Friday, March 16, 2007

Coffee Talk

Dedicated to the memory of Melvin Pims, a WW II veteran with a purple heart, who passed away February 16 at 85.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, please send an email.

Starbucks is going out of business.

Okay, maybe that’s a slight hyperbole. But what I saw in California this week made me wonder.

But before I tell you the coffee story, I will preface with someone I met in Berkeley who clarified something for me.

You see, the Talmud says that doctors have a particularly difficult time in the World of Truth when they come face-to-face with their karma. The universal human problem is the ego, and saving someone’s life can build your ego, especially if you’re good at it.

This always bothered me – why can’t someone be a doctor and remain humble?

A neurosurgeon I met in Berkeley cleared this up for me. “If I were operating on your brain,” he explained, “would you want me to be thinking, ‘Hmm, I wonder if I can do this’?”

I hear his point, but I’m reminded of Jewish woman who needed a very complicated operation. She told her family that she wanted them to hire the top surgeon in the field, which they did. Before the operation, she asked to speak privately with the doctor.

"Doctor," she said, "I hope that all will go well, but if by any chance it doesn't, please don't take it to heart or feel guilty. Everything is from God."

The doctor was very impressed by her faith and concern for his own feelings. He thanked her sincerely and started to walk away.

"Doctor," the woman called. "Could you come back for a minute, please? I want to tell you one more thing."

He returned to her side, and she said, "I just wanted to add that if the operation is a success and I recover, that, too, is from God."

+ + + +

Now the coffee story.

Even if you don’t keep kosher, try to imagine the world from the perspective of someone who does. Think about what it’s like to be constantly aware of what you’re eating and where it came from. Constantly checking labels. Every outing has to have a food plan.

When Starbucks first appeared on the national scene, kosher eaters rejoiced – a national chain of decent coffee started by a Jewish guy in Seattle where the coffee is kosher! Well, the unflavored coffee, that is. As long as it’s in a to-go cup. And don’t bother salivating over those black forest brownies or pecan pies, they’re not supervised.

To tell you the truth, ever since I started watching the carb intake, I didn’t mind at all that those desserts were verbotten to me. One less challenge.

Do you suppose that we kosher eaters long for a world where everything is permitted? Isn’t it an unbearable burden to be so selective in our eating?

Yes and no.

There is a part of me that is jealous of those who can eat anywhere, any time. Any restaurant. Any concession stand. Any gourmet cheese. Any bottle of wine.

There is another part of me that thinks that refinement is good for me, and limits on indulgence are helping me get there. The relative scarcity of kosher food makes it easier to nurture this side of me.

But this whole philosophy has changed due to my California trip week.

What I discovered in L.A. is that some audacious Jew decided that he could do what Starbucks does and make it both better and kosher. His chain is called The Coffee Bean . It feels somewhat like a Starbucks inside, although I noticed that the counter where you pick up your coffee is at a normal height so you don’t feel like you’re in a bank. And the coffee was quite good, better than I expected. And free wifi if you buy a drink. And every cake and cookie in the store is kosher.

All of a sudden, all that talk of refinement and indulgence seems passé. Pass the biscotti!

So, put yourself in my shoes: Should I hope or fear that The Coffee Bean go national?

And whom should I thank (or blame)?

Shabbat Shalom.

My upcoming speaking schedule:
April 15-16 - New York & New Jersey
April 20-21 – Shabbat in Los Angeles with Rebbetzin Jungreis
May 4-5 – Shabbat in San Francisco
(For details, send an email.)

How to order coffee in Yiddish:

I'd like a coffee, please. Ikh volt veln a kave, zayt azoy gut.
...a coffee with cream. ...kave mit shmant.
...a coffee with milk. ...kave mit milkh.
...a coffee with sugar. ...kave mit tsuker.

Yiddish review
anee — poor person
koptsen — panhandler
ballaboss — homeowner; layman
nu — various meanings (see archives)
mishpocha — family
mameh — mother
tateh — father
mazal – (MAH-z’l) luck or fortune, as in, “It was good mazal that....”
beshert – (b’shairt) - meant to be, as in “It was beshert that...”
mine eltern – my parents
mine lair-er – my teacher
hamantashen – Haman-pockets
zeigezunt – all the best (said upon parting)
kesher - connection


Batya said...

the Coffee Bean in Jerusalem is nice; I didn't know its history.

and there are so many kosher restaurants here
Though, yes, one still must check the hechshar.

Avromi said...

Look here at Daf Notes for bishul akum in regards to coffee