Guest editorial: An ode to my favorite coffeehouse
I love coffeehouses. It’s not that I’m hopelessly addicted to caffeine, or that I fancy myself a coffee aficionado. I do like to think that I have decent tastes in coffee, and I know the difference between a macchiato latte and a caffè latte, but my love for coffeehouses is not rooted in aspiring to be “cool” (a hopeless endeavor for me, if ever there was such) or to become a coffee elitist (nobody likes a coffee elitist — in fact, it probably goes against their elitism to like themselves). There’s just something about the totality of a good coffeehouse that is wholly fulfilling to my humanity. It’s a combination of a space that can be vibrantly social, yet still offers a relaxing environ for work and study. The aroma of coffee incites the senses, and the warm milk of a latte soothes the soul. It’s not just that I enjoy these things, it’s that I have a profound appreciation for them. So much so that, during my years in graduate school working toward my current profession, I had a vision for my life and career involved working and living in proximity to a good coffeehouse. So, as someone who clearly spends far too much time pondering his love of coffeehouses, I wanted to take a few moments to articulate something that most Americus residents already know — Café Campesino is a truly exceptional coffeehouse.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many coffeehouses in many parts of the country, including both mega-corporate chains and a disparate collection of modish independent shops. I have spent countless hours reading and writing in some of these coffeehouses, both as a student and as a professor. Many of these coffeehouses were wonderful places, and it is from these experiences that my love for coffeehouses has its origins. So when I say that Café Campesino is an exceptional coffeehouse, I am not simply pandering to a place where I spend a ridiculous amount of time imbibing coffee and working (I’m hoping they never decide to start charging me for office space). Instead, I am speaking from my experience — subjective as it might be.
To discuss what sets Café Campesino apart from the rabble, a good place to begin is the roastery. The coffee industry is bursting with roasters big and small, and a coffeehouse that has its own roastery is not entirely unique. With that said, the majority (of) independent coffeehouses do not have their own roastery, and this fact does place Café Campesino in a select category. Now I can’t say with objective certainty that Café Campesino roasts the absolute best coffee of any roastery that has ever dared roast a coffee bean. What I can say, however, is that I have seen the care the Café Campesino inner-circle put into their tasting sessions around that old, high, round, tasting table. I can also say that they roast some of the best coffee I have ever personally enjoyed.
But a great cup of Joe is only part of what makes a good coffeehouse. The environment is an integral part of the equation. The ambiance, décor, location, and baristas all work together to create that all-important environment. As intuitive as this all sounds, the coffeehouse environment involves a balance that is difficult to attain. At one end of the spectrum, we find the mega-chain coffeehouses that typically have nice décor, moderately well-trained and generally affable baristas, and their own proprietary roasts of coffee. However, these corporate coffeehouses, with their standardized décor, lack the authentic ambiance of independent coffeehouses. Moreover, they are often located in the modern shopping centers and strip malls that are symptomatic of suburban sprawl. In short, they possess the same lack of authenticity that is common among most corporate enterprises of scale. In contrast to chain coffeehouses, we find trendy independent coffeehouses. These coffeehouses possess unique décor, expert baristas, and are typically located in historic districts or other centers of art and culture. Essentially, this variety of coffeehouse typically excels in every way that a corporate coffeehouse languishes. The problem with some of these coffeehouses is that they know this. It might be said that elitism is the smug, annoying little cousin of expertise, and there is an unfortunate element of elitism that has been known to propagate in some independent coffeehouses.
Café Campesino has managed to strike an impeccable balance in the environmental elements of a coffeehouse. The décor is custom and inviting. The baristas are friendly, personable, and possess a high level of expertise without a trace of elitism. Historic downtown Americus allows the coffeehouse to offer a unique and attractive venue. These attributes, in concert with serving their own roasts, contribute to an ambiance of authenticity.
Masterfully-roasted coffee and an excellent environment make for an outstanding customer experience. But customers are not Café Campesino’s only constituency. What sets Café Campesino apart, perhaps more than anything else, is its mission and values. Café Campesino roasts and serves organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee, maintains close ties with its trading partners, and seeks to encourage conscious consumption. Rather than unpacking what each of these phrases means, I will attempt to sum it up in a concise manner: Café Campesino operates in a way that is deeply mindful of its impact on the environment, consumers, and the people who toil to grow the coffee it roasts. A deep interest in the social good is an occupational hazard for my chosen career, so this matters to me. A lot.
Most towns have a good coffeehouse, but a truly exceptional coffeehouse is a rare and sacred place. In my humble opinion, Americus is home to just such a coffeehouse.
Joseph Comeau is an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.