Coffee in United States Pop Culture
Part One – The 20th Century
Coffee has always played a large part in the United States. From President John Adams drinking coffee as a patriotic act of defiance after the Boston Tea Party to today’s unique and environmentally minded café scene, it is clear coffee is a staple in the United States.
The first advertising for coffee appeared in April of 1919. The ad was in 306 leading newspapers in 182 large cities, with a total circulation of more than 16,000,000. The cities chosen represented all the centers of wholesale coffee distribution.
In his 1946 hit Frank Sinatra brought us coffee! “The Coffee Song” is a novelty song about Brazil, which produces about a third of the world’s coffee. The song is an exaggeration of coffee consumption in the South American country, or at least we hope so.
And when their ham and eggs need savor
Coffee ketchup gives ’em flavor
Coffee pickles way outsell the dill
Why, they put coffee in the coffee in Brazil
This particular piece was so popular it was re-recorded in 1961 for Sinatra’s album Ring-A-Ding-Ding and it has even been featured on the Muppets.
1956 is the beginning of the modern era of coffee houses in areas such as North Beach and Greenwich Village. This is a place where Jazz beats play and intellectuals, poets, and the avant-garde exchange revolutionary ideas of politics and philosophy over coffee and espresso.
Procter & Gamble purchased Folgers Coffee Company in 1963. They begin distributing the brand nationally, quickly becoming the top coffee brand in America. In 1984 they adopt the popular advertising slogan, “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup!”
In 1971, Alfred Peet teaches three friends his coffee roasting techniques at his Peet’s store in Berkeley. The three friends – Zev Siegl, Jerry Baldwin, and Gordon Bowker – use the knowledge and assistance from Peet to open the first Starbucks store in Pike Place Market in Seattle. At first selling only freshly-roasted coffee beans and not brewed coffee drinks. Within the first year they bought their own coffee roaster. This triggers the rise in popularity of freshly-roasted and brewed whole bean coffee.
As consumption patterns changed over the years, so did consumer expectations. By the 1970s, the term “specialty” coffee was coined, and an interest in knowing and distinguishing coffee-growing regions began to take hold. Coffees with a single-origin profile became popular. Other coffees blended a variety of regions to create artfully crafted offerings as well.
The Mr. Coffee automatic drip coffee maker is introduced in 1972 by Ohio entrepreneur Vincent Marotta. This is the first automatic drip coffee maker designed for home use. The machine percolates water through coffee grounds at about two hundred degrees Fahrenheit rather than roiling the water and grounds as occurs in a traditional percolator.
Baseball star Joe DiMaggio pitches the new coffee maker on television. By the end of the decade the machines would be selling at a rate of about 40,000 per day.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “The Third Place” in his 1989 book The Great Good Place. The term describes why community hangouts like cafes, bars, and hair salons are essential breeding grounds for social connections, inclusion, and democracy.
Prior to the book mainly bars are seen as the primary third place, that trend began to change in the 1990s with huge shows such as “Seinfeld” and “Friends”.
Thus, the “Friends” Effect was born. Central Perk was the gang’s coffee shop and hangout spot. As the modern day Kaffeehaus, Central Perk serves as the location for much of the drama in the beloved television series. The very first episode begins with the characters congregating in their local coffee shop. The series finale ends with the friends deciding to go to Central Perk one last time. The meeting place has become such a cultural icon that there is even a replica in Beijing.
Running parallel to TV, you begin to see coffee take center stage on the Movie scene. In “You’ve Got Mail” nearly 70 percent of this movie takes place in establishments that specialize in hot, freshly roasted coffee. Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox, shows off his witty deep thoughts about Starbucks to his AOL love interest, Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly. “People who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”
In the movie “The Usual Suspects” (1995), there may be no more iconic coffee cup in movie history. The audience watches the mug fall to the floor as Agent Kujan realizes, with shock, that he has been questioning the infamous Keyser Soze all along. The camera focuses on the final clue, the word “Kobayashi” on the bottom of the shattered cup. Meanwhile, Kevin Spacey’s crippled Verbal Kint slowly begins to walk upright, gets into a car, and coolly escapes.
As we round out this century, you can see by the numbers that the United States has a strong love-affair with coffee. In 1999, United States coffee consumers spend more than $9 billion in the retail coffee market. Another $8 billion on coffee as part of the food service market. Approximately 161 million people, equal to more than half of the United States population, drinks coffee at least once daily. And spent about $165 each on coffee during the year, on average.
As we know today, any relationship with coffee is always evolving. And coffee is deeply ingrained in the culture of the United States. Keep an eye out for Part Two where we touch on how coffee has impacted Pop Culture in the United States in the 21st Century.