The Good Life according to Liz [Week of 4/8/2012]


Liz Clements | Lifestyles Editor


Coffee is an ageless commodity. Existing since 1000 A.D, it has been the centerpiece of social, business and political gatherings, making this aromatic energy boosting drink take the spotlight during some interesting times in history. Yet there seems to have been an upheaval in the coffee house culture, where we are thrown into a whirlwind of stirrers, spilled cream and eavesdropping.

This new ruckus environment, which also includes the likes of Indie-rock music, poetry readings, and the endless “cuppa joe,” has become the local watering hole for the under twenty-one crowd. With the death of the soda fountain and the increase of minimum drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one in 1984, young people across America had to find a new party place where the drinks kept flowing and they could hang out to the break of dawn.

While coffee houses, cafés and diners have always been around, it is my estimation that this shift from a served cup of coffee in a ceramic mug to a Starbucks circus of paper cups, stirrers and various sugar packets happened around the late 1990s.  The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 increased the age limit to a nationwide age of twenty-one. With all new trends, it takes time to make things catch on; it takes approximately six to eight months for a new law to take full effect and enforcement. So while the adolescents of America were still trying to grab a brew, they were also brewing up a plan for when the tap was shut off for good. The immediate response was to drive across the border for a good night out, but with that came tolls, gas, border control, and eventually a crackdown on DUI.

Eventually this eighteen to twenty-one crowd starting hanging around diners and cafes, gathered around large tables drinking the endless mouthfuls of their “cuppa joe”. But this too didn’t last long. The hogging of tables, ruckus and $1.00 cups of coffee was costing businesses. This lead to the monopolization of the coffee industry.

In the late 1990s the fast food of beverages hit the big screen and the trend appeared in shows like Friends, Boy Meets World and Frasier. Before America knew what happened, adolescents took over these shops with their open-mic nights, art galleries, fancy European coffee drinks and vintage couches. The introduction of Wi-Fi Internet only made this phenomenon worse. Now, kids never had to go home. They could hit the local coffee shop right after school and stay all night.

The trend has proved to be too successful. Since the 1990s, children have been raised in this very environment. Many of us are growing up in the “Get it now” generation, a place where everything is high-tech, high- priced and high-energy. The casual cup of coffee is buried six-feet-under with VCRs and landlines. We are growing up in a generation where we pay the same price to drink a few shots of espresso that we do tequila.

While our parents’ generation tried to pick up the girl standing by the jukebox, I can flirt with the guy reaching over me for the sugar. While our parents told their woes and worries of the world to the bartender, I can have a life revelation during a poetry reading while I check my e-mail and write a five-page paper.

The world is a fast changing place and it’s these two things, coffee and liquor, that seem to keep the youth of the world grounded. Whether it’s a glass a wine after a stressful day, a latte after a long night, quizzo on Tuesday night or poetry on a Thursday, the pubs and coffee houses are gathering places for everyone to come together and talk.




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