Image by Mitch Goldstein and Anne Jordan from walking.designcrit.com

The Best Cup of Coffee in the World

I hate flying. I remember a time when flying was something magical, on the level of being an astronaut, jetting your way to a new place. It was an adventure, but with comfort and even a touch of magic. Sure, flying coach has really never been what I would call luxurious by any means, but it was the kind of thing you did not do that often, and you enjoyed it when you did. Looking down on the earth from 30,000 feet is nearly akin to strapping on a Titan rocket and heading off to the moon. Security was no big deal, and you got better food when you took a long flight.

These days, flying is a special kind of hell. The TSA security measures, nearly Orwellian to start with, are now becoming Federally mandated molestation. Flights are later than ever, less comfortable than they were in the past, and everything from getting to the airport to something as simple as changing a flight is ever more a headache. Flying is no longer a thing of wonder, it is a thing of annoyance and discomfort.

Flying does have one thing going for it, however: the coffee. The best coffee in the world is to be found on an airplane in mid-flight. It is not the quality of the beans, (which is usually cheap and generic); it is not the brewing process in a high-altitude pressurized environment (if anything this makes the coffee more bitter and less flavorful); it is not what kind of conveyance the coffee is served in (I never fly first class so my coffee is in a paper cup at best.)

What makes the coffee so fantastically great in midair is the normalcy of it, the simple accessibility of the cup of hot yummy liquid. I have a wonderfully comfortable, wholly intimate conversation with that cup of coffee. It calms me. It makes me feel safe and secure as I sit in my too-narrow seat. I have a synesthetic reaction to that cup of coffee on my tray table as it brings me to a place of routine and control. It helps me to put a cozy bit of calm inside of the turbulence of flying.

That little piece of normalcy in an otherwise wholly abnormal set of circumstances is something I find fascinating about a lot of really interesting design as well. The disconnect between the flying and the coffee makes the coffee that much better by contrasting itself with the context of being in a metal tube traveling hundreds of miles per hour a few miles above the ground. A nugget of clear, comfortable visual or typographic comprehension inside of a complex, chaotic piece of design makes both the comfort and the complexity even more interesting; it elevates them both by their contrasts. In many ways, that cup of coffee is how I “get” a piece of design; it is how I start to relate to it. It allows me a point of entry inside of something I have a hard time understanding.