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Beans of inspiration

Staff Reports

Ordering coffee has become provocatively descriptive: short, tall, skinny, whole, extra shot, extra hot. But beyond these self-affirming custom drinks and omnipotent caffeine retailers is an entire culture of art, history, and humanity.Coffeehouses were the center of British culture and happenings during the 17th and 18th centuries.Newspapers were formed, gossip was spread, and society evolved through the conversations and information produced in coffeehouses. Named “penny universities,” coffeehouses became a place where anyone could seek knowledge or engage in conversation for the price of a cup of coffee a penny. Today, the Vail Valley has two establishments that evoke the original coffeehouse culture by displaying and selling art in their spaces. Harry’s Bump and Grind in Minturn and Loaded Joe’s in Avon both foster artists, community, and, of course, coffee.ArtGiven that coffee stimulates the brain, it is no surprise that artists of all types seek out coffeehouses to think, write, and display their art. Kent Beidel, owner of Loaded Joe’s, supports local artists with his gallery approach to decorating his shop. Hosting about three artists every two months, Beidel uses the walls of Loaded Joe’s to display a variety of local artwork.Harry Gray, owner of Harry’s Bump and Grind, also looks exclusively to the local community when shelving the Bump and Grind’s art gallery. His featured artists are friends or, at least, friends of friends. Both Beidel and Gray also provide a venue for music artists. Local guitarists play on Saturday mornings at the Bump and Grind, while Loaded Joe’s hosts live performances nightly.KNOWLEDGEIn British coffeehouses, knowledge in the form of alternative newspapers and political pamphlets was free with the purchase of a cup of coffee. In France, coffeehouses became so well-known as centers of radical and revolutionary thought that the French government posted armed spies in them.Today, coffeehouses are again centers for knowledge. The Bump and Grind is a gathering place for local meetings of clubs and organizations, not to mention groups of friends. Loaded Joe’s also provides information in the form of free wireless Internet with the purchase of a coffee (now costing more than a penny) allowing customers to again read the news free of charge. Beidel admits to being amazed and somewhat appalled that his business was the first in the area to offer free WiFi, believing that, “to be a successful business, you don’t have to make people feel like they have to buy the atmosphere.”DAVID and GOLIATHThe independent coffeehouse is defined today as much by what it is not: Starbucks. As tempting as it is to pit the chain giant against places like Loaded Joe’s and the Bump and Grind, both venues serve their own purposes. In fact, Beidel says that having Starbucks educate America about coffee and latte enabled him to start his own coffeehouse. He also asserts that Starbucks has given him the opportunity to do coffee better more artisan, better quality, and higher expectations.Loaded Joe’s can also do something Starbucks does not: serve alcoholic beverages. The added libation gives Joe’s a nightlife to compliment the morning rush.In creating the Bump and Grind, Gray wanted a place where locals could grab a coffee, a breakfast burrito, throw some money on the counter, and leave. He wanted a place where his children could work (and they do), and where non-locals traveling through could experience a mom-and-pop place. “It’s a sad commentary on our culture that we have so many chains,” Gray says, “you cheat yourself out of an experience when you go to one.”Gray shares this sentiment with an anti-corporation website, delocator.net. A resource for local, independent coffeehouses, delocator.net believes that the Starbucks experience that of standardized, identical cafs is detrimental to the historical significance and culture of the coffeehouse. By keying in your zip code, the delocator will list the independent cafs and Starbucks in that area side by side. It also allows visitors to add their own favorite haunts.Cream and sugar, regular or decaf one simple cup filled with options. Art and conversation, corporate or independent now coffee drinkers can customize their ambiance along with their ltte. VTUrsula Gross can be reached for comment at ursulagross@yahoo.com


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