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Exploring North America’s Coffee Cultures

Coffee has come a long way since it landed on American soil in the 17th century. Over the centuries, coffee in America has surpassed tea in popularity, accompanied travelers into the western frontier, and spawned entire subcultures across the continent. It's undeniable that coffee has become a cultural touchpoint in our society and has even played a role in shaping how our cities look today. From bodegas to specialty shops, here are some of the diverse coffee scenes in North America.
Woman reading at cafe near Grand Central Station, New York
Café Culture in NYC
Everything can change in a New York minute – or at least that's what it feels like for coffee in the Big Apple. From 2017 to 2020 alone, an average of five coffee operations opened in New York City each week. This constant influx of coffee shops in NYC means there's always a new cup to try in the five boroughs, and it's not necessarily the classic bodega drip New Yorkers are familiar with.

Bodegas, or corner shops that double as food counters and neighborhood grocers, are known to sell cheap drip coffee to morning commuters. But the New York coffee scene is changing while simultaneously holding on to the tried and true classics. Nowadays, New York coffee consists of specialty coffee shops using beans from local roasters, fashion labels opening their own on-brand cafés, and small-scale window-shops that redefine the term coffee on-the-go.

It's difficult to think about New York City's culture and not mention the Italian-American community. As one of the several immigrant groups who helped shape the city's identity, Italians did more than just bring over the pizza slice.

In 1911, Barbetta on West 46th St was the first establishment to install an espresso machine in New York City, introducing city dwellers to the authentic Italian coffee experience. This was followed by Caffè Reggio in 1927, as well as other popular establishments like the Peacock Caffè in Greenwich Village and the Coffee Mill in Midtown. An espresso machine is now a standard appliance in restaurants, cafés, and specialty coffee shops in New York City, fueling the lattes and foamy cappuccinos of every New Yorker looking for a caffeinated start to their day.
Land of the Colada: Café Culture in Miami
Miami is the vibrant epicenter of Cuban culture in the United States, and to truly understand Miami coffee, you’ll need to dive headfirst into the Cuban American community. Located just 227 miles from Havana, the seaside city is home to nearly 700,000 Cuban Americans as of 2019 –- many of whom brought their food, music, and rich coffee traditions along with them.

Coffee's place in Cuban culture dates back to the 18th century when the crop was first introduced to the island. However, coffee production didn't initially take off in Cuba until French colonists arrived from nearby Haiti, most fleeing uprisings after Haiti's abolition of slavery. French interest in growing Cuba's coffee industry led to a subsequent boom in production and, of course, consumption of coffee beans. This foreign influence, combined with the introduction of espresso from Italian migrants, ultimately formed Cuba's modern-day coffee culture.

Unlike the major chains that dominate American cities, grabbing a coffee in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood involves visiting a ventanita, or window-shop. Business owners typically serve traditional Cuban coffees and pastries, such as guava and cheese-filled pastelitos, to regulars needing a midday cafecito break.

Cuban coffee is intensely strong and sweet all at once. Usually made with a stovetop Moka, the thick espresso is transformed with sugar to make different concoctions. The traditional Cafecito, or Cubano depending on who you ask, is a small shot of coffee topped with a sweetened foam. Once the first few drops of coffee leave the Moka's spout, they are quickly poured over sugar and vigorously stirred to create a bittersweet cream. The remaining brewed coffee is then poured into espresso cups before getting a dollop of the creamy espumita to top it off.

Other popular coffee options are the sweet Colada, a shareable batch of Cafecito, or the creamy Cortadito – strong Cuban coffee topped with an equal portion of steamed milk.
Two men ordering at an outdoor cafe in Little Havana, Miami
Revisiting Coffee In The Workplace: Silicon Valley
It's no secret that the tech industry has revolutionized how we live our lives, but has it also changed how we drink coffee? This aspect of everyday life might seem unrelated to tech's cultural influence – that is, until you observe coffee's role in the workplace.

Paying a visit to some of tech's most prominent companies in Silicon Valley can feel like stepping into an all-inclusive destination. Even smaller start-ups are filling their office spaces with various amenities for employees, such as multiple food options, snack counters, an endless selection of beverages, and, in some cases, in-house baristas. The once separate café has now merged with the workplace, making coffee available around the clock or even on-tap. The same scenario can be observed in the recent trend of communal workspaces, with coffee counters being one of the many perks included when purchasing a membership.

However, work culture has undergone another radical change in recent years. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many tech industry jobs have been remote, therefore allowing engineers or freelancers to work from anywhere where there's Internet service. This newfound flexibility has shined a spotlight on café culture in Silicon Valley.

The coffee shop, initially created as a place for gathering and exchanging ideas, is now partially an extension of someone's office. Wifi connectivity, electrical outlets, and noise levels are all factors that a modern consumer considers. It's now commonplace to spot remote workers taking business calls, coding, or compiling their upcoming work presentation in cafés around the San Francisco Bay Area, whether it be a traditional mom-and-pop shop or one of the major chains. In many ways, this cultural shift seen within café culture in Silicon Valley has now reverberated worldwide, especially as remote work becomes a new norm.
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Coffee Town, USA: Café Culture In Seattle
At first, Seattle might seem like the unlikely birthplace for a coffee empire, but understanding how café culture flourished in this city requires diving into its counterculture.

Seattle's notoriously cloudy weather makes a warm cup of coffee increasingly appetizing, but it was actually the city's people that gave it its caffeinated reputation. In the 1960s and '70s, the Emerald City attracted bohemians from around the country, many of whom would gather with other members of the counterculture movement to exchange ideas. This desire to congregate led to a boom in Seattle coffee shops, which eventually became closely associated with the bohemian community's political ideologies.

When we think about Seattle's coffee scene, it's nearly impossible not to reference Starbucks. After all, the global giant is credited with bringing coffee to the masses with creative spins on drink recipes and café food. But was this coffee revolution a product of Starbucks' success? Or is Starbucks, in fact, a product of Seattle?

Some would argue that the companies' founders were part of the Seattle-based movement that emphasized coffee origins and bean variety in their business model. Therefore, maybe it's Seattle's tendency to stray away from the norm that ultimately paved the way for coffee's commercial success.

Regardless, Seattlites take immense pride in their coffee-loving city. You'll commonly find locals supporting local shops, with there currently being about 843 shops per capita in the rainy city. Visitors and locals alike can also enjoy beans from Seattle coffee roasters, specialty shops, and coffee-serving spots that preserve traces of the city's punk-rock and bohemian roots. In other words, discovering Seattle’s best coffee requires sampling plenty of great options.
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Coffee Up North: Bonjour from Montréal
Like the United States, Canada didn't come into contact with the coffee plant until the arrival of European colonists in the 17th century. But times have changed, and although Canada doesn't grow any coffee of its own, it consumes a high quantity of it on a daily basis. In fact, Canada consistently ranks within the top ten list of countries for coffee consumption per capita, meaning Canadians take their morning cup very seriously.

Besides its big love for coffee, Canada also happens to be a very big country with various coffee scenes and immigrant communities who contribute to them. The city of Montréal, however, stands out for its combination of European flair, bustling student population, and diverse coffee options to choose from.

Located in the bilingual French-speaking province of Quebec, Montréal is home to some of Canada's finest museums, music festivals, restaurants, and nightlife. Winters here are also notoriously dark and cold, causing locals to spend more time indoors with a warm cup of coffee by their side. Exploring Montréal coffee includes third-wave shops that source ethical beans, visiting classic espresso bars in Little Italy, savoring Turkish coffees, and sampling the local favorite – the allongé.

Similar to an Americano, an allongé uses a longer extracted espresso shot to minimize the quantity of hot water in the beverage. Lingering around long enough in Montréal coffee shops that serve alcohol can lead to another beloved tradition known as cinq à sept – or as we like to call it, Happy Hour.
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