One day this week, my music theory students asked if we could have class at an on-campus cafe. Wanting coffee myself, I agreed, and we took our impromptu walk on the first mild afternoon of the semester. Our octet convened around three tables, and we ordered drinks ranging from an earl grey latte to an iced coffee concoction combining caramel with cookies and cream. I asked for one of the February monthly specials: a raspberry white chocolate mocha. In the seconds of my first sip, I heard my inner voice speak the phrase, “pink poodle.” As my cup returned to the table, my mind relived the halcyon epoch when I first settled into the ethos of a local independent coffee shop.
Pink Poodle was the name for the raspberry white chocolate mocha at Fido, one of the locations for Nashville, Tennessee’s Bongo Java Roasting Company. In four years, I did not regularly walk the five blocks from Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music to the coffee shop named for the mid-20th-century pet shop sign that a neighborhood association saved from a 1990s city ordinance. Once, I celebrated the birthday of a friend with some people from his hometown. Once, I met with a classmate to work on a presentation about set theory in a movement of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Our professor stopped by for a few moments to assess our progress. Once, I had an iced Pink Poodle, and a few times, I arranged to be there on the day they brewed Mudd, my favorite of their blends: French roast crossed with Sumatra.
Since Fido, I have found a favorite coffee shop in every city I have inhabited for at least a week. While studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, my theater class regularly gathered at Faborit to discuss the plays we attended. In the summer I worked at Eastern Music Festival, I was overcome by my only visit to a coffee shop in Greensboro, North Carolina: I gawked at Tate Street Coffee House‘s decor of metal coffee pots, LED rope lights, and jazz posters, and I got a mesmerizing espresso drink called Black and Tan. During the ten days of the Music08 Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, I relaxed two or three times in Rohs Street Cafe‘s aura of walls lined with books and lit by sky. I had not paid attention to local roasters until I stumbled upon the opening weekend of Roast Coffee & Tea in Patchogue, New York. I returned there many times to work on lectures and compositions and to bond with poets and songwriters. In my first year in Brooklyn, New York, I was charmed by the culinary austerity of Gorilla Coffee that helped me focus while applying for jobs and writing my dissertation. After visiting Postmark Cafe, however, I cherished my treks to their source Crop to Cup, where I first tasted a pour over and sat studying the history and techniques of musical theater. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I have had the honor of being taught how to best use my French press by a regionally award-winning (and nationally competing) barista from Square One Coffee. Plus, I often see fellow artists when I write music or grade theory assignments there.
Also once at Fido, my mentor and I met to have one of our profound conversations about music and being. Upon graduating, I gave him a Fido gift card so that he could do likewise with a future student. Since then, drinking handcrafted coffee in communal environments has mostly been a supplement to apartment living and working from my laptop. Now, I have the greater privilege of sharing tables with my students, who tend to favor the atmosphere of coffee shops as much as I do.