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Close Encounter with a Coffee Snob

IMG_9354Ahh, coffee, my old friend.

Don’t be fooled by the name of my site; as fond as I am of tea and the ritual of teatime, this girl loves her coffee. Some days just aren’t good for a cup of afternoon tea (like when temperatures are in the high 90s and humidity is at 80%– hello July!) but I have never yet met a midsummer’s day that could convince me it was too hot outside for coffee.

I actually remember the first time I tried coffee. I was probably about eleven years old, and Mom had made a coffee stop at QuikTrip on our way out to piano lessons. A quick aside about my mother here—I’m pretty sure she’s actually got supermom powers. She would load up all four of us girls once a week for I don’t know how many years straight and drive almost 45 minutes out to music lessons. We’d also pile up our schoolbooks and work in the van, so Mom was homeschooling and chauffeuring simultaneously. She definitely earned that coffee! It’s actually a little surprising that she shared a sip with me, all things considered. I almost bought a mug the other day at Hobby Lobby that said “You’re really cute and all, but I’m not sharing my coffee with you.” John told me I didn’t need it because at four months, Sam isn’t old enough to want to steal my coffee, but I told him it wasn’t Sam I was worried about. (John occasionally is a coffee thief. He’s got this problem where he doesn’t want enough coffee to warrant pouring his own mug, but he wants it enough to drink out of mine. It’s a good thing I love him so darn much.)

Anyway, my first taste of coffee was a shared sip from Mom’s cup, and let’s just say it was a less than magical experience. It didn’t live up to how good it smelled, for one thing, which is why I wanted to try it in the first place. It probably also burned my tongue, so even though I can’t imagine life without it now, my first impression of coffee was anything but love at first sight. It’s like when Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy and even though it’s destined to be a beautiful romance, she’s not super impressed in that first moment. (Did I just compare Mr. Darcy to coffee? Wait, there might be something to that—after all, he’s tall, dark, rich, a little bitter… excuse me for a minute while I go perfect the argument that the character of Mr. Darcy was actually written as an extended analogy for coffee.)

But like the Lizzie Bennet I was meant to be, I fell for coffee in the end. In college I’d make myself a pot in the mornings, then often another one for afternoon homework, aaaaand if I had a night class or rehearsal, I might stop at the campus café for one more little evening pick-me-up.  At any of the numerous office jobs I’ve worked, the coffee machine was my favorite coworker. Coffeeshop gift cards are always a good gift idea for me, but I enjoy brewing it at home just as much. My mug collection is legendary.

I’m a much more moderate coffee drinker these days– I quit cold-turkey when I found out Sam was on the way (that was a rough couple of weeks let me tell you.) While I’d like to say I went the whole nine months without caffeine in my system, that definitely didn’t happen, because I am weak. But I don’t think I’d be lying to say that I came out of pregnancy a much more self-controlled coffee lover than I once was. But I am, after all, still a coffee lover.

I’ve got to be honest though, I am not a coffee snob. I tried, in college, I really did. I hung out at the local hipster coffeeshop and tried to get excited about the bean origin, and the roast, and the floral notes or whatever it is coffee aficionados like to talk about. But to be completely frank, I just don’t care. My even worse sin, in the eyes of horrified coffee experts everywhere, I actually prefer cheap grocery store coffee to hand-picked-organic-mountain-grown-aeropressed-or-whatever-mumbo-jumbo-twelve-dollar-served-with-a-vinyl-record-on-the-side coffee.

I jest of course— the vinyl record is an extra charge.

Most of the time, I happily drink my coffee-can coffee without giving much thought to it at all. On occasion however, I’m reminded just how unrefined my coffee tastes are. For example, I had a conversation with an actual certified Coffee Snob™ the other day that went something like this:

Me: “I would make you coffee, but I know you’re a serious coffee guy and I mostly just keep Folger’s on hand.”

Him: “That’s ok. If you’re actually able to enjoy that, good for you.”

I laughed a lot at that, mostly because a past version of myself probably would’ve gotten super offended at that remark, and maybe a little defensive about how condescending Mr. Coffee Man just was to me and my quaint little coffee. “How dare he talk down to my grocery store coffee! Who does he think he is? Does he mean to imply he’s a better coffee drinker than me?”

Actually, yes, he does. And that’s okay.

It took a while for me to accept that I am not, in fact, a coffee snob. I’m not a coffee expert, authority, connoisseur, or even just a discerning drinker, no matter how much I thought I wanted to be. I’m just a regular person who likes a mug of coffee without caring about it much beyond that. But here’s the deal: I don’t think I enjoy coffee any less than Mr. Coffee Snob does. I just enjoy it differently. He enjoys it as a subject to study, an art to refine, a science to be explored, and a ritual to perfect. (I think he might actually be a champion of some statewide barista competition… I’ll have to check my sources on that one, but I think I heard that somewhere.) I, on the other hand, enjoy coffee as a simple comfort that tastes good and helps me start my day. It would be wrong to say that either of us is not a coffee lover just because we love coffee in different ways. The rugged hiker who treks for days with only a backpack and uses the woods for a bathroom is definitely more of a mountaineer than the tourist who drives up to the scenic overlook, but they both can agree that views are beautiful.

The truth is we’re all snobs, about one thing or another. If you think about it, I bet you can come up with something that you enjoy and care about more than most people do, and you kind of consider yourself an expert in that field, at least compared to the casual observer. I, for example, am a Book Snob. I’ve spent years reading, studying, and collecting good books. And I’ll admit, sometimes when I see someone reading (even enjoying) an objectively “bad” book, it makes me want to tell them, “Hey, don’t enjoy that; that’s garbage comparatively. Here, read this instead, it’s actually a GOOD book.”

On the flipside, there are probably a boatload of things you can think of that you’re not a snob about. For example, I enjoy movies, but I am NOT a movie snob. I dated a movie snob in college, and there were so many times when I just wanted to tell him, “I couldn’t care less about the groundbreaking cinematography or deep symbolism in this indie movie. Please, let’s just watch Pirates of the Caribbean so I can actually enjoy some witty but shallow one-liners and overly melodramatic plot points. What makes a ‘good’ movie does not matter to me.”

At the heart of this snoblem (heh heh, get it? Snob + Problem = SNOBLEM! Yeah ok, I’ll stop.) is pride. For the snob, pride says “I know better, this is my thing, and your way of doing it is inferior to my way.” For the non-snob, pride rears up defensively: “You think you’re better than me! You know what, if the so-called “right” way to do this thing isn’t the way I happen to enjoy it, then it’s just stupid and I’m going to make fun of you for caring about it.”

Actually, no matter which end you fall on the snob spectrum, pride is an ugly thing, and it hurts people. Being a high and mighty snob makes people not like you, because you make them feel inferior. (Just ask Mr. Darcy.) You step on other people to make yourself look taller. Being scornful as a non-snob can seriously hurt the feelings of people who actually care about the thing. You can make them feel like the time and effort they put into it isn’t worth it, and therefore make them feel like you value them less as a person because of it.

So what exactly am I saying here? That it’s wrong to have likes and interests that are different than other people’s? Not at all! There are a billion ways to interact with the world that God has created for us to explore and enjoy, and I think when we explore something (like coffee) with interest and passion and excitement, it pleases Him. The key is to do it graciously, and keep pride and selfishness out of the picture entirely. So how do we do that, when the temptation to ugly snobbery is so present? Here’s my thoughts on it, and let’s be honest—I’m preaching to myself here, because I struggle hard with both ends of the snob spectrum.

How to be gracious when you are the Snob:

  1. Realize your way is not the only way to enjoy things.

My Coffee Snob friend had it spot on. He didn’t look at me and my Folger’s can and say “Oh, come on, you can’t be serious, that’s not even REAL coffee.” He recognized that I was enjoying the same thing he enjoyed, just not the same way, and because of that we had common ground. (Heh heh, coffee pun.) He also didn’t try to get me to change—“you know, you really should buy a *insert whatever fancy coffee machine is the coolest thing these days* if you want to enjoy good coffee.” Nope, he recognized that I like coffee the way I like it, and it wasn’t his duty as the resident expert to change my mind about that.

 (A side note here: even a non-snob can do this too. For instance, I drink my coffee black, so there have been times when I’ve turned to my Frappaccino-sipping sister and said “oh come on, that’s not REAL coffee.” Seriously, pride can slip in even when you have nothing really to be proud about.)

  1. Don’t get a big head about it

Just keeping it real here: No matter how good you are, chances are high there’s someone better. There’s always going to be someone with a bigger library than me. Someone who has read more classic works, someone who – heaven forbid—loves Melville more than I do. If you ever reach a level of snobbery in your snob-field where you think you are truly the top banana, then it’s time to come back to earth. Enjoy your thing, learn as much as you want, enjoy it to the fullest, but if you get to a point where you catch yourself thinking you’re the best, pay attention to that little red flag. Chances are you’re already being prideful and hurting people.

  1. Don’t make it your identity

Oh man this is a hard one for me. It is so easy, when you’re good at something, to feel like it makes you who you are. I’ve always struggled with the need to label myself, ever since I was little and was known in my whole friend group as the Frog Girl. Since then I’ve been, at various stages, the Rocks and Minerals Girl, the Civil War Girl, the Flute Girl, the Sailboat Girl, the Ireland Girl… and the list goes on. So what happens, if your identity is intrinsically tied to being your family’s Civil War history expert, and then you marry into a family where a somebody else literally holds a doctorate in American Military History and you’re not the expert anymore? (True story. Love you anyway, James.) If your identity is tied to the thing you feel you’re the best at, it’s super easy to feel threatened and get prickly towards others anytime somebody else shows an interest in the same thing. Someone says, “hey cool, I like pirates too.” And pride says “MINE! I’m the Pirate Expert™ here!” Linking your interests to your identity is dangerous game that never ends well.

 

And now, how to be gracious in a situation where you’re the Non-Snob:

  1. Accept that you aren’t the expert (and that they are)

It’s a big wide world out there, and there are a million billion things to learn and know and enjoy. If you’re reading this, you’re a finite human who doesn’t have the ability to learn and know and enjoy everything in the world. Some people find that super frustrating, but it’s a fact. So here’s the deal, when you come across someone who has spent time learning about something that you haven’t, accept the fact that you don’t know as much as them. Maybe it’s something you’d like to learn about someday, but you haven’t gotten there yet. My friend who has a garden knows more than I do about growing cucumbers, even though I’d like to be a cucumber farmer someday. There is a vast untapped treasury of vegetable-growing knowledge that I haven’t touched yet and she has, so yeah, of course she’s going to be the expert in this situation. And that’s okay. Also, she shares her cucumbers with me, so we’re all happy.

  1. Don’t get defensive / poke fun

This is a biggie. When you do find yourself snubbed by a snob, maybe even a proud, ungracious snob, how do you react? Even if you were just legitimately belittled by a prideful snob, nothing good gets accomplished by rearing back in ugly pride yourself. If you find yourself reacting to snobbery by belittling them right back –“Oh yeah? Well it’s stupid that you waste your time on that anyway! I at least care about more important things!”—then you’re behaving no better than they are. There are also cases, like me and my coffee friend, where he was not intentionally trying to belittle me with his comment. He really meant it nicely, but if you’re on the defensive and looking for a fight, even a nice word from a Coffee Snob can set you off. “Oh, how dare you patronize me like that! I see you think you’re better than me!”

Or, when snubbed by a snob, you can be more indirect about your prideful response. Often this manifests itself in casually poking fun at their interests. I say that a little bit tongue in cheek, since I definitely took a little jab at bougie hipster coffee in an earlier paragraph. But no matter if you’re “just joking,” when you make fun of something someone really cares about, it’s hurtful and downright unkind. And who really benefits by you tearing down someone else’s interests? Nobody, that’s who.

  1. Be confident in what you do like

In a world full of snobs, it’s easy to feel pressure to be one all the time. But in truth, it’s just fine not to be an expert. Being a casual fan of something is not a sin. You can like a few of a band’s songs without knowing every album by heart and knowing the backstory on why every song was written. You can enjoy books even if you only read whatever YA series is super popular at the moment. The Melville police won’t arrest you. You can reference Pride and Prejudice several times in your blog post even if you have never actually read the book all the way through and seriously prefer the 2005 movie to the Colin Firth miniseries. It’s okay. You don’t have to be a snob about everything, and you can enjoy your Folgers coffee without feeling guilty that you don’t know when or where the beans were roasted. Enjoy what you enjoy, and be grateful that God gave you the ability to enjoy it.

 

Well, now that I’ve effectively stepped on everyone’s toes, I think I’ll sign off and go drink my cheap coffee while pondering fine literature. Till we meet again!

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