Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

VIEWPOINT: Cherish Your Coffee


Kevin O’Leary — the Canadian businessman and investor made famous by “Shark Tank” and for his moniker, “Mr. Wonderful” — hates store-bought coffee. He calls it “a waste of money” and, instead, recommends making coffee at home or investing the money. 

“I never buy a frappe-latte-blah-blah-blah-woof-woof-woof,” he says.

Despite his financial advice, as I write this article, I’m sitting at a 247-year-old cafe in Vienna, Austria with a 6-euro einspänner. Mr. Wonderful is wrong. This coffee is worth every cent.

Before my trip to Europe, I relegated coffee only to all-nighters and finals season. I would never willingly pay to afflict the painful, bitter taste of coffee on myself. I never truly appreciated the acrid smell, either.

My first introduction to coffee was through my mom, who would stop at Starbucks every morning to start her day, ordering a hot grande americano. She told me she needed the caffeine to take her through her day. And because of that, coffee has always been just a caffeinated drink to me. Nothing fancy or elegant, just pungent and strong.

Yet in Europe, coffee somehow seems different. Sure, it has the same bitter taste. But the experience — the aroma, the atmosphere surrounding a cup of coffee — has become a form of art, an integral part of each day on my trip. And that’s my point: Starbucks and the United States are doing something wrong with coffee.

Drinks, like americanos, make us forget that coffee is supposed to be enjoyed, not simply to be used as a stimulant. I think back to my mom getting her daily Starbucks americano, waiting in the drive-thru with a busy day ahead. The coffee would sit in the car cupholder while she commuted to work, living on her desk once she arrived.

My coffee experience on this trip, however, has been nothing but enjoyable. In Italy, I typically had two cups of coffee a day: a cappuccino in the morning and an espresso after dinner to help with digestion. I would take sips of the cappuccino, looking around, enjoying the atmosphere and embracing the present. I’m done with my coffee in no more than 10 to 15 minutes — coffee isn’t meant to be drunk all day. But importantly, I’ve enjoyed the moment, a small slice of my morning. It’s the same in the evening: I finish my espresso in five minutes, but I watch the sunset or feel the evening breeze as I sip it. I cherish these moments as I close out the day.

Coffee appreciation isn’t limited to Italy; the coffee house culture in Vienna is exceptional. 

Coffee houses are a place to relax, read the newspaper or maybe do some writing. Leon Trotsky, Alfred Adler and numerous other historic figures were all regulars at Café Central in Vienna and took inspiration from its historic location. At one point, the coffee house’s entire first floor was home to a flourishing chess club. All of these figures shared a passion for coffee, and the coffee house was a place used to unleash creativity.

Coffee has the potential to do it all, from helping seize the day to sparking inspiration in intellectuals. It hurts me to see its potential wasted by consumer coffee culture in the United States. It’s become a game of efficiency, caffeine and money. Although there are many reasons to disapprove of big coffee franchises, my biggest criticism is that they deprive the customer of a slower, intimate experience with coffee.

One final note: I don’t intend to solely criticize the dominance of Big Coffee. Rather, I hope my readers understand that a cup of coffee can be much more than what it seems to be. We are not bound to the limitations of U.S. coffee culture.

Instead, go to a cafe, get some coffee and take a seat outside if you can. Never bring work, but focus on the drink and the environment. People-watch a little, or maybe look up at the sky. Coffee is so much more than a caffeinated drink, and I hope that one day everyone can learn to savor life’s smallest moments through a cup of coffee.

As for the taste of coffee itself, well, I’m still not completely sold. Maybe the cream on this einspänner helps — it definitely cuts into the bitterness. But this moment will stay forever engraved in my heart.

Haan Jun (Ryan) Lee is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service

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