“I sipped my own coffee, heavy on the sugar and cream, trying to make up for the late work the night before. Caffeine and sugar, the two basic food groups.” ― Laurell K. Hamilton, Cerulean Sins
Coffee holds a unique place in that list, though, not truly formal even when served in the best of china cups, but not quite as insouciant as cocktails. There’s an implied comfortableness around coffee that is friendly, perhaps even neighborly, but still leaves room for serious conversation. We serve coffee at important meetings to help everyone relax and focus on the task at hand. We serve coffee after dinner, though, to reduce the formality of the evening and introduce a period of more relaxed conversation. Coffee’s ability to bridge social gaps is invaluable.
Where coffee may be the most useful, though, is in those moments where one is sitting with someone else and you don’t know quite what to say. Maybe you’re strangers thrust awkwardly together at a party. Perhaps you’re lovers who are not quite sure of the next step in your relationship. A parent and adult child sitting at a table trying to figure out how to breach that painful topic no one wants to discuss. Coffee is perfect for those moments, sitting there with a warm cup or mug between your hands, staring down into the darkness, maybe stirring it with a spoon just so there’s something making noise. Coffee is patient. Coffee allows you the time you need to find just the right words.
People who are serious about business tend to drink their coffee black and the busiest of people, I’ve noticed, order an Americano so it’s not quite as hot and easier to drink on the run. These people are not going to have long conversations so get to the point.
When someone orders extra shots in their drink they’re almost certainly night owls, or at the very least people who forgo sleep for either business or pleasure. The downside is that keeping their attention may be difficult.
Occasionally I’ll come across someone who is fussy as hell about how their coffee is prepared, giving the barista special instructions. Be careful around those people; they’re not so much perfectionists as they are just difficult to please.
People who add a lot of sugar and flavoring, though, are more easy-going, more socially oriented, and almost never in a hurry. Find a comfy chair and settle down, these people are ready to talk.
In many ways, coffee is the great equalizer of drinks, enjoyable regardless of one’s social or economic status and generally accessible even when nothing else is appropriate. Coffee doesn’t require a certain style of dress, or being dressed at all for that matter (just be careful about spills), and there’s no requirement for a given manner of speech. Coffee invites everyone to relax and be themselves, and that is invaluable.