Both my adopted and biological fathers drank coffee before heading out to do construction. I remember going to auto shops for the free coffee and donuts while living in Chicago, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. Moving to rural Ohio, the smell of Folgers was something I found familiar and comforting and Starbucks popularity had me trying out their breakfast. Dreaming of becoming a “writer who works at the local coffee shop”, I wasn’t aware of the complex culture surrounding coffee outside of my fathers’ preference for straight black coffee and the thought that cream and sugar “ruined” the drink. Little did I know that this dream would be a reality that shatters my perception of coffee, the coffee shop, and baristas.
Kusanya Cafe is daring establishment right off 69th and Halsted Ave; After going to a R.A.G.E meeting another member informed that Kusanya Cafe was hiring. Recently ending my Americorps Vista contract made this a serendipitous moment, especially with the job being within walking distance and giving a sense of dream fulfillment. The Cafe quickly became a classroom and workshop, as the breadth and depth of what must be known were overwhelming, with questions like ‘what is the difference between frappuccino and cappuccino?’ . Every resource given during the training period became holy relics as the numbers of shots, syrup pumps, and scoops got entangled with new words. It wasn’t until my manager, Philip Sipka, showed me how to make an Americano that the work of the barista started to make sense.
Americano is an espresso shot and diluted hot water, similar to the Folgers of my fathers’ but with a way more interesting backstory. Popular belief states the term Americano for a coffee drink was first used in WWII when American soldiers went to Italy and wanted something similar to their pre-roasted beans. My first impression was the freshness that the Americano at Kusanya when comparing the Mexican Beans and the Ethiopian Beans; in the tasting of any pairing of drip coffee and americano, the americano carried a fresher flavor that my palette preferred. Black was no longer my favorite form of coffee and the steam pressure process of making espresso showed that this innovation created a lasting impression on the culture surrounding coffee. The Americano, being an international effort, continues its innovation across the Globe with the Long Black being an Australian homage to the Americano and even stronger than either the Americano or Black Coffee. This all led to the question of how deep of a cultural and historical influence does coffee have?
On the Continent of Africa, in Ethiopia, lies the home of coffee. Arab Traders brought the “Wine of Arabia” to Venice, Italy. Pope Clement VIII had to declare that drinking coffee wasn’t a sin, as it was perceived as an Islamic threat to the Christian World. Coffee hadn’t really left Africa until the 1600’s nor make it to the western hemisphere until the 18th century. Thanks to people like Kaldi, the fabled Ethiopian goat herder, who noticed his goats hyper after eating from the coffee bush;
Baba Budan, the Indian pilgrim who strapped coffee beans across his chest on his walk home from Mecca; or even the American Patriots whose dissent after the Tea Party made coffee a conscientious objection of British tyranny. Perfected in Arabia during the 13th century, a symbol of patriotism in the USA, with African roots, that was once considered a sin, and one of the cash crops that powered the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism makes my fathers drink one of the most important beverages in world history.
Before the development of the roasted coffee, espresso, or the Americano coffee had a slightly different connotation.The Coffee bush produces cherry-like fruit that tastes like berries. Snack bars and intoxicating drinks were made out of either the fruit or the seeds. Chocolate covered coffee beans are one of the modern iterations of this form Different parts of the world prepare Coffea arabica differently and have a different tradition connected to their culture. The Americano was an expression of global inclusion in the history of coffee, just like Pope Clement VIII blessing of coffee brought the Christian and European worlds into the world of coffee.
The consistent theme that coffee carries with it is communication between people and cultures; the superficial difference of an ideology and the perceptual barriers of identity can be destroyed over a cup of black coffee or an Americano. The local coffee shop is a place to taste history and make history with the second most traded commodity in the world, regardless if you like it straight or with cream and sugar. With Kusanya serving coffee, tea, and chocolate drinks, a barista should be ready not only to measure out and pull an espresso shot while steaming milk, but understand that politics, culture, and economics sets the reality of who wants a latte.