Coffee: The New Keystone

Novelist L.P Hartley, in The Go-Between, said ‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ This kernel of wisdom encapulsates the thrill I get from studying history. While researching for my seminar, I came across a poem that contradicts Hartley’s poetic line. Written in 1674, the poem provides a  ‘brief description of the ‘excellent vertues of [that] sober and wholesome drink,’ coffee, and outlines the proper etiquette for coffee drinkers in the seventeenth century. Alcohol and coffee, proved popular, yet controversial, in seventh-century England. The rhetorical strategies adopted by the anonymous author ensure that coffee proves synonymous with virtue and alcohol synonymous with vice. Coffee is described as a ‘grave and wholesome liquor’ that serves as a ‘cure’ for ‘diseases’, curbs the appetite, promotes clarity of thought, boosts energy levels, productivity and cultivates optimism. Alcohol is associated with treachery and chaos; a ‘sweet poison’ that is directly related to a loss of control encapsulated in the authors choice of the verbs ‘stagger’ and ‘reel.’ Imagery of madness abounds: coffee is the ‘antedote’ to this chaos: an ‘all-healing’ ‘cordial’ that makes people ‘merry’ in the sober sense of the word. The civil, positive behaviors associated with coffee consumption are replicated in the etiquette for those wishing to spend time in a coffee house. Rules stipulating social interaction that is civil and sober yet simultaneously characterized by pleasure. The cultivation of fun, equality, respect for fellow coffee drinkers, serves as the ‘only rules and orders’ in the coffee house. The consumption of coffee, the ‘rules of the coffee house’ and the social and cultural implications outlined in this seventeenth century advertisement parallel the College’s decision to Move Dartmouth Forward. As I read the sociological musings of a 17th Englishman, I wondered: what if coffee replaced Keystone on campus?

Since the College’s publication of the MDF policies, medical and sociological studies have been cited, #prohibition has trended on Instagram, op-eds have appeared in The Dartmouth and students continue to yik and to yak about the policy’s implications. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, in addition to the Big Green’s ever-loyal watchdog The Huffington Post, have all published in-depth fact-based investigative journalism on the issue. Unlike my American peers who cannot legally order a drink until their twenty-first birthday, I am an international student, who was legally allowed to order a gin and tonic or glass of wine in England or international airspace at the age of eighteen. Alcohol has never held a seductive allure during my time at Dartmouth. It was liberating to order my first legal drink in America when I turned twenty-one last June. However, I rarely drink and intentionally avoid hard alcohol as I am a ‘light-weight.’

I do know how to play pong; although, according to Dartmouth’s social code I am a bad partner because I never drink beer and have been ‘golden treed.’ However, it should be noted that I refused to take part in this ‘sacred’ Dartmouth ritual, citing ancient British codes of etiquette in my defense. And yet, despite my British background and abhorrence of Keystone Light, I have sunk several full and a dozen half cups in pong games during my Dartmouth career.

What would happen if coffee replaced Keystone? Keystone, the social drink of choice on campus – poetically defined by an affiliated senior male as ‘piss water’ - serves as a metonym for alcohol. Instead of bemoaning the vacuum left in the Dartmouth bubble due to a world without vodka, whiskey and a freshman pregame without Fireball, let us imagine – indeed celebrate - the social and cultural opportunities that arise at a dry Dartmouth. Let us focus on the positive dimensions of the situation through a celebration of coffee. Let us switch espresso martinis for espresso shots, Irish coffee for mocha lattes and icy mixed drinks for iced coffee. Coffee, like alcohol, makes people merry but, unlike alcohol, it is in the ‘sober’ sense of the world. Just as there are many rituals associated with alcohol consumption, so too are there for coffee consumption.

My Dartmouth day revolves around my double espresso coffee from Dirt Cowboy. It is the reason I propel myself out of bed, across the Green each morning. I place my order, receive a stamp on my loyalty card and wait for my two shots of espresso to trickle into the paper to-go cup. This is my daily fuel of choice. My lips quiver as I take my first sip. It is hot, bitter and utterly delicious. As I take more sips, the frothy top – the color of burnt caramel – dissolves into the jet-black liquid. I feel the adrenaline rush to my head as the caffeine enters my bloodstream and I open my eyes a little wider. It is 8am but I am awake and alert while the rest of campus sleeps. I am a morning person thanks to my double espresso. Every morning I have a coffee date with two shots of liquid gold: a rare moment of solace before my jam-packed day. As I walk to class I feel the sun against my bare shoulders and a buzz from the caffeine and I gain a spring in my step. I am ready for my Dartmouth day: awake and alert, excited rather than overwhelmed.

In a lot of ways my Dartmouth Dirt Cowboy double espresso reminds me of home. Ever since I was a little child, I would sit at the breakfast table and watch my parents sip their coffee.  Each morning they metamorphosed from sleepy, mono-tonal, grumpy humans to contented, animated, lovely and engaging individuals. After their morning coffee, their faces gained a joyous expression, as if their outlook on the world was transformed. I joined in this family ritual at the age of seventeen. My mother always made the coffee – she would pour my father a cup, then me, before finally herself. This was authentic love – a real act of devotion - because her coffee is a highlight in her day. My love affair with coffee was strengthened during my freshman summer of college when I worked in a coffee shop in central London with Spanish, Italians and French baristas. They taught me how to make espresso, grind coffee, froth milk for lattes. It was during this time I started to drink double espresso. I loved being able to make my own, European style espresso, at work, all-day and everyday. However, after several pounding headaches and sleepless nights, I learned to restrain myself to four shot of liquid gold per day. Now as I wait in line at Dirt Cowboy and watch the baristas make my double espresso I think of London. As I sip my espresso here I let my thoughts wonder from this bubble. When I return to London for my vacations, I drink double espresso and think of my home here in Hanover. My double espresso provides the link between my Dartmouth and London lives and represents the single element of consistency in my divided existence.

I firmly believe that coffee can replace Keystone as the campus-wide drink of choice. Although we rarely celebrate this commodity, coffee serves as connecting link in many of our Dartmouth rituals. For the majority of us, our human interactions center around coffee – consumed during study breaks in the library, the [rare] off campus coffee date and meals. Moreover, many of the typical Dartmouth student’s culinary habits center around coffee: a piping hot cup of Collis’ Fog-Buster and oatmeal, KAF’s iced-coffee and a brie and apple sandwich, corned beef hash and cups of coffee at Lou’s or a cup of Dirt Cowboy’s Ethipoian Yirgacheffe blend and an ‘everything’ bagel with cream cheese. So let us channel the energy we have typically devoted to critiquing the MDF hard-alcohol ban and instead celebrate coffee. Let us exercise our creative faculties, center our narrative on the beverages that are still permitted on campus and engage our critical thinking skills to work, collectively, to create new traditions centered upon this widely [and legally] consumed campus commodity. Take a shot or two of liquid gold or, if you can’t handle the heady caffeine rush, raise your mug of milky coffee in celebration of the ‘excellent vertues of [the] sober and wholesome drink!"