From a very early age, coffee has been almost an essential part of my life. I would start my day by drinking “café con leche” and end it the same way. On those cold, misty mornings, very particular to the city of Bogota, my father would wake me up by singing “a levantarse y a tomarse una tasita de café,” and, when seven in the afternoon rolled by and I had finished my homework, we would gather around the dinner table to retell our days, eat “pan rollo” and warm up with some coffee.
There was no mystery about coffee. No coffee “jitters,” no “pick me up,” and definitely no “rush.” To us, coffee was just what we drank around the dinner table as we told and shared stories. Every weekend, my family would gather for lunch at one in the afternoon. After we had eaten, my aunts and uncles would sit in the living room to tell jokes as they drank their “tintico.” As I grew older, at around 12 I began to take part in these small reunions out of my own interest.
As we drank “tinto,” we talked—or, rather, they talked and I listened. It was a magical time. During those long talks, it seemed as if the only thing that mattered in the world was to retell the happenings of the previous week, and all of this seemed possible thanks to coffee. I wondered if my family members stayed after lunch just to drink coffee and was worried that they would leave if one day were to run out of the warm drink. Yet, at times, some would not drink any tinto and would still stay long after lunch had been served. It was then when I realized the importance of the act of drinking coffee as it created an atmosphere where we would accompany each other for the sake of sharing.
At times, this might be dismissed, yet, more often than not, the act of drinking coffee brings family and friends together. Those who drink alone often do it not out of choice, but circumstance. Through coffee, I have noticed some interesting cultural differences between my peers, as I often get the sense that, to them, coffee is nothing more than an aid to wake up, get rid of a hangover or pull an all nighter. During the three years that I have spent at Vassar, the number of times I have shared a coffee with a friend has been limited. Coffee in American culture is perceived as almost another stimulant that the college students have to drink to hand in work on time, or to what frenetic city people get accustomed to. It is often off limits to children at households and reserved for only adults. Perhaps this is why when I once asked a peer to grab some coffee she smiled with a mocking gesture of sophistication.
When thinking about coffee in American culture, two scenarios come to mind. In the first, the coffee is brewed at a café by a professional barista in an ambiance of erudition. The walls are covered by miscellaneous books, and old furniture fills the space. Most of the customers seem to be completely consumed by a book or their computers, and the ones who dare to talk barely whisper. In the second scenario, coffee is brewed by a young teenager who is in desperate need for money. Modern wooden tables are slightly pushed against the walls, as customers gather around the bar as they wait for their coffee. Most of them seem anxious and in a hurry; all of them grunt, and some smile as they hear a name that vaguely resembles theirs.
I am aware that I might be exaggerating with these examples. I am also aware that some people do gather to drink coffee and talk, yet I can’t help but think about what the use of coffee says about American culture and the culture at Vassar. A symbol that alludes to quality time in many parts of the world has been morphed to represent an energy drink, measure of status or immediate fix. Perhaps this resembles our impatient culture, where grabbing a coffee with a friend or loved one has become a luxury, or even worse, a bragging social media post. When, in reality, drinking coffee is not all about the rush or likes, the cafés or sophistication, but rather about a talk well-talked and a couple of hours well spent.
—Tomas Guarnizo ’16 is a cognitive science and studio art double major.