With the swearing in of Obama as President and an overwhelmingly Democrat Congress, we can look forward to an accelerated dash to green living.  As the great comedian Jimmy Durante famously said, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

Companies that make everything from diapers to cars won’t be able to crank out Green stuff fast enough, giving consumers yet another thing to consider besides price, ingredients, reliability, durability and do-we-have-a-coupon-for-it.  Now, more than ever, consumers will be asked to decide between a product that can save the planet or one that will do it harm and possibly tilt it off its axis.

There is no escaping Green.  I dropped into a little place in Pittsboro, North Carolina last week for breakfast and a cup of coffee.  But it wasn’t just coffee.  It was “relevant” coffee.  At least that’s what the sign above the self-service coffee dispenser told me.  Relevant coffee!  Imagine!  And, as if relevance wasn’t enough, the sign also said that the coffee was “important,” “socially aware” and “part of the global solution.”

Wow!  I was humbled to be in the presence of such a life-changing brew and felt a sudden wave of shame for having enjoyed the coffee at my usual Durham hangouts like Panera and The Bean Trader, whose coffees make no such socially important claims.

As I poured a cup I wondered whether I’d be able to taste the relevance.   Unfortunately, I’m burdened with primitive taste buds, which I discovered when I  embarrassed myself trying to distinguish between a 1999 Drouhin Montrachet Marquis Laguiche chardonnay and the house wine at Elmo’s, a popular local diner in my area.

I couldn’t taste the Laguiche’s vibrant structure and finesse, let alone its harmony and balance.  I also had trouble locating its endless finish, up to the moment we finished the bottle.  All those Laguiche characteristics totally eluded my palate even as its price flattened my wallet.  In contrast, I was very happy with a couple of slugs of Elmo’s best and even had money left over for a movie.

What chance, then, did my mouth have in a gustatory search for relevance!?   As it is, my tongue can’t identify basic coffee properties like mouth feel, depth of sensation, roundly acidic touch or flawless clarity.   My typical evaluations were limited to banal pedestrianisms like “Hey, great coffee” or “This crap tastes like lawn waste.”

And so it was that I approached my first sip of this relevant coffee with a reverence I had never felt for a beverage before, even the Laguiche.  After all, the Laguiche just had finesse, like Fred Astaire.  This coffee was relevant, like a Nobel Prize or George Clooney.   Relevance implied that with each sip I could personally reduce CO2 emissions, feed the hungry, reduce poverty in third world countries and  maybe even eliminate gridlock.

I knew enough about gourmandry not to gulp and swallow like a Philistine so I swirled the brew around in my mouth, searching for the relevance.  No luck!   I then concentrated on trying to identify the coffee’s features that were important or socially aware.   Strike two!   All I managed was a,  “Hmmm, yum yum.”

On my second cup I concentrated on trying to determine which flavor characteristic was “part of the global solution.”  I realized too late that the effort was doomed because I had no idea what the problem was — the globe has many.

I spoke to the establishment’s owner and asked if my coffee tasting troubles might have something to do with my breakfast of eggs, home fries and a side of sausage, which was really faux sausage, part of the solution to a diner’s cholesterol problem.  I thought that the food — delicious by the way — interfered with my appreciation of the coffee’s relevance.

The owner patiently explained that food was not the problem.   Customers who ate jalapeno omelets with tabasco could taste the relevance.  It was a matter of conscience.  Only those people who were truly concerned about the workers who grew and harvested the coffee bean could taste the relevance.   Were the workers being paid fairly?   Were they free from oppression or discrimination?  Did they have adequate housing or health benefits?  Could they easily get to a Pilates class?

Relevance was also a by-product of the bean’s place of birth, she told me.  Relevant coffee can only come from beans grown in areas untouched by man – except for the guys who planted them in the first place.  So, beans grown in a deforested part of the world have no relevance.  It’s just a cuppa Joe and could be intrinsically evil to boot.  Finally, the beans that made a coffee relevant had to be properly roasted in a socially acceptable way, meaning that no bean could be hurt in the making of this coffee.

I was astounded.  “You can taste all that in a coffee?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” the owner  replied.  “And a lot more.  You can also taste global warming and Bush’s failure to deal with Katrina.  Some people can even taste hints of the Indonesian tsusami.”

I paid my check and left, overwhelmed by the experience, or rather, the absence of one.  After coming so close to relevant coffee, how could I go back to coffee that was just plain good or terrific?

Easy!  The next day I dropped in at Panera for a coffee and bear claw.   Even though the coffee was irrelevant, it was excellent.    I didn’t have the heart to tell the staff that they weren’t serving socially aware coffee, but they didn’t seem to mind.  They were just happy to see me enjoying mine.

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