Coffee fueled American Independence. The Founding Fathers planned the Revolution in coffee houses. After the Boston Tea Party, drinking coffee became a sign of patriotism. Blue State Coffee carries on this tradition: we were founded on ideals, not just for profit.
Coffee grinders hum over soft jazz music and the low chatter of Blue State Coffee’s early morning patrons, greeting the day with caffeine and good company. The sun has barely risen and Thayer Street is stirring. My eyes close as I sip from a steaming hot cup of Blue State’s signature Liberty roast – a refreshing blend with smooth, nutty undertones – letting my Seattle taste buds appreciate the microroastary taste and ambience. This vibrant café is sprinkled with red-white-and-blue reminders of their American theme, as well as tributes to the South American communities where Blue State’s coffee beans are grown and processed. The United States is a country founded on these international connections – including immigration, trade, and colonialism. Some stories are inspiring, yet many horrifically tragic. Blue State rejects the latter pattern by consciously cultivating a space that honors the countries and communities from where their products come – defining its core American values in a positive, participatory light. This is a space where I become actively conscious of my role as a citizen in this country, emphasized in three specific areas: the café’s contribution to the hands-on, environmentally-conscious third-wave coffee culture, dedication to local non-profits, and emphasis on global citizenship. As always in this café, I find my morning imbued with flavor, energy, and a distinct sense of patriotism.
To begin, Blue State Coffee is a New England brand that is part of the third-wave coffee movement, which brings to mind the American value of self-made identity and opportunity. This third-wave movement treats coffee as a high-quality, artisanal, and culinary product with a focus on origin and sustainability. The first wave came in the 1960s when coffee became widely accessible; the second arrived when large corporations like Starbucks began mass-producing coffee as a profitable commodity . Today, Blue State’s brand and culture define American-ness as valuing origin, prioritizing community, and giving back: their patriotism is a catalyst for positive change, fueled by carefully-crafted caffeinated beverages. Coffee culture expands beyond the confines of a warm mug: “Consuming coffee can affirm identity, express values, or affirm social ties…It [can] unite actions, belief, and special knowledge. Coffee has become popular as a local and global beverage in part because people see coffee as ‘our own’”. As I was born in our nation’s coffee capital, this product and the intellectual, collaborative, cozy associations I have with it follow me wherever I go – constantly bringing me back home to Seattle. Coffee is a key symbolic embodiment of American cuisine, from shaping individual identities to planning a revolution – as Blue State’s sign proudly states above. From tasting locally-sourced pastries to sipping on artistically-designed drinks, I am repeatedly reminded of my role as a consumer of small business products, and the “do it yourself” mindset that was crucial to this country’s construction.
Second, Blue State cultivates a socially-aware community within its walls and beyond, its décor reminding me that they “were founded on ideals, not just for profit”; immediately I remember and reflect upon those American ideals that define this coffee shop, wondering how I myself manifest them. Opportunity, inspiration, drive, justice, outreach, liberty. Almond croissant and coffee in hand, I thank the cheerful beanie-clad barista, collect a smooth wooden tile bearing Blue State’s American flag logo, and cross to the other side of the café to add milk and sugar to my coffee. Above the creamers stand four clear columns, each bearing the name and description of a local non-profit organization, and containing varying amounts of the wooden tiles. Each Blue State location selects new ones (by customer suggestion) every 6 months, according to one barista, and 2% of their sales go to those organizations. This season’s causes are Resources for Human Development Rhode Island, Youth Pride Rhode Island, Refugee Dream Center, and Center for Women and Enterprise. As I always do when a featured organization has an LGBTQ+ focus, I drop my tile in Youth Pride Rhode Island’s column and think of Joanie, my good friend’s mother who passed away two years ago from breast cancer. Though the gesture is miniscule, placing my tile in support of her most passionate cause has become a regular tribute to Joanie’s caring, fiery spirit.
In this way, Blue State consistently makes my coffee-shop experience one of nostalgia and reflection, and reminds me of my role as a local citizen. By uniting their cappuccinos with care, and their lattés with love, Blue State fosters awareness of the current social and political climate of Rhode Island. In my case, their dedication to this process redefines my café time as a philanthropic experience, and includes me in a movement larger than myself. An important piece of American citizenship (and the individual influence that accompanies it) is at the city and state level, where issues that touch our communities resonate. As Hasia Diner writes in Hungering for America, “Because food is so tightly woven around childhood, family, and sensuality, it serves as a mnemonic, an agent of memory”. Here, I would expand on Diner’s words to say that in addition to acting as an agent of memory, food is also a catalyst for compassion.
Finally, Blue State’s decor and ambience remind me that I am part of a global ecosystem that made these products in my cup possible. Dedicating revenue to local causes was fundamental to this café’s inception, but being a participant in a worldwide supply chain – as Blue State employees and as Americans – is at the core of their patrotic theme. The American-flag style sign shown above states: “For us, coffee is associated with American values like equality, optimism, and the dignity of every individual.” Through these three themes runs a common thread — responsibility – and the café’s surrounding artwork makes sure customers are aware of how important that factor is to them. Upon beginning my analysis, I had expected images of tropical trees or beans spilling from burlap sacks (that now color most Starbucks interiors) that play an aesthetic role rather than an authentic tribute – perhaps to vaguely remind patrons of sustainability and awareness. Here, however, it is refreshing to look around and see images of Blue State employees actually at the Naranjo and ASPOROAA coffee farms in Costa Rica. They appear to be artifacts of genuine pride in their active role in coffee’s global supply chain, rather than using the coffee farm vibe for aesthetic appeal. Each time I’m here and see those images on the walls, I think back to a service trip I took to Costa Rica in 2011, in which eleven other students and I stayed at Rancho Mastatal outside San Juan. Those two weeks were my first experience learning about the coffee bean’s global journey to American cafés, and miniscule as that memory is, it is re-ignited each time I set foot in Blue State – reminding me of my gratitude, experiences, and American privilege. By telling real stories that patrons can observe while sipping their Costa Rican coffee blend, Blue State encourages us to notice our place in the coffee supply chain, and pay tribute to others who are geographically far, but symbolically right here with us.
Blue State Coffee’s emphasis on responsibility shines through each facet of its space – from reminders to recycle their sustainable products, to a message board on which locals can advertise, to their commitment “to serve world-class coffee, and to treat employees as members of the Blue State Coffee family”. In his book Food: The Key Concepts, Warren Belasco describes a food system triangle that unites identity, convenience, and responsibility as the key factors in our global foodway, and writes, “Responsibility entails being aware of the consequences of one’s actions … being aware of one’s place in the food chain – of the enormous impact we have on nature, animals, other people, and the distribution of power and resources all over the globe”. America is a country whose impact on the globe is immeasurably immense, and Blue State becomes a microcosm of our nation that uses its impact for empowering others. One of its most significant impacts is the way in which this space empowers me, and reminds me of how my individual self and American identity come together, even over a simple cup of morning coffee. This star-spangled café adds ethics to corporate functions, progress to workspaces, and a dash of cinnamon to a hot cup of their True Blue organic coffee blend. Here, I feel invigorated and ready to seize the day as a local and global citizen.
 Julio Guevara, “What Is “Third Wave Coffee”, & How Is It Different to Specialty?” (Perfect Daily Grind, 2017). https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/04/third-wave-coffee-different-specialty/.
 Catherine M. Tucker, Coffee Culture Local Experiences, Global Connections. (Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2017), 7.
 Hasia R. Diner, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 8.
 “Our Story.” Blue State Coffee. https://bluestatecoffee.com/pages/our-story (accessed February 26, 2018).
 Warren James Belasco, Food: The Key Concepts. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012), 9.
Waxman, Lisa. “The Coffee Shop: Social and Physical factors Influencing Place Attachment.” Journal of Interior Design31, no. 3 (2006): 35-53. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1668.2006.tb00530.x.
Image Credit (coffee cup): Cevanon Photgraphy. “Art Blur Cappuccino Close Up,” https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-blur-cappuccino-close-up-3022899/.
Image Credit (sign): Julia Christensen
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