Saturday, April 12, 2008

Simple Pleasures: Coffee in a Paper Cup

It occurs to me that an entire blog in praise of simple pleasures might be a wonderful thing. I am somewhat reluctant to take on another project, but I promise to devote much of this blog to the simple things that bring happiness—to me, at least. Many of them run along a gustatory theme: I have already shared my love of Postum and my fond remembrance of fish sandwiches at The Deluxe in Champaign, Illinois. For those who want to learn more about my philosophy of simple foods, I humbly recommend a piece I wrote a couple of years ago entitled “In Praise of Cheap and Local Eats.”

I love coffee and drink more of it than the average Joe (sorry), but this piece is not really about the coffee. It’s about the cup. Styrofoam may be lighter, but it is a stiff and squeaky substance that—when assigned to carry liquids—is far too clunky and slippery for the task. Furthermore, styrofoam’s fossil origins and virtual indestructibility add a heavy moral burden.

Paper cups are also very light, but I find them much easier to hold. I also like the cup’s comparatively ancient origins. Indeed, this year marks the centennial of the invention of the Dixie cup, the first paper cup, which was born out of concerns for the spread of disease, particularly in schools. The paper coffee cup’s only drawback is that it can burn your hand, but even before the introduction of insulating rings, this problem was quite manageable and always temporary.

For me the paper cup has a democratizing effect on coffee drinking. I love a fine cup of coffee like those purveyed by Peet’s of Berkeley or the Coffee Exchange in Providence, and when making coffee at home, I tend toward the gourmet varieties. But out in the world where coffee comes in paper cups, my coffee drinking transcends class barriers. I do my best to avoid the pretension of Starbucks and the drive-thru car culture of donut shop coffee. I also drink my coffee black and never order lattes, cappuccinos, or Coolatas. I often buy relatively good quality java at independent coffee or bagel shops—especially my local haunt, The Yellow House, in Stonington, CT (shown above). But to me, any kind of coffee in a to-go cup is something of a treat, and often the standard Maxwell house brewed at a 7-Eleven, XtraMart, or Cumberland Farms is perfectly acceptable. In exchange for a little more than a dollar, you can have a stimulating, warm drink in a compact and highly portable container. A simple pleasure indeed.

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