Noble Coffee

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I have to stop just inside the doors because this isn’t a coffee shop, it’s a party. The bodily warmth and noise drive me to the counter in a daze and I nervously fidget with my hat. The barista apologizes for how busy she is as if I too have already been enveloped in their whirling imperatives. Drinks must be made, coffee roasted, surfaces cleaned, smiles given, money tendered, and all must be done with glee. “Sorry about that” she breathes like she’s turning to attend a neglected friend. Where does one begin? It’s impossible to argue with her message that her labor is deeply inconveniencing, and that we are on familiar terms. It would be understandable if she were looking for human connection here. It is everywhere performed and nowhere to be found. Light and space invade from all angles through ample windows unhindered by any obstacle more substantial than a potted tropical plant. An inward-smiling techie has found the only corner of slight shadow where the couches are otherwise abandoned. Everything points toward the central barista corral in which they gracefully toil in black. There are two black curtains on either side, the only cover from the constant strafing of gazes around the room. It’s all public intimacy, pop music, and magic out here. What goes on behind the curtain?

It’s easy to imagine there is a terrible authority overseeing all this and subjecting its employees to its demands. If this is a coffee cult--and there is no doubt in my mind that it is--then surely it has a deranged leader. But there is no evidence of this; there is only the building’s scant secret. The truth, I fear, is far more insidious: not only are these baristas who spew unsolicited origins and roasts willing converts to the coffee cult, but if anything, the edifice itself is the locus of the cult’s power. The very interior space, filled with people and paraphernalia, reproduces itself ad nauseum. Literally the coffee is as heady and wonderful as it is nauseating. Their coffee, french pressed, not dripped, embodies the establishment that produces it. It gets you wired, it’s so good it makes you want to throw up, and you want more. Beneath its ethereal yet muddy perfection seethes a dire need for food and beverage that does not sock you in the brain or threaten to make your stomach bleed. The coffee, like the place, is a mania with limits and a nasty side. One can only be Noble or so long, and to be Noble one must be cruel.

However, within the cult nobility is nobility. Consider its namesake, the founder Jared Rennie's grandfather, Noble Dukes, pictured on Noble Coffee’s website standing in front of an airplane in 1937. He harkens from a bygone era when white men could earnestly find their adventurousness in the far corners of the world. It’s a spirit that can be witnessed in its last gasps in the pages of National Geographic and on television, taunting crocodiles and climbing Everest for the zillionth time. Rennie admired his grandfather’s virility but could not live it, exactly. So he started making coffee. He lived up to the dream of his grandfather by condensing every enchantment with an exotic world into a cup of coffee. It brims over with new discovery that can only be old. This old newness is fortified with political correctness. The coffee beans are fair trade (you will notice that this is an adjective, not a verb and that things are not fair traded), he visits their origin, he talks with the growers in Spanish, and he provides for them. They are taken care of so that you, discerning customer, may enjoy the very best coffee. To really drive this Noble-noble connection into the ground: Noble Coffee allows you, the customer, to be noble. Your dirty work is done.