Coffee Romance
The Geography of "Coffee, Tea, and/or Me?"
James Hayes-Bohanan , Ph.D.
Coffee Maven and Geographer
Bridgewater State University / Vanderbilt University
UPDATED November 15, 2012


PG-13 Note:
This page is provided in the interest of leaving no stone unturned in understanding the many dimensions of the geography of coffee. It is not for everyone.
Cafezinho 


Passion
Tamed Sirens

Libido & Potions
Frothy Fiction
Bikini Baristas
Misogeny & Violence
Diverse & Perverse
Art & Spectacle
Black Coffee

It does not stop with Ella -- read more about Black Coffee below.
Passion

Mr. July and Ms. August
Mark Seliger, 2011
As I disclose on my Coffee Care page, it was Sal, the coffee trainer at Lavazza, who really instilled in me a passion for coffee as a beverage. It is therefore fitting that Lavazza -- more than any other mainstream coffee company -- encourages the association of passion and coffee. This has been incorporated (pun intended) in many aspects of the company's image, most notably through its famous calendars.

A Cup with Body
Annie Leibovitz, 2009
Giorgio
                  MilosMaster barista and coffee blogger Giorgio Milos is Sal's competitor at illycaffe, which is essentially the other half of the Italian coffee industry. The country that invented espresso is rather passionate on the subject. On my Caring for Coffee page, I mention 50 steps to good coffee, ending with pouring it into the proper cup (which I learned from Sal). In Coming to Your Senses, Giorgio describes a few steps after the pouring, while also explaining why the pouring itself matters. Coffee, it turns out, can be a full-body experience!



Tamed Sirens

1971-1987 1987-1992 1992 - present Any discussion of coffee and sensuality, of course, must take note of the gradual de-sexing of the Starbucks siren. My blog posting in honor of the anniversary of the bikini provides links to several retellings of this evolution, some of which digress into quite fascinating tales (or tails) of mermaid mythology and examples of logo spoofs and ripoffs.
Bikini Atoll Unofficial
                    Flag
On my environmental geography blog, Bikini, the place explains the historical connection between the hot clothing item and a different, sinister kind of heat at the place for which it is named.

Libido & Potions

IntercoursesFor sensual coffee ideas at home, see Intercourses: An Aphrodesiac Cookbook, and look for the coffee references throughout. (See our Valentine's Day 2012 recipe post for an example of one we tried.) You can feel even better by using fair-trade, organic coffee in the recipes! Thank you to my favorite and most romantic librarian for pointing me to the reader suggestions on sensuous uses of both coffee and tea from the inimitable Romantic.com.

Romantic
                Dessert
Followers of my blog will know that I am a big fan of Adam @ Home, a comic whose protagonist is a coffee lover who has less hair than I do, but just about the same amount of style and fashion sense. Like me, he also has a wonderful spouse with a wry sense of humor. On the August 16, 2012 installment of the comic, his love of coffee enters a romantic dinner date.

HOT HOT Coffee
Although some studies find a correlation between caffeine consumption and sex drive, Ian Bersten argues in Coffee, Sex, and Health that the relationship between coffee and libido has often been contested. In the late seventeenth century, in fact, English women issued a scathing condemnation of the beverage that they claimed had led to the decay of "that old English vigor." Both the petition and a rebuttal from the men of the time are available as coffee cups (already part of our household's sprawling cup collection).

Whatever the effects of coffee on sexual performance might be, evidence suggests that each elevates the risk of stroke, as does blowing one's nose.

Magic Power CoffeeNonetheless, coffee's aphrodesiac reputation persists. Given the tremendous money to be made these days from potions that purport to enhance sexual performance, Magic Power Coffee was perhaps inevitable. The My Magic Coffee site includes such fantastical testimonials for the both the libidinous and financial potential of this "hot" brew that Pam and I thought it might be a hoax, like those fake ads on Saturday Night Live.

A bit of digging revealed, however, that somebody really is manufacturing this stuff in a shameless Ponzi scheme, so that
FDA has issued a warning against its dangers. Also, I found a lot of web sites with similar content -- similar to higher-level Amway distributors. So this is a serious enterprise.

What I find interesting is that this instant coffee (which must taste terrible) includes a number of ingredients that seem more likely to be found in tea -- from horny goat weed (I am not making this up) to goji berry and ginseng. By putting such ingredients into coffee rather than tea, the creators seem to have prioritizing coffee's reputation as a sensual beverage over tea's association with herbs.


Quickie ChickAuthor and psychoanalist Joyce T.T. McFadden reminds us, however, that even the most stimulating beverages are just beverages and perhaps not as effective as the real thing. In her scholarly work Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women, (see review on "Library" Books) she quotes a respondent to a survey on morning masturbation: "I know I have to get up soon, but I just really want to enjoy those last few minutes in bed. Plus, the orgasm helps wake me up, since I'm not a morning person." McFadden responds: "Coffee will forever pale in comparison." See a humorous discussion regarding the possibilities of substituting morning sex for coffee on Free Thought Forum.

Writing for Shine, a health and lifestyle blogger known as Quickie Chick suggests both sex and coffee morning, noon, and night -- or at least three times a week. The article describes several putative benefits provided by both the beverage and the activity. Further, in Chicks Who Drink Coffee Are Smarter, she discusses evidence that coffee can help women in both cognitive function and effective negotiation, though it may have the opposite effect on men.



Sex and Coffee
is a sweet video short produced in 2011 by Takahashi Thunder. It is really more about romance than sex, with two minutes of flirtatious banter between characters played by Evalina Turpin and Danny MAlin, followed by a minute of humour out-takes.

Similarly, Sex with my Coffee by Nasri is more romantic than erotic, and may be the only love song that specifcally refers to Folgers -- he makes it sound so much better than it actually tastes!

As many readers will know from the episode entitled The Phone Message, for the characters on Seinfeld, COFFEE IS SEX, In a famous scene with Elaine and Jerry, George laments dismissing a seducation that he mistakenly thought was a simple offer of a steaming beverage.

Frothy Fiction

Abstinence from what?
The steamy opening paragraphs of Tom Perrotta's 2007 novel The Abstince Teacher are riddled with references to coffee. The protagonists are quickly defined both by a shared revulsion at inferior coffees (Maxwell House in a styrofoam cup!) and a lust for their a good latte. Though he is a bit more specific about the beverage details than are most authors, Perrotta is far from alone in associating coffee with romance and sexuality.

In fact, the largest online resource for the readers and writers of romance novels is known as Coffee Time Romance, which intimates that "coffee thoughts" are something deeper than a latte order. Although the titles featured on this site run the gamut of romantic and mildly erotic literature, a few focus on coffee explicitely. Former Barista Sarah Gilman, for example, opens her first novel Out in Blue in a café as a tribute to her first job. In Gena Showalter's paranormal romance Playing with Fire, the heroine is a barista with extraordinary powers.
Coffeetime Romance

Feast of Love - Morgan Freeman
                  & Greg KinnearSex, love, and the differences between the two are major themes in the 2007 film Feast of Love  (based on Charles Baxter's 2000 novel. Coffee is not the focus, but rather the context -- connections are made and broken in a shop named Jitters, a reference to caffeine and also to suggest the the growing skepticism about marriage and long-term commitment on the part of shop owner Bradley Smith (played by Greg Kinnear). Morgan Freeman plays a café regular who proffers wisdom on being in love and the art of paying attention, and who sets a fine example of both in his scenes with Jane Alexander.

The shop used in the film is really The Fresh Pot in Portland, which employs some of the country's top baristas. My guess is that the real coffee-shop staff worked with Greg Kinnear, enabling him to prepare an espresso drink convincingly, including the proper tamping of the coffee.

Feast of Love -- Alexa Davalos & Toby
                    HemingwayThe passion between two young baristas is both immediate and permanent. An interesting part of the sub-plot surrounding these characters (wonderfully played Toby Hemingway and Alexa Davalos)  is that they cannot afford a much-needed home of their own. Their employer anonymously provides a subsidy to the realtor, rather than increasing their pay, but not before they allow themselves to be pressured into making a pornographic video. The contradiction between the shop's low pay and its owner's generosity is something I realized after watching the film; it is not addressed directly. Low pay for coffee workers -- even at the retail level -- is taken as a given, and underlies many of the sex-oriented business models described on this page.

A very nice romantic film that begins with a chance encounter in a café is The Girl in the Café, about which I have written in detail on my environmental geography blog. The gradual drawing together of the protaganists is as much a pleasure to watch as the film's political drama is riveting.
Earl GreyIn the summer of 2012, erotic fiction has become a common topic of conversation as explosive sales and constant discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey showed that "community standards" are not quite as prudish as some would hope. To be honest, I have not read the book and I am not sure I will (though I will probably be interested in the 2014 film of the same title, whose casting is currently (August 2012) the subject of much discussion). So I cannot comment directly on its literary merit, though I have heard that it does not rise to the level of The Story of O and other BDSM classics. I have heard more than a few people disparage the writing, however, so I was not surprised that a parody is already out.

And there is a tea connection! This excerpt from Fifty Shames of Earl Grey accompanies Robin Young's delightful interview with author Andrew Shaffer:

The blonde returns.

“Miss Steal?”

“Yes,” I say, in a deeper voice than usual, trying to mask my crisis of confidence.

“Mr. Grey will see you in a few minutes. Would you like a refreshment while you wait? Coffee, soda, tea . . .?”

“Gravy,” I say.

It’s supposed to be a joke, but the woman nods and heads back down the corridor. A minute later, she returns with a clear pint glass filled with thick, brown gravy.

The official video for Nickelback's song "Trying Not to Love You" is a formulaic romance featuring a whole lot of latte.



See the feature films section of my Coffee & Tea Cinema page for more on films -- many of a romantic nature -- related to both beverages.

Frothy Fiat Fantasy

I realize that I risk over-using the word "froth" on this page, but my defense is that Fiat -- or more accurately its ad agency -- made me do it.

Sex has long been used in marketing the muscle and mystique of Italian sports cars. Because of the very specific target demographic of Fiat's new 500 Abarth, something special was required. This is, after all, a high-permance variation of a car that has so far been marketed as mainly cute. To move the target audience from hip young female drivers to hip young male drivers, Fiat (currently a division of Chrsyler) combines sex, irony, and cappucino.

Capuccino adds an air of mystery to an impossibly tall and ultimately unavailable seductress. The everyman driver is pulled in by the fantasy of sex with foamed coffee. [The broadcast version of this ad skips a critical moment, half a second in duration.] Consistent with the car's diminuitive nature, he is rebuffed. What the car lacks in power, however, it makes up in vigor, and the young hero is ultimately resigned to the gratification provided by the car's 170 horsepower and five-speed transmission.

CoffeeE.net


A video ad for the online coffee-supply site Coffeee.net begins with a jazzy version of the old Maxwell-house percolator tune before turning to a fantasy scene of coffee preparation that suggests a fully-clothed sex act. The concept is as sophomoric as the delivery and setting are elegant. 


Bikini Baristas

Baristas This page began after I had allowed a few comments about coffee and sex to linger at the bottom of my Coffee Shoppes page, and they started to attract other items -- and some related blog posts -- on coffee, sensuality, and yes, even tea. The page is a robust(a) examination of the the topic on geographic, legal, artistic, and even theological grounds, but admittedly, it began with the bikini barista phenomon.

The first such item was a link to Hot competition brews in Washington. This is subtitle of article in the Boston Globe about a trend in the competitive coffee-shop market in the Pacific Northwest. Thinking about the continuum of coffee-shop strategies from a focus on atmosphere and amenities to a focus on coffee quality, it seems clear where these shops find their competitive advantage. Comedian Cathy Sorbo has written Do you want a peek with that latte?, the most humurous of several commentaries I have found on the merits and demerits of this strategy.

Bikini BaristaMost of the companies in this market segment make only the vaguest claims about the quality of the coffee itself; the sole exception I have seen is Chicka Latte, which at least acknowledge the importance of farmers and buys from a direct-trade roaster (though it has no third-party certifications). I did find a web site and blog dedicated to keeping track of these shops. This is a geographic problem that is more difficult than it might seem, and so far the effort seems to be limited to Washington State. The shops -- operated both by women and by men -- are not often listed on main-stream coffee web sites. New ones are frequently opened, and existing ones are sometimes closed because of legal, financial, or public-relations challenges, particularly as some are accused of selling a lot more than lattes.

The Bikini Barista music video by Quickie the Band celebrates the trend, featuring baristas from Cowgirls, the woman-owned stand that is said to have been the first and is among the most-cited.
Everett (Washington) Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein spent some time at work with one of the baristas there. She concludes that Bikini baristas [are] comfortable in their jobs and should be free to work as they do. She also argues, however, that the benefits for workers are short-lived and modest, while shop owners profit greatly.

Pasty Coffee
              GuyOn Kitsap Island -- across the Puget Sound from Seattle, cafe owner Don Frossard decided to spoof the concept by serving coffee from his drive-through window in pasties of his own.

Thanks to my Chilean friend Magaly for pointing me toward
Cafe con Piernas, which is similar to the bikini barista phenomenon in the United States, but which combines sensuality and coffee at a higher level -- sometimes much higher! Part I of Anthony Bourdain's Chile sin Reservas is an excellent introduction to Chile that explains the interesting historic context from which these cafes emerged.

The most similar rival in the United States is probably Café Lú, which began in Saigon, moved to Little Saigon in Westminster, California before moving to Santa Ana. Its online history does not reveal whether it once had a greater emphasis on coffee. The company is woman-owned and woman-managed, and places the vast majority of its attention on waitresses in bikinis -- or less.


Bikini barista shops have not caught on in New England, though one in Maine did catch on -- on fire, that is. Closer to home, I am aware of two much milder examples. Mirasol's -- an excellent cafe near UMass-Dartmouth -- serves directly traded, organic coffee drinks and a healthy, varied menu, described as "the sexiest coffee and the studly-est sandwiches in town."

And throughout southeast Massachusetts, the woman-owned Marylou's chain is known for its exuberant and nearly all-female staff. This is pretty mild stuff by Seattle standards, but the marketing of coffee is certainly getting an assist from both the exuberant service and pleasing appearance of these coffee workers. For example, the photo to the right is part of a photo shoot for the chain. The chain's reputation for hiring only attractive young women had been the subject of a Federal investigation. The chain's regional popularity became clear in the backlash against the investigation.
Marylou's Coffee


Bad Feminists?Of course, stoking the ego of customers is a big part of the equation in any service profession, with choices about dress and behavior being matters of degree. Harry Bliss wryly notes the importance of sychophantry in this this comic, but its full-on deployment is more often associated with the service of alchoholic beverages. An interesting aspect of the sexy barista trend is that it is associated with a beverage that focuses attention, rather than loosening inhibitions.

Though most of the activity is in the coffee haven of suburban Washington state, media interest is much broader. This is exemplified by a London Daily Mail article that examines the
alleged crossing of boundaries between service with a smile and outright servicing. 

In the Huffington Post, Phil Bronstein discusses the autonomy of individual women in this business and the tension between prurient and puritan responses, raising the question of whether the baristas are "bad feminists." The same blog contains a link to a story in the Edmonton Patch that questions the scope of police attention to the issue, implying that a puritan surface (as is often the case) belies a prurient undercurrent.

Moderate evangelical writer Wendy Alsup attempts a theological analysis of the phenomenon. In the end,  I find her to be a bit condescending, but her essay at least mentions the interior life of the women involved in a way that most writing on the topic does not.
Yes, we
                    can do that!
Kitsap County (Washington)
legal writer Josh Farley reports that his county has no ordinance against bikini baristas, and makes several arguments for keeping it that way. First, he praises his local officials for focusing their attention on what he sees as higher priorities. Second, he argues that since the First Amendment protects much more problematic forms of expression than skimpy clothing, ordinances and enforcement efforts might not.

Seduction -- or more often the implication of seduction -- in the pursuit of sales, is not limited to alchohol and coffee, of course. Even for the pathetic guy ordering a "Loser Pile" in the infamous KFC commercial the appeal of the "food" itself is greatly enhanced by the chaste but obvious flirtation of a fast-food vixen.
Click
                      to Bliss comics

Cupping an Attitude

Assertive or Exploited?


Misogeny & Coffee

The Bikini Barista music video mentioned above opens with a 1950s-era domestic scene that highlights a disturbing trend in coffee marketing that was more deeply sexist than most of what goes on at drive-through windows today. From the 1930s to the 1950s, coffee brands such as Chase & Sanborn (below) and Chock Full o'Nuts (at right) suggested that domestic violence would be an acceptable consequence for serving one's husband an inferior cup of coffee. Another Chase & Sanborn ad, depicting a wife being beaten for serving stale coffee, has been selected as #2 on a list of the 10 Most Sexist Print Ads from the 1950s from Business Pundit.

These photos are taken from Uncommon Grounds, Mark Pendergrast's definitive history of the coffee industry.

Threatening wife over coffee


every man's right / every wife's
                      duty

Your Coffee Is Murder! YouTube users have posted several television ads circa 1960 that promote bad coffee with vignettes from bad marriages. One uploaded as Maxwell House Commercial #1 (1954) provides a close-up view of the "flavor buds" of freeze-dried coffee, with an assertion that the speaker's wife "lets" him make the coffee. How to Please a Man is a Folger's ad that opens with a police officer in uniform, belittling his wife as she serves him breakfast. 

In Papa Eddie Solves a Crime, a wife seeks the advice of an avuncular old grocer after her husband calls her coffee "murder" and throws it into the petunias. He explains that Folger's offers not only very modern-sounding processing techniques to capture its "mountain-grown" flavor. The ad ends with a satisfied husband, as all ads of this kind do, but only after he has asserted -- and re-asserted, in this case, his position of physical dominance.

Online comments should never be taken too seriously when they are anonymous, but each of the videos mentioned above has attracted comments that express dismay that they could be seen as sexist. The lament expressed by Susan Faludi in Backlash continues, unforunately, to be validated. Though most of us see these ads as a half-century out of place, some would not be bothered if they were to return. In fact, much household-product advertising even today is not much better. Remember the "mom" who was berated in a recent ad for making "too much cake?"






By the time -- when I was a young lad -- that ads began to appear mostly in full-color, domestic threats were no longer the principle way to represent coffee choices in adverstizing. The Classic Mawell House Commercial to the right pushes what we now know is a pretty terrible product -- cheap, robusta coffee grown in harsh conditions and processed for convenience and cost rather than flavor. But at least the couple depicted is actually in a loving, sharing relationship -- the question of who prepared the coffee is left unanswered.

Sometimes a percolator
                            is just a percolator.I must admit I liked this one for the cute music and the lovey-dovey couple (looks like my house in some ways), even though it is really a celebration of percolators, which are the worst possible way to brew coffee.

I saw this as a pretty innocent commercial, by the way, but my favorite librarian pointed  out that the percolator itself was rather phallic. Be the judge.
Maxwell House Cute Couple


Diverse & Perverse

(And I know that these are not synonyms, even if they are sometimes celebrated together!)
Coffee, Cake, and Kink LONDON
London is one of several European cities that can lay claim to originating the coffee shop. From 1650, when the Lebanese Jacobs opened his shop in Oxford, its cafes have been legend. Coffee, Cake, and Kink claims to be London's first combination book store/cafe/erotic art gallery. The need to claim primacy in this niche category implies that London has an even more interesting cafe culture than I had imagined!

Opening as a shop in 2003, CCK now operates as an online store and a vibrant online community that celebrates both diversity and perversity. At the moment, its only coffee retail offering is the French press (perhaps just because the name is kinky), but the blog does include serious news about the world of coffee, including a recent post that describes the relevance of climate change for coffee markets. In this way, CCK distinguishes itself from many of the other erotic coffee enterprises.

As Violet Blue explains thoughtfully in The Kinkiest Coffeehouse in the West, San Francisco has a shop with a somewhat simlar vibe. Established in 2009 and in service (no pun intended) again after a brief hiatus, Wicked Grounds is an adult-only cafe that is open to people of every persuasion and perversion.
Wicked Grounds San
                  Francisco
 
Gay Coffee

I first met Melissa about a year ago, when we spent a day in Bridgewater exchanging ideas about coffee roasting, coffee shops, and coffee education. She had opened Elbow Room Cafe in Northhampton in 2004, around the same time I became seriously interested in coffee. She served fair-trade and organic coffee, and eventually traveled to Nicaragua to meet the farmers, again around the same time I began doing so. Around the time we met, she had really developed her craft, made the transition from cafe owner to full-time roaster.

A few months later, as she describes on the about us page of her new company web site, she and her partner had an epiphany, and soon brought the causes of gay civil rights and coffee justice together under the label Gay Coffee. The new brand employs a sense of humor in the service of two very serious causes; it is a combination that has generated a lot of enthusiasm. I write this in February 2012, when I have been very pleased to bring the coffee into my classrooms (and faculty meetings) just as our campus was rallying against an incident of bigotry.

Art & Spectacle


Nude for a Cause
The Eat Drink Better blog is dedicated to sustainability and all the other values I advocate on my geography of food page. So it might seem an odd place for a photograph of ten nude coffee farmers. The accompanying article explains that these farmers decided to bare all (tastefully) in order to expose the truth about the labeling of Kona coffee.

In the process, the author provides important insights and interesting details about coffee labeling, and how factors such as "shade-grown" are just a bit different in the Kona context.

Coffee Heart
Equal-Opportunity Coffee Lust: Writing of the coffee guy who "froths her milk," Australian coffee blogger "Cofei" makes clear that female baristas do not have a monopoly on the inspiration of prurient thoughts in the minds -- and loins -- of their customers. And Joel McHale -- while in the running for People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive -- recorded his own Sexy Coffee video. He serves coffee shirtless to some shirtless fellow actors in a scene that is mildly suggestive of The Full Monty but quite tame compared to much of what is discussed on this page.

On NPR's All Things Considered, R&B singer Ledisi shares several songs and stories with Guy Raz during a recent interview. Both are a bit sheepish about her tune "Coffee" in which she expresses her preferences in a lover in very steamy terms! An excerpt is included in the July 10, 2011 interview. I found the same version on iTunes, but found erroneous lyrics on various web sites, so be sure to listen to her version.
Ledisi
Brighton (England) artist Jamie McCartney employed a nude model to create something truly remarkable -- a human figure made entirely of roasted coffee beans (with resin to hold the form). The creation -- called "Wake Up (and smell the coffee)" -- was cast for a charity auction, and fetched the equivalent of a few thousand dollars. Apparently the entire show at Christie's featured coffee-inspired art, but images of the other items have not been as easy to find! Writing for The Sun, Dave Masters declared it a "brewty."
Coffee Nude

Black Coffee

Black Coffee House Music
                  South Africa
As Ella Fitzgerald intimates at the top of this page, black coffee may be the hottest of all.

The burlesque troupe
Mint Chocolate Chippies has produced Julie London's Black Coffee song as a striptease. Bodice artist Bodicious has gone a step further, with the proprietress herself modeling one of her creations to the tune of Peggy Lee's smoldering rendition of Black Coffee. Black Coffee is also the name of a fashion label that AdvertNews cites as an example of powerful sexual imagery in advertising, based on a fashion spread it used to promote a new line of clothing.

Finally, Black Coffee is a rising star in house music from South Africa, whose recordings with Bucie have included romantic tracks such as Turn Me On and Superman.

Black
                        Coffee Sex Ad

Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan
Coffee Maven and Professor
Department of Geography -- Bridgewater State College
Bridgewater, Massachusetts USA / EEUU / EUA
Affiliated Scholar, Institute for Coffee Studies
Vanderbilt University
508-531-2118
jhayesboh @ bridgew.edu


Visitors since April 28, 2010