September 14, 2009

Less is More? Addressing my Coffee Dilemma...

About a week ago I flew into a tirade against commercialism. I do this. At least once a week. Probably more like once a day.

Usually this is a private moment, but last week I had simply heard too many female voices talking about wants as needs and I rashly struck out here.

I could wax poetic about the destructive nature of our national greed. I could share with you a little about the burden I carry as an expat, the constant Americanization of all things not of the USA. To be honest, all of that would be rather preachy of me, and not entirely honest.

My big problem with the buy more, buy now culture is that it is so hard to avoid getting swept up in its wake. Almost daily I have to stop my thoughts and retrain my brain to look at reality and not what I have been marketed to want.

I am going to illustrate this dilemma using my coffee model.

I love coffee. We all know this by now. While for some coffee is a want, for this silly tree it is in fact a need. So, how do I deal with societal marketing pressures in the coffee industry? Sometimes not very well.

Here is a little window into my internal struggle.

This summer I received thrilling news: a Starbucks has opened in my town. Sort of. The coffee shop is on a toll road above my town. Why, having proclaimed my hatred for all things wasteful and indulgent would I celebrate toll-Starbucks?

Let me tell you.

Japanese coffee roasters do something to their beans. Whatever it is, it is very very wrong. Japan is a nation that LOVES coffee, and even thumbs its nose at what American coffee is perceived to be.

{Oh cultural misunderstandings make me so sad sometimes.}

In Japan the espresso drink 'Americano' - espresso with hot water added to increase volume has been misinterpreted to a egregious level. Japanese coffee houses and well meaning friends often serve me 'American' coffee due to my hailing from the USA. 'American' coffee is Japanese drip coffee {which is made weaker than I find acceptable} with tap water added to produce a light, watery horrible coffee.

To add to my coffee stress, java is served in tea cups - not mugs. A typical cup of joe is a half-filled 6 oz tea cup {of diluted coffee}.

Oh! Plenty of space for milk you might say. Oh No! Say the Japanese. All you will be getting is a single container of the worst fake creamer ever - in fact it is marketed as whitener because there is no creaminess to be gained through its use, only color change.

Goodness when I start thinking about Japanese interpretations of my beloved morning beverage, I can really get distracted.


Just a bit.

For the benefit of those of you that have hung in there I will attempt to get to my point...

I was temporarily over the moon when a large multinational coffee consortium arrived above me. Why? Starbucks was my first Japanese caffeine solution. In our early days of life in Japan these were the first beans that I could accept as reasonable...

even though I think they intentionally 'over-roast' {read burns} their beans; even though I think charging what they do for a bag of beans {¥1500 for a 190g bag} is highway murder; even though I am attempting to live a life that does not require a $50.00+ a month coffee habit {don't be the math yourself and see how much you spend at coffee shops and on coffee for home.}...there is a seemingly endless list of even thoughs...

And so, I have on some level become endeared to an over-branded, over-priced and below-quality product. Ahhh!

However, my coffee quest was not completed once I began buying those burnt beans. As the caffeine cleared my head I continued to try and source a decent roaster and I have had success. {Sort of} I buy yummy, cheap coffee. My coffee roaster lives in Hawaii. I don't know him, and wish I had the option to buy locally roasted beans, but where I am now, that is simply not possible. I feel better about locally sourcing this by telling myself that Hawaii is really just an extension of this archipelago. I'm not sure that this is geographically accurate, but for works.

I am happy to report that instead of paying tolls to get expensive burnt beans, I pick up 190g bags of beautiful coffee for around 7-12 bucks a bag.

I usually pack my own travel mug or thermos when I am mobile since nothing tastes as good as my home brew. In the rare event that I do grab a cup of joe on the road I no longer ramble off a ridiculously long name of some over sugared espresso drink. I simply get a medium cafe au lait {the only way to get milk in percolated coffee in Japan}.

Making these changes has brought down my monthly coffee costs and makes me feel less guilty about my role in following along with the Joneses...or Itos...or Nakamuras...

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