Food and Drink

American Coffee Culture Is Finally Slowing Down

Why to-go coffee is transforming into mindful sipping.

Photo by Amanda Celestino for Buunni Coffee
Photo by Amanda Celestino for Buunni Coffee
Photo by Amanda Celestino for Buunni Coffee

To be American is to drink coffee-but to do it in a way that facilitates productivity. For many of us, the caffeine addiction begins in college, where we’re taught the art of pulling all-nighters. Eventually, coffee becomes synonymous with fuel. In order to multitask, we take our drinks to go. When the office gets too stuffy, we camp out at coffee shops. When we’re looking to network, we schedule meetings under the guise of “coffee chats.”

One of the biggest questions circulating this moment of lockdown, besides the more obvious concerns, is: “How do we take a break?” The idea that we have all of this extra time, and it does not have to be spent writing the next King Lear, seems like a foreign concept. So we’re turning to books like Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, in an effort to reconcile our drive to do more with our capacity for self care. “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way,” Odell writes.

The familiar image of the outdoor, street-facing, European cafe-in which patrons bask in the sun, people-watch, or smoke a cigarette over a cafĂ© au lait-is premised on this activity of doing nothing. In Italy, espresso is consumed while standing at a bar, chatting with the barista. The Swedes practice the tradition of fika, which involves setting aside time each day to slow down and drink coffee mindfully, alone or with friends. Germans have a similar tradition called kaffeeklatsch. The Viennese coffee house, listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage, is a place designed for leisurely lingering, “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”

These traditions expand to Turkey, where coffeehouses have served as social clubs since the Ottoman Empire, or Cuba, where large brews of cafĂ© cubano are split between friends in tiny paper cups. The true birthplace of slow coffee, though, is Ethiopia, where three rounds of coffee are sipped for hours. The lengthy Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which involves the washing, roasting, grinding, and boiling of coffee beans, is as much of a sensory experience as it is an act of consumption. “It really is the opposite of coffee to-go, or coffee for caffeine, or coffee for a utilitarian purpose,” says Sarina Prabasi, co-founder of New York City’s Buunni Coffee and author of The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times. Prabasi, who lived in Ethiopia for eight years and met her husband there, says the coffee ceremony was a huge part of her life in Addis Ababa.

“I think maybe the equivalent that I can think of in the US is family meal time, or Thanksgiving dinner, where there’s a lot of conversation over a long period of time,” she says. Consisting of blessings, political conversations, and sometimes even conflict mediation, the coffee ceremony is productive. “It’s that sort of gathering space where people catch up, whether that’s gossip and rumors, or current events,” Prabasi says. “It’s a really important part of the social fabric of society.”

Perhaps the most prominent aspect, though, is the sense of community. Savored among friends and family, the ritual serves as an act of hospitality. “If you were to say ‘I’m going to have coffee’ or ‘I really need a coffee right now,’ that would be considered very weird in Ethiopia. It’s always ‘Let’s have coffee,’ or ‘Shall we have coffee?’,” says Prabasi.

Outside of the US, coffee-drinking rituals seem to be rooted in social tradition. But in America, the coffee break began, unsurprisingly, as a response to the newly-implemented eight-hour workday in the early 20th century. Once employers began to notice how coffee breaks improved their workers’ performance, the routine became regulated. In 1952, a corporate interest group called the Pan American Coffee Bureau launched an advertising campaign, calling people to “Give yourself a Coffee-Break-and Get What Coffee Gives to You.” Around the same time, psychologist J.M Watson worked with advertising companies to lure customers through classical conditioning techniques. After featuring the concept of the coffee break in Maxwell House advertisements, Watson was able to popularize the activity, making coffee breaks synonymous with the brand.

In the last few years, American coffee shops have begun to veer away from the Starbucks-era workspace aesthetic, embracing elements that are not exactly conducive to work-like communal tables or simple Scandinavian design. For Prabasi, having a space that facilitated conversation was very important to her and her husband, Elias. “We knew we couldn’t just cut and paste that Ethiopian coffee culture into a New York coffee shop,” she explains. But after the 2016 election, the coffee shop quickly became a hub for community activism, where regulars engaged in everything from postcard writing to phone banking. “A lot of people talk about how they’ve connected at Buunni, and that’s all about putting the laptop down, looking around, and talking with each other,” she says.

Of course, COVID has made it much harder to meaningfully engage with others over a cup of coffee. But it’s also provided us with the liberty to pay attention. “You’re not rushing, you’re not commuting,” Prabasi explains, “The act of actually preparing the coffee, grinding your own beans, being your own barista, if you will, it’s a grounding experience. It’s a ritual that you can adopt at home.”

Jessica Sulima is an editorial assistant at Thrillist who never rushes a cup of coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Food and Drink

We Tried 22 Trader Joe's Dips and Here's How They Stack Up

From vegan tzatziki to fiery Zhoug sauce to classic spinach, these deserve a spot in your cart.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

With football season looming over us, that only means one thing: dip season is back. Whether you’re gathering for an end-of-summer bash, watching the game, or in dire need of a snack to indulge in while binge watching the latest Netflix series to drop, dips are the perfect option. And at Trader Joe’s, there are a lot of dips to choose from.

That’s why we decided to write this guide to dips, with helpful pairing ideas for each. So whether you’re interested in something spicy and don’t know what to eat with Zhoug sauce, or you want a classic spinach dip, these are almost all the dips at Trader Joe’s reviewed for your needs (we’ve excluded hummus and salsas, otherwise it’d be miles long and your heartburn would be even worse).

Buffalo Style Chicken Dip

This Buffalo-style chicken dip is a cult favourite and with good reason. The sharp tang and heat of Buffalo sauce is present, but relatively mild in terms of spice level. That, paired with the tub of shredded chicken, makes for a filling dip ideal for watching a sports game. Although Trader Joe’s suggests eating it hot, it’s delightful cold as well.
Pair with: crostinis, golden cracker rounds, tortilla chips, celery sticks, carrots

Caramelized Onion Dip

The caramelized onion dip is one of my favourites that Trader Joe’s has produced. It’s delectably sweet, like a French onion soup, but balanced perfectly with the tang of the sour cream and mayo base. The texture of this dip is mousse-like; fluffy, light, and airy. It’s an onion dip but upgraded.
Pair with: golden rounds crackers, potato chips, toasted baguette

Chimichurri Sauce

Although this chimichurri sauce lives in the dip section, we think of it more as a condiment. It’s lovely topped on meats or slathered in sandwiches. The ingredients are simple-parsley and cilantro are the defining items here-but you’re left with a very flavorful and aromatic olive oil-based sauce. If you really want to use it as a dip for crostinis, that would work, too.
Pair with: eggs, steak, shrimp, rice

Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeño Dip

This dip can be heated up or eaten straight from the fridge-both versions remain creamy, piquant, and spectacularly chunky, as advertised. The main flavour takeaway is the artichoke, which this dip is loaded with, but you will feel a tingle of spice from the jalapeños, too. It reminds me of schmear and would definitely make a great spread for a bagel.
Pair with: bagels or bagel chips, tortilla chips, pretzels

Cauliflower Jalapeño Dip

Of all the dips, this one took me the most by surprise. I associate cauliflower with blandness, but this is far from that. It has a smooth texture (which surprised me because cauliflower can also be gritty), and a subtle heat from the jalapeños. I would prefer a bit more jalapeño, but it’s mild enough that anyone can enjoy this at a party.
Pair with: Veggie tray, potato chips, strawberry & jalapeño crisps

Everything and the Elote

Maybe it’s the fact that fresh elote is so amazing that renders this dip a little bit disappointing in comparison. It’s seasoned well with chipotle, cumin, and chili powder. But what it’s really lacking is in the name. There’s not enough sweet corn kernels in this dip to balance out the other spices and the cheese. Perhaps if you added this fresh corn, you could make a large batch of esquites.
Pair with: organic corn dippers, corn salad

Everything But the Bagel

I do feel like it was a misstep to use a Greek yogurt base rather than a sour cream and cream cheese blend for this dip to really give the vibe of breakfast bagels. Sure, the Greek yogurt is still sharp and smooth, but the dip feels runnier than it should be. That being said, if you’re a fan of everything bagels and the seasoning blend Trader Joe’s makes, this will fulfil you: poppy seeds, dehydrated onion, dried garlic, and black sesame seeds galore.
Pair with: bagel chips, Everything But the Bagel crackers

Garlic Spread Dip

It’s obscene how delicious this garlic spread dip tastes on just about everything. Personally, I can eat it by the spoonful. It’s smooth and creamy, with just the right amount of lemon juice and the unmistakable aroma of garlic. Yes, it’s delicious by the spoonful, but would also be delicious in a thousand other applications.
Pair with: pita bread, rotisserie chicken, tortillas, sandwiches, honestly everything

Green Goddess Dip

Like the titular salad, this dip is bright, very green, and refreshingly herbaceous. The avocado and green onion are strengthened by garlic, shallots, chives, and basil. Unlike homemade versions, this dip contains both eggs and sour cream, so keep that in mind for plant-based friends.
Pair with: sandwiches, salads, veggie trays, multigrain crackers

Herbed Tahini Sauce

I was expecting a stronger nuttiness from this herbed tahini sauce, but the dominating flavour is garlic and a tartness from the citric acid. It’s still refreshing and a great partner to falafel and sandwiches, but the tahini flavour is in the background. I can really envision this as a successful sauce for a cold noodle salad, spruced up with additional sesame seeds and perhaps a dollop of chilli crisp.
Pair with: dill pickle falafel, garlic pita chips, cold noodles

Olive Tapenade

If you’re an olive fan, this Trader Joe’s tapenade will hit the spot. Crafted from a blend of black olives, green olives, and pimentos, it’s the right amount of saltiness and perfect chunky consistency for scooping. It would fare well atop hummus, scooped into a pasta salad, or just eaten straight.
Pair with: a charcuterie board, fig & olive crisps, pasta salad

Pimento Cheese Dip

I would argue that this pimento cheese dip does the Southern classic justice. Each bite is full of sharp cheddar and studded with diced pimentos for a dip that is simultaneously chunky and creamy. Would be excellent on a pimento cheese sandwich.
Pair with: multigrain crackers, tortilla chips, bread for a sandwich

Romesco Dip

The romesco dip is like summer unlocked through a small, eight-ounce container. There’s a brightness from tomatoes, a fuller, rounder flavour from roasted red peppers, and nuttiness from almonds. I think of it as a red almond pesto, almost. It’s great with veggies, could be tossed in a pasta, or just eaten with a hefty cracker.
Pair with: pasta, veggies sticks, raisin and rosemary crisps

Smoked Salmon Dip

If you’re a fan of lox, you’ll be a fan of this dip. It’s briny and salty and pleasantly fishy but the capers work well to cut through a flavour that may otherwise feel overwhelmingly rich. There is a generous amount of fish in this dip, as well as seasoning, so it really only needs a blank canvas to let it shine.
Pair with: bagels, multigrain crackers, or even pasta (try this Trader Joe’s recipe)

Sour Cream Spinach Dip

This is perfectly acceptable. It is not the most exciting dip on this list, but it does provide that classic spinach dip flavour, albeit a bit more tart due to the sour cream base. It would benefit from some cheese, but as far as dips go, it is thick, creamy, and very scoopable.
Pair with: toasted baguettes, multigrain crackers, a cheese board

Spinach & Kale Greek Yogurt Dip

Like the other spinach dip, this dip isn’t mind-boggling, but a twist on the classic that only clocks in at 30 calories per serving. The kale adds a tiny bit more dimension to this otherwise regular dip. Put this out on game day and surely it will be consumed; there are just better dip options here.
Pair with: toasted baguette, fig & olive crisps, Everything but the Bagel crackers.

Tzatziki

Trader Joe’s does this classic condiment justice. It begins with a kefir cheese and sour cream base that’s filled with sliced cucumber, plenty of dill, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Use this dip as a side for a gyro plate.
Pair with: Dill pickle falafel, pita chips, organic naan crackers

Vegan Buffalo Dip

This is a very successful reinterpretation of Buffalo dip. It’s tangy and zesty, with all the qualities that make for a plant-based alternative to this classic. One critique is that once opened, it does tend to get watery fast, but the flavour is so good that if you bring this to a party, it likely won’t last very long.
Pair with: crostinis, golden cracker rounds, tortilla chips, celery sticks, carrots

Vegan Caramelized Onion Dip

This is not far off from the regular caramelized onion dip. The flavour is still sweet and savoury, there are large squares of perfectly browned onions in each bite, and the consistency is creamy. I would say it’s not quite as light and fluffy, like mousse, as the original-but the dairy-free cream cheese base is still a perfectly acceptable alternative.
Pair with: golden rounds crackers, potato chips, toasted baguette

Vegan Nacho Dip

Vegan cheese can be a hit or a miss, but Trader Joe’s succeeds here. This cashew-based dip is luxuriously creamy and has all the meltiness a regular nacho cheese would also possess. You won’t find grittiness here, but will find a flavour that has the desired saltiness that will impress vegans and non-vegans alike. Just make sure you don’t overheat the dip and stir constantly-like dairy cheese, it will split otherwise.
Pair with: tortilla chips, tacos, burritos, fries

Vegan Tzatziki Dip

I’m amazed at this vegan tzatziki dip. Trader Joe’s has truly found something special with its dairy-free, cream cheese base. This is just as tangy, dilly, and cucumber-filled as its yogurt counterpart, meaning it’s delicious.
Pair with: dill pickle falafel, pita chips, organic naan crackers

Zhoug Sauce

This Zhoug sauce is amazing. It’s herbaceous and fiery and flavorful-definitely the spiciest dip of the bunch. What I really love about it is how simple the ingredients are (only eight things in total!) and how they all work in tandem. Cilantro is undoubtedly the star, sure, but pops of cumin and cardamom paired with the heat of chile flakes and jalapeños really adds dimension to this Yemeni-inspired dip.
Pair with: eggs, garlic naan chips, organic corn dippers, or your favourite protein.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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