The Geography of "Coffee, Tea, and/or Me?"
James Hayes-Bohanan , Ph.D.
Coffee Maven and Geographer
Bridgewater State University / Vanderbilt University
UPDATED May 5, 2016
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. And although the title is "romance," I fully understand that many things shown on this page are not romantic -- the page started with romance and evolved to include sex, sexuality and gender much more broadly.
Libido & Potions
Misogeny & Violence
Diverse & Perverse
Art & Spectacle
It does not stop with Ella -- read more about Black Coffee below.
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
Annie Leibovitz, 2009
|Master 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
|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.
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.
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
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.
Nonetheless, 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.
Author 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.
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
is far from alone in associating coffee with romance
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.
|Sex, 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.
The 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.
|In 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.
“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 dairy-related moment, half a second in duration, but it is included here.] 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.
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.
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
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.
|Most 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
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.
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.
|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.
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.
Cupping an Attitude
|Vietnamese Coffee Shops -- A
Subset of the Bikini Shop
Most people do not realize that Vietnam produces more coffee than any other country in the world, except Brazil. The French introduced coffee about a century ago, but it really took off only after the political opening of the country in recent years. Large quantities of low-grade coffee are produced with a lot of chemicals and little regard for quality. These beans are blended with moderate-quality coffee to bring down the price of discount brands such as Maxwell House, but are never labeled as coming from Vietnam.
Because of its importance in the world market, students in my coffee seminar usually do some research on the coffee, and we do serve some at our annual tasting event. When I think of Vietnam-style coffee, I think of the very slow brewing method and the heavy use of sweetened, condensed milk that makes it palatable (I usually drink coffee black, but not robusta coffee).
A student doing research for the project found another sense of the term that previous classes had not found, or had chosen not to include in their reports. In some areas of Southern California, Vietnamese Coffee Shop is considered synonymous with the bikini shops described above. Cafe Lu uses the domain name without any reference to bikinis, though the site prominently features the women and their attire, rather than the coffee, and defining the cafe solely in these terms on its What is? page.
Area political leaders and journalists are a bit more careful to make a distinction. Three articles about the expansion of such cafes out of the Little Saigon area where they are most common are careful to suggest that it is possible to have a Vietnamese cafe without the scanty attire. (See Stanton adopts rules ..., Stanton files lawsuit ..., and Bikini coffee shops get chilly welcome ....
They are correct to make the distinction, of course: as popular as they are in California's Vietnamese communities, such shops apparently do not exist in Vietnam itself.
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
These photos are taken from Uncommon Grounds, Mark Pendergrast's definitive history of the coffee industry.
|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.
|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.
|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
prurient thoughts in the minds -- and loins -- of
their customers. And Joel McHale -- while in the running
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.
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."
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.