Catalin Munteanu greeted my husband Curt and me two weeks ago in Café Lauri in Lohja, Finland carrying roses and euro cents for the parking meter. Until that moment, Catalin’s personality had been boxed in words and pictures on screen for us, as ours had been for him. Of course, online posts summarized in a few sentences at a time hardly shed light on a person’s inner being. That task requires an in-person meeting. From the outset, bridging the void between group-focused friendships and face-to-face relationships was a key goal of the fledgling social media site www.enjoyyourcoffee.net, and this meeting between Catalin and us was destined to be the first experiment, made possible because a client of our video company Voices & Visions Productions had sent us to Finland for a corporate video shoot.
About two years ago my friend Spyros Dellaportas in Santa Monica, California started an open group on Facebook called Enjoy Your Coffee. “Ellen, thees ees going to be the beeggest group on Facebook,” he told me in his charming Greek-accented English. I smiled because one has to smile when Spyros is excited. Every morning for decades he goes to Peet’s Coffee on 14th Street and Montana Avenue, reserving an outdoor table that expands with coffee drinkers through the pre-work hours. He brings chocolates for the kids who come by and biscuits for the dogs. People scramble to sit next to him and collect the happy energy that radiates out of his presence. He tells silly jokes that make him giggle, and his reaction makes others laugh more than the punch lines. He finds occasions to bring cakes to celebrate birthdays and otherwise undefined happydays, insisting that every passer-by try a slice of the daily special. He wears bright-colored t-shirts and Hawaiian prints and drives a neon yellow convertible Corvette.
And he doesn’t really understand how to use the Internet. But this Enjoy Your Coffee group, he insisted, would be the beeggest group on Facebook. So when it made Spyros smile, I smiled too.
And then Enjoy Your Coffee began to swell with members despite the lack of a formal plan for social media marketing or even a volunteer assigned to the job. Spyros did no outreach – remember, IT is not his specialty. Instead, he posted daily photos of the coffee group. He also posted photos of beautiful cakes and cappuccinos with artistic designs on top. He posted images of himself with his canine friends or of pretty scenes wherever. He posted lots of photos everyday, and each time he posted something, a notice was pinged to the collection of members. 200 members. 400. 1,000…
Ping! Spyros Dellaportas has posted on Enjoy Your Coffee (photo of himself in bright orange shirt smiling as he drinks his coffee).
Ping! Spyros Dellaportas has posted on Enjoy Your Coffee (photo of himself with the local moms and pre-schoolers).
Ping! Spyros Dellaportas has posted on Enjoy Your Coffee (mother-in-law joke).
I kept thinking: Poor Spyros. People will soon unjoin this group. Who has time for these diversions?
Then: 2,500 members. 3,000. As of this writing: 4,317.
Just as I was beginning to recognize that Spyros was onto something, he approached me again. “Ellen, now we need to create our own coffee social network! It will be the beeggest social network!” I smiled, because Spyros was excited. And when he asked for help in putting it together and assumed I’d be involved, I responded affirmatively. No one who enjoys the company of special people turns down that happy face.
Spyros gathered together a group of friends from the morning coffee klatsch to help him spearhead this initiative. After a few drinks and some truffle-salted fries (since this adventure was intended to be fun, first and foremost) we addressed a cornerstone question: How would we distinguish EnjoyYourCoffee.net from other social networks?
We realized that what we all have in common is shared coffee time together every weekday at Peet’s roughly between 7:00 to 9:00 am (on scattered schedules). Our lives diverge completely the rest of each day in work, ideology, interests, and a host of things that might otherwise be divisive, but in those hours we are one unified coffee group in Santa Monica, California. We were aware, too, that groups like ours meet in West Hollywood, a few miles away. And San Francisco and New Orleans. And in New York, albeit indoors for most of the year. In Europe as well, and Asia and South America. There were people enjoying their coffee around the world, together, everyday, as we did.
Then we thought: What if we could create EnjoyYourCoffee.net as a collection of coffee groups (and unaffiliated individuals) internationally, each of which/whom would be an in-person welcome pad for others when visiting its home territory? In this way, worldwide members could establish friendships everywhere we travel, bonded by enjoyyourcoffee.net and the love of this drink that we all share.
So that was thought. The meeting with Catalin was the first reality.
We met him at his favorite coffee shop in the Finnish town of Lohja, where Catalin currently lives, located about an hour outside Helsinki. It was easy to spot him when we walked in – of course, because he had posted photos of himself online, but also because a coffee mug with a big EnjoyYourCoffee.net logo plastered around its perimeter sat on his table. The logo had been designed by Spyros – that had been one of his bevy of professions – and he took delight in attaching it to coffee mugs, videos, t-shirts, and whatever other objects could comfortably advertise this new social network that made him smile. He was also happy to send the promotional mug and some other materials to supporters everywhere on the planet as committed to this project as Catalin. Next to Catalin’s mug sat a looseleaf notebook (sporting as its cover a super-sized print of the EYC logo) containing a ream of information about this new entity-under-development. Catalin, after all, had been crowned the Finnish Ambassador to EYC.
We drank coffee together and learned about each other. In 2010 Curt and I had produced a documentary entitled Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean about an interfaith coffee cooperative in Uganda, and through the documentary we became very knowledgeable about the crop/commodity/addiction/pleasure. Catalin, a lover of the drink, could qualify as a Jeopardy contestant given all coffee subcategories of questions. He’s read the important volumes about the subject; knows about coffee production and flavors from countries around the world; is aware of the best growing, picking and roasting conditions; and knows about the plethora of ways of serving it. He is as sensitive to its flavors as a top oenologist is to the Wine Enthusiast’s choices. One day he’d like to have a coffee shop of his own, for which he’s already envisioned all the “must have” elements. But for the moment he’s content to drink his coffee at Café Lauri, the sole place in Lohja a coffee connoisseur would dare to bring appreciative guests.
(Interestingly, a woman at the next table overhearing our conversation chimed in her dissatisfaction with coffee in Finland. She had just put in a bid on a home in southern France, where she can drink good coffee, she said. Incidentally: It’s comments like these amongst coffee lovers internationally that spark the formation of regular coffee groups at coffee houses with members who post on coffee social network sites like EnjoyYourCoffee.net.)
Curt and I left our in-person meeting with Catalin carrying a few little gifts he had bought for Spyros (can’t say more until I see Spyros to deliver them – but I know they will bring him joy). Catalin has never met Spyros, and until I called our friend from the table at Café Lauri where we were enjoying our coffee to Spyros’ table at Peet’s in Santa Monica, the two men had never heard each other’s voice. Yet somehow Spyros’ smile had contagiously affected Catalin, EnjoyYourCoffee.net’s newest ambassador.
The next day Curt and I departed from Finland with more than videotapes we had shot for our client. We left with a feeling that we had made a new friendship through which we had the opportunity to experience a real-life snapshot of Finland. This relationship had born out of enjoyment of our coffee, expressed first in actuality at Spyros’ daily coffee table, then virtually through the EnjoyYourCoffee.net social media site he had created to expand his morning experience into the boundless world of the Internet, then in actuality again, this time across the globe, unifying folks who are eager to establish friendships over a shared bond of coffee enjoyment.
To quote Spyros: “The rest is history! Enjoy Your Coffee!”