Latte Literature: News to Me

Laurie Hertzel’s memoir News to Me:  Adventures of an Accidental Journalist affectionately captures life in the Duluth News Tribune newsroom.  Readers are swept up in the noisy and busy newsroom where reporters and copy editors work against deadline in smoke-filled air, “punctuated by the rich smell of percolating coffee.”

In the chapter “Not Making Coffee,” Hertzel’s first job as newsroom clerk included answering phones, writing obituaries, compiling the marine log, and making coffee, a responsibility she cleverly found ways to avoid until “that responsibility just sort of evaporated…”

The room lived on coffee.  The men drank it by the gallon, all day, and into the night, and it was up to me to make sure the big urn in the corner never ran dry.
And then I made coffee…badly.  Undrinkably so.  In a newsroom that’s saying a lot.  

Hertzel’s cheerful account of reporters and copy editors gathered around the coffee urn got coffeesnobology wondering about the origin of coffee breaks.

The first coffee break probably happened around 1000 A. D. when goatherd Kaldi chewed the same red berries that his goats did, but it was most likely an unauthorized coffee break.

Howard Stanger, historian at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. describes the dreary and dangerous late 19-century workplaces where workers had few breaks from the drudgery.  Because of social reform activists, Buffalo N. Y. companies and manufacturing employers in 1901 and 1902 installed in-house lunchrooms, so workers could take brief mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks.

The actual phrase coffee break is credited to a 1952 Pan American Coffee Bureau ad campaign urged consumers to “Give Yourself a Coffee Break—and Get What Coffee Gives to You.”

www.npr.org/programs/mornings/features/patc/coffeebreak/index.html

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5 Responses to “Latte Literature: News to Me”

  1. coffee percolator Says:

    Never knew that about the term coffee break coming from an ad. Very neat.

  2. laurie Says:

    and isn’t it ironic? now I’m the one drinking coffee by the gallon!

  3. laurie Says:

    I do. but fortunately I don’t have to make it for the whole newsroom anymore.

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