Let’s meet for coffee” Could Change the World

Everyone knows about the effect that the caffeine in coffee has on your body. It wakes us up. It makes us alert and after the fourth cup, sometimes even edgy. But have you ever heard of the lesser known effects that the compounds emotiopene and talkalotene have on coffee drinkers. Me neither. I made them up. Because I’m sure there is a yet undiscovered compound in coffee that causes an uncontrollable ability to communicate face-to-face--- even in 2014. I am not a researcher but I do work as a barista in a local specialty coffee shop three days a week. So let’s think of that coffee shop as my laboratory and me as the researcher. From behind the counter I see firsthand the kind of raw human connection that you may have thought was lost from today’s digital age. With steaming mugs in front of them, people in groups of two or more, can sit and talk for two, three, four hours at a time. And this isn’t the kind of communication you sometimes see in a restaurant where a couple glances around and then back at their smartphones. (I know, because I’ve glanced.) Over coffee, I’ve seen people talk until their drinks are cold and their cheeks are wet from tears. Sometimes the laughter from a group of women can get so raucous that it can drown out the coffee grinder, the milk steaming wand, and all the annoying cell phone ringtones in the room at once. It’s the most beautiful sound. Recently, in the big green armchairs in front of the window, my co-workers and I stood witness to a woman and her sister speaking their first words to each other in seven years. The words (and the tears) and the coffee flowed all afternoon and afterwards, one of the sisters thanked us for giving them the space for such a reunion to occur. Granted, this is the kind of shop that is designed to make you feel comfortable enough to let down your guard. It’s in a renovated little house that has comfy chairs, tiny tables, and a welcoming fireplace. But I choose to believe that the human connection that I see every day has something to do with the steaming cups of hot java on the tiny table in front of them. If you’ve ever read the book or seen the movie, ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ you might understand where I’m going here. Originally written in Spanish by Laura Esquival, it’s the story of a young girl named Tita who can only express herself through the food that she cooks. So, if she’s sad, the food she prepares will cause those who eat it to cry rivers of tear. When she’s in love, the diners feel her desire in the meal. I wonder how much of the emotion that seems to flow through coffee comes from the energy of those involved in taking it from bean to cup. Think about it. Each pound of coffee has thousands of coffee beans and each one of those is handpicked as a cherry from a leafy plant under the canopy of a forest in a country like Guatemala or Colombia or Sumatra. The coffee we use is organic and fairly traded so I know it comes from small farms where the people harvesting and drying the fruit are just as emotionally connected to the quality of the product as the artesian roaster who brought out the flavours, and to me, as the barista who proudly prepares and serves it. What if the cup that you are drinking over conversation with your best friend, or your mother, or your lover is filled with the collective energies of every person involved? You might just have the most honest, healing, fulfilling, or game-changing conversation of your life. Or, maybe you’ll just need a bigger table. I realize I might be reading too much into it. But whatever the reason, there is no question that in my own life (as the researcher becomes the research) the only time I have honest, raw, genuine communication these days is over coffee. I know it could be a generational thing. Years ago, I’d meet my friends for a beer but after a few hours the conversations became slurred and ultimately forgotten. Then, after kids, we’d meet for a playdate and we’d spend hours in the same room without actually finishing a sentence. But now, we meet almost exclusively ‘for a coffee’. And it’s wonderful. Just last weekend, two close friends and I ended weeks of texting and Facebook messaging about when to meet for coffee with a leisurely 2 ½ hour Sunday morning visit during which there was laughter, tears, confessions, commiserating ---and coffee. I guess I still don’t know what, if anything, is in coffee to elicit this impulse to connect. But no one would ever argue with the ability of honest, open communication to change the world. And even if it doesn’t do that, isn’t it worth the cost of a cup of coffee to change your life, your relationships, or even just your day? All you have to do is suggest to someone: “Let’s go for Coffee.”