Monday, September 14, 2009


Up here in the 49th state, coffee is king. Alaska wouldn’t be Alaska without it. Its promise of scented satisfaction and stimulation give us a reason to get up out of bed on those cold, dark winter mornings.

In 2005, a national consumer market research firm (The NPD Group) conducted a study of coffee shops per capita in US cities. As you might expect, Seattle, birthplace of Starbucks and Seattle’s Best coffees, ranked right up there. In first place, however, ranking firmly above the national cradle of coffee, was Anchorage, Alaska! Not only do we have coffee shops in our airports, bookstores, grocery stores, and hospitals, we also have them in our high schools, middle schools, and libraries.

Our addiction to coffee is pervasive and starts young. We get toddlers accustomed to the aroma during mommy-toddler playgroups at our local coffeehouses. When my daughter was in elementary school, one 6th grader regularly brought trays of mocha lattes to her friends. Alaskans’ penchant for coffee continues, even into retirement. Retirees at the nearby Chugiak Senior Center have only go 100 feet to get their smoothies and cappuccinos at the Senior Bean coffee shop.

The Senior Bean, like many local coffee purveyors, is a drive-thru espresso stand. These drive-thru espresso stands, also called coffee kiosks, are found on almost every street corner and can be as simple as a small wooden hut or as sophisticated as a converted railroad engine car. No matter what their design, the procedure is the same. You simply drive up, to the sliding window, give your order to the peppy barista, and, presto-bango, you’ve got coffee! All without ever leaving the comfort of your heated SUV.

In Alaska, getting a cup of coffee can be more than just getting a cup of coffee, too. It can be a social experience where you nestle up in a comfy leather chair in front of a roaring fire while reading a book on a snowy day. You can find teachers, book groups, knitting enthusiasts, and SAT cram sessions all meeting up to chew the fat and sip the joe. A permanent morning fixture at Jitters Coffee Shop in Eagle River is a group of good ol’ boys who spend hours talking politics and hunting while drinking sludge cups, Americanos, and gingerbread lattes.

Traveling to the lower 48 (the rest of the continental United States) can be challenging for coffee-accustomed Alaskans. Without drive-thru espresso stands every quarter mile, life becomes stressful and confusing. Sure, we can get drip coffee at any restaurant, but it’s just not the same. There’s no sound of beans grinding nor milk frothing, no endless array of choices of size and syrup. There are no comfy chairs or chocolate-coated biscottis. When visiting my parents in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee, my husband and I made almost daily 60-mile trips to the nearest espresso shop in Pigeon Forge until we discovered the local caffeinated and delightful Dairy Queen Moo-Latte. When we landed back on Alaskan soil, however, we kissed the ground and bolted to the airport Starbucks.


  1. Oh But despite all the commercialism of it all, Coffee, (especially those coffee shops like Jitters as you so nicely have photographed) is so worth it, especially here as I begin to go to work/school in the dark, and find myself coming home in the dark. Brown as it may be, coffee is my sunshine in a cup.

    In some ways, I find myself jealous of those who grew up with no other choice than drip and maybe, if lucky, cream and sugar. I am quickly migrating towards a taste and even need for this most basic form. Yes, my generation has indeed been spoiled with the fine array of choices we have been given for coffee and coffee-inspired drinks, although I shall never be among those who actually have the list memorized AND understand what all those names mean in terms of the creation process for each. I am happily counted among many of the groups you listed, teachers, knitting enthusiasts, cram sessioners and my soul becomes rejuvenated during those precious moments I am able to slow down enough to pop into Jitters or Barnes & Noble for my study sessions.

    You have a point, in all my trips to the lower 48 I have found myself daily lacking in the coffee department unless I happen to be staying with friends or family who share my love for the drink. It is an exercise to explore every location for the perfect, or even Any coffee locale and vacations rarely leave that much free time. I have decided, however, that when I finally move from AK, that will be the first thing I shall do, drop stuff at new place, and search for a Caffeinated Haven of some sort.

    All hail caffeine addicts, admittable and those still in the closet.

  2. I'm originally from Ohio, which I'm happy to report has a lot of coffee shops to choose from. Maybe that's why I feel right at home here! If you ever travel that way try Caribou coffee. It's even great as a drip coffee (drinking it as I type).

  3. I haven't been there yet, but I'll add Ohio to the "safe" list. So far, I know I can comfortably travel to Italy, Seattle, and Ohio...
    (Gotta get me some of that Caribou coffee!)