chapter  8
11 Pages

Layers or Versions? Human Bodies and the Love of Bitterness

ByAnnemarie Mol

Here’s a way to boost the working day. Coffee. If you like it this way, hot milk may be added. The slightly sweet, fatty, protein-richness of the milk contrasts nicely with the tinge of bitterness of the coffee. Adding milk makes the drink more soothing. In ever more coffee places ever more steaming cups of cafe latte are passed over ever more counters.1 These places have become, for their customers at least, quiet havens in busy, bustling townscapes. Places where you can go and feel cared for – even if it costs a lot of money. Places that make you feel at home, even if part of the fun is that they are not home: as a customer you do not have to do the care work. Someone else prepares your coffee for you. A barista deals with the machines and the ingredients, takes a cup of the right size from a pile, fills it with the concoction that you asked for. But feel free to add your own cinnamon or chocolate powder. (Sugar? Did you say sugar? But that countermands the coffee’s lovely bitterness.) I would like to think that I have been doing field work for the present text in all the coffee places I have

been into over the last couple of years. As I travelled to big cities, small towns and university campuses I was grateful to find these places to take refuge in. In airports and railway stations they eased my waiting time. It must have seemed as if I was taking a break each time I sat down with a cappuccino or a cafe latte. But everything may be turned into field work. Even sitting behind a scrubbed wooden table on the first floor of Green’s in Oxford; on the terrace of a trendy corner-café in Copenhagen; or in a small outfit with large windows in Paris where they don’t dream of using (quasi) Italian names, but serve a fine grand crème. And then there is the new touristy place in Amsterdam, seductively situated right across the street from my office. A variety of researchers have published interesting studies about such places and the goings on there. They have explored the character of the sociability and the possibilities for social distinction that coffee places provide. They have attended to the work of the baristas and their frustrations with it.2 They have noted and analysed the ways in which customers self caringly (self-deceivingly, indulgently) negotiate their ‘calorie intake’.3