I went and grabbed an iced Americano from the small coffee stand at the library where some of my friends work this morning. I used to work at the library (not as a library employee, but would bring my laptop and do my work there to get out of the house) on pretty much a daily basis for an entire year, so I got to know a lot of the people who actually worked there and met some interesting visitors too. When I “grab a coffee”, that’s where I like to go. I like the ritual of visiting and chatting with my barista friends, and I like supporting a very small, local business that has to compete with the likes of Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Intelligentsia, Jones, and a number of other chic, European-inspired cafes that have been popping up around here lately, all of them busy, and all of them within walking distance of each other. (Besides, their espresso drinks are honestly some of the best I’ve had anywhere.)
But I’ve started getting into the habit of taking the small bits of trash that I generate while out and about and putting them in my pockets for evaluation later. And this morning I put a paper wrapper from a plastic straw, and a paper sugar packet into my pocket.
All things considered, I could be doing a lot worse than collecting a couple bits of paper every week. But those tiny scraps of recyclable trash got me thinking about the behemoth that is the tea and coffee industries in the US. Even if you bring your own reusable tumbler when you grab a cuppa, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sugar packets, coated milk cartons, plastic bags for beans and grounds, packaging to transport sweets and baked goods; and that’s not to mention the cups, straws, lids, and zarfs themselves that millions of people use and toss every day.
So as I walked from the library this morning to my office a quarter mile away, I went and compared my preferred coffee stand to some of the other alternatives available to me here.
Library coffee: Fantastic taste, easy on my stomach. Provides sugar packets, proprietary blend of creams in lieu of half-and-half and other carton-sourced milks, and occasionally agave in a plastic bottle. Well-priced, no “dine in” option, accepts reusable cups.
Intelligentsia: Harsher taste, less easy on my stomach. Provides sugar packets, milk and half-and-half from glass bottles, simple syrup in glass dispenser (likely purchased in bulk and not made on-site). Expensive, provides “dine in” option, doesn’t likely accept reusable cups and definitely doesn’t sell them despite selling many other kinds of mugs and coffee paraphernalia.
Then there’s also the question of electricity.
Library: Minimal electricity usage. Outdoors and not climate-controlled, with few appliances and fridges.
Intelligentsia: Climate-controlled despite having doors open. Many lighting fixtures, appliances and fridges. Probably uses anywhere from 5-10x the electricity than the library stand.
Of course I could just make coffee at home, right? That’s a pretty ZW option. That is… if you like coffee and not espresso. Coffee is harder on sensitive stomachs than espresso is. Both require dedicated appliances, and to make espresso that tastes anything like the sort you get at a traditional cafe, it requires a very expensive and space-consuming setup that needs electricity.
So that’s the dilemma. Do I keep going to the library and use their carton-sourced cream and sugar packets? (I guess I could ask them to provide a bottle of simple syrup…) Do I go to Intelligentsia because they use milk and creams from reusable glass bottles and simple syrup out of a glass bottle despite paying twice as much for an inferior product so that I can have a famous name on my disposable cup? Or do I make a substandard product at home, purchasing a dedicated appliance despite only likely using it a couple times a week, and not being able to buy my beans in bulk?
To me, the answer isn’t all that hard: keep going to the library. Being a dedicated customer for over 2 years now , they might just accommodate my request for syrup. And besides, like I said… their drinks are really, really good.