Of Greek Keys and Coffee Geeks


The news that the designer of New York's famous Greek-key coffee cup, Leslie Buck, has died brought with it, for me, the embarrassing realization that I have never--until today--drunk coffee from such a cup. Embarrassing, I guess, because one who has not drunk cart coffee is something less than a true New Yorker. A true New Yorker drinks his coffee fast and without fuss; he cares about the function, not the form.

The very temples of coffee I waxed about in a previous post--Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Cafe Grumpy, among others--though fast becoming New York fixtures, embody an attitude towards coffee which is utterly un-New York. They treat coffee with a reverence, a fetishism, that is so Pacific Northwestern, it is positively Eastern: spending five, or ten, or twenty minutes watching and waiting for a cup of pour-over coffee at Blue Bottle, one cannot help thinking of the tea ceremony, in all its imponderable interminability. Indeed, Blue Bottle's slow-drip devices for making iced coffee are Japanese-made, and to order the resultant brew one asks for the "Kyoto."

That the end product of this finickiness is utterly delicious, and even well worth four dollars, is not something I would dispute. But rather, there is a point to be made about the aestheticization of everything, and whether it makes us any happier. There is a cheerfulness and simplicity to the Anthora, as the cup is known, and its contents (I finally went and had a cup this afternoon), that speaks of a more vital time in New York, when all was bustle, no one did yoga, and a cup of coffee was a cup of coffee.

If Starbucks, a culprit in the cup's waning sales, wants to do something nice for once, here is my suggestion: that, for a week (starting asap), it serve all its coffee in all its New York stores in Anthora cups, one size, take it or leave it. The Times obituary writer, Margalit Fox, noted that the cup's contents "can be downed in a New York minute," which I believe means the size would correspond, in Howard Schultzese, to a "short."

Let us raise a cup to Leslie Buck.