The Perfect Cappuccino

This is a documentary about coffee and some other stuff, mostly other stuff. That’s good, because the other stuff is a little more heartfelt. Not only do you learn about making cappuccinos, but you gain some insight into coffee culture and learn a little bit about an iconic American company that may leave a bad taste in your mouth, literally and figuratively.

The director and narrator is a woman named Amy Ferraris. She’s an Italian American who spent a chunk of her teen years with relatives in Italy and developed a taste for the cappuccino. A taste may actually be putting it mildly, addiction may be more appropriate.

So she sets out to try and answer the question, “Why can’t I find a good cappuccino in America?”

During her quest, which really only lasts the first 30 minutes or so of the doc, you’ll learn what a good cappuccino is and you’ll get a feel for why the Starbucks’ cappuccino is such a poor representation of the drink. But she soon gets diverted into the larger question of why we, as Americans, tolerate big companies like Starbucks making such low grade stuff.

Before you judge this movie as another Michael Moore style rant against big business and before you judge me as a coffee snob and before you decide that you don’t want to hear the “Starbucks is evil” mantra spewed out by foodies and liberals, just watch the whole movie.

Okay? Thanks.

A big chunk of the meaty center of the movie revolves around a Tulsa coffee shop where Ferraris found her perfect cappuccino. It’s called Doubleshot and they were served legal docs from Starbucks to discontinue use of the name Doubleshot to avoid confusion with Starbucks’ canned Doubleshot beverage. In the process of exploring this big vs small coffee issue Ferraris falls in love with this indie coffee shop. “They’re my kind of people,” she proclaims.

Touching for sure, and a happy ending. The owner of Doubleshot never caves-in to Starbucks even after they offer to pay for the name change and such. He kind of wins, unless, of course, he starts canning his own espresso and cream beverage.

Some people are going to hate Starbucks after seeing this (I don’t). Some people are going to hate arrogant baristas who make fun of you for adding cream and sugar after this (I don’t). Some people may actually attempt to appreciate coffee a little more (I didn’t, past that phase). Some people just like watching food movies that draw parallels to life (I do).

Regardless, this movie makes you think about life in America. Pair this with Jiro Dreams of Sushi and it will enhance your life because you’ll see things that other cultures hold in high regard, and even though their countries are screwed up, it may be worth adopting some things from them.

For me, this movie really forced me to reflect on the nature of hobbies and interests.

We all got our things right? We like a certain sport or a certain food item or the theatre or whatever. We like to talk about them, explore them deeper, and heighten the sensory experience in general. But in this process we close certain people out, we turn them off, we discourage them from participating because we are making it too damn expensive and complicated. The expensive/complicated double whammy is a recipe for shrinkage. The elitists an traditionalists end up screwing it up.

That’s what’s happening to golf. It stands at the forefront of expensive/complicated and the traditionalists who run the sport aren’t doing anything about it. It’s also got the problem of being quiet and clubby with a stupid dress code and a suffocating time frame. Wow, that’s a lot of issues. The traditionalists are window dressing with things like eliminating belly putters and letting women into previously exclusive courses, those actions are meaningless. We need big changes.

If the coffee nerds aren’t careful, the same thing will happen to their precious little indie coffee shop. Every time an angry barista makes a snide remark about nonfat milk and every time a shop doesn’t offer low-priced, sugary drinks for the masses, they’re sending people to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Sacrificing inclusion for preserving tradition is a slippery slope and golf may be too far down the slope to make it back up.

That’s sad. I love golf. I also love black coffee served in an indie coffee shop with a friends around to converse with. I don’t want what’s happening to the former to happen to the latter. Feel me?

The model is surfing and surf culture, mostly from an inclusion and accessibility standpoint. I need to explore this further, but for now, just let me relate a story. My wife and I were in Hawaii a few months ago and one of the coolest things we did was go to Honolua Bay to watch surfers. The bay was packed with surfers and lined with surf people just watching surfers. It was a little intimidating. I felt like an outsider.

Anyway, to get a better view, we shimmied down the rocks so we could get right next to the action. We were followed closely by a surfer guy with his board under his arm. In my mind I’m thinking, this guy wants nothing more than for us to get the %#@k out of his way. I picked up the pace but Gail hung back a little and actually started talking with guy. And talking… And talking…

Eventually, Gail rejoins me and she is fired up. She had a nice conversation with the guy. He told her about the bay and the surf season and they discussed how beautiful it was… At some point she remarked to him about how crowded it was out there and how frustrating it must be with all these people crammed in to the bay. He replied (and this stuck with Gail) with something like this, “Oh, it’s fine, it’s a gentlemen’s sport if nothing else.”

That really struck me. Can you imagine an innocent spectator negotiating the terrain on the 18th hole of a beautiful golf course in a non-competitive situation to get a better vantage point to watch and photograph people performing their sport at a leisure level? No, of course not. Someone would call security to have your forcibly removed from the course. You’d be met with glares from players who are offended by how intrusive you’re being to their quiet round of golf.

You wouldn’t be welcomed in with open arms like Gail was by her surfer buddy. You wouldn’t be cherished as an interested spectator who would eventually tell others how cool this sport was and how nice the participants are. You’d be reviled and villified.

That’s where we are in golf (ask John Huggan, who speaks about a “wider malaise within the game”). Let’s not get there in coffee. So listen barista person, if someone with an iced, decaf, no-foam, nonfat latte with two extra shots of vanilla syrup wants to sit at the bar and watch you make a Chemex coffee, be sure to smile and ask them how their day is going.

Finally, thank you Gail for adding this to our instant queue and doing the family’s movie research. You are the top wife in the land.