I’ve been a fan of ’90s sitcoms for years and whenever I am looking for something to watch one of three names comes up: Seinfeld, Cheers, and Frasier. My personal favorite is Frasier but I am presently taking a year-or-so break from watching the show so that, one day, I can go back and watch it and feel like I don’t know everything that has already happened. That is my hope.
In his book, The Philosophy of Coffee, Brian Williams talks about Friends and its role in modern coffee culture. Until reading this book, I would not have said that Friends had a big role in the rise of coffee. The more I think about it, the more I see Brian’s case. Friends is still talked about to this day. I see Friends merchandise everywhere. As Christmas approaches, I’m sure there will be a lot more on sale.
I’m going to take a moment to talk about coffee in 90’s sitcoms, specifically in Friends, Seinfeld, and Frasier. These are the three sitcoms where I think cafes and or coffee have played a big role in the show. There may be more. I’ve not watched every ’90s sitcom.
Frasier and Cafe Nervosa
I have fond memories of watching Frasier. I discovered this sitcom before any other. The first episode I remember watching was the one where Niles throws a brick through the window of an art gallery. Interestingly, that episode comes toward the start of the show. Frasier bought a piece of art that he did not like and the gallery refused to give him a refund. Niles stopped Frasier from throwing a brick at the gallery. Niles found out that he was called names in school P.E. class and he got angry. He threw a brick through the window.
Back to the post. Cafe Nervosa was always a big part of the show. Frasier and Niles met in there often. There was an entire episode where Niles and Frasier just sat in Cafe Nervosa and had a conversation. I think they moved tables half-way through the show. In the show, Cafe Nervosa gave Niles and Frasier a home away from home. Although they met in each other’s houses often, the coffeehouse gave them a more social setting in which to participate.
Niles was somewhat pretentious about his coffee to start. I remember there was one time where he claimed to know the side of the mountain on which his coffee was growth. As the show developed, Niles retained his fine coffee palette but there were not many mentions of his knowledge of coffee. His go-to order was a cappuccino. He usually had cinnamon. Nutmeg inflamed his stomach lining.
I am somewhat tempted to research all of these coffee scenes in more depth.
Every major character was in Cafe Nervosa at some point. I would not go as far as to say every episode had a scene in Cafe Nervosa but I’d say that at least half of the episodes of Frasier had someone in the cafe. It was a talking place. Mundane conversations flowed. Characters met. Later in the show, Daphne’s mother got a job at Cafe Nervosa.
Interestingly, we only ever got to see the owner of the cafe once. It was in an episode where the coffeehouse started to play live music. Frasier disapproved of the music and the owner said that she liked it so they were going to keep the music going.
Friends and Central Perk
I’ve maybe seen a season or two of Friends so my knowledge of Central Perk is limited. I do remember that in almost every episode I watched, maybe every episode, there was a scene at Central Perk. The main cast would get together on the same couch and chat about their lives. I wish I could go into a coffee shop and for there always to be a table. There was one episode where the couch was taken by people who were not willing to give it back. I think it resulted in some tension between Chandler, Ross, and the two people who were sitting there.
Like Cafe Nervosa, Central Perk gave off a sense of community. People would come and go in the background but the focus was always on the main characters. There was always something going on. Of course, Rachel worked at Central Perk, which made it a prime place for them all to go. If Rachel was ever working, they could go to the coffee shop to meet her. That’s quite clever.
Monk’s Cafe and Seinfeld
I do not know how long it took me to find out that the cafe in Seinfeld was called Monk’s. I think I first heard Elaine say it.
Coffee did not play as big a role in Seinfeld as it did in Frasier. Seinfeld himself did not drink caffeine (aside from a tea that Elaine said did not have caffeine in it). I remember in a recent episode that Kramer ordered a coffee but I do not remember much else. Clearly, coffee itself did not have a big impression on me as a viewer of the show. But, that’s not to say that cafe culture was not a big part of Seinfeld.
Monk’s Cafe was a gathering place for the whole crew. The main characters had a usual table but they could be sometimes seen at a table next to the window. Over food and drinks, the cast members would talk about their lives. They would talk about nothing. A conversation at Monk’s sparked the idea behind the Jerry pilot that George and Seinfeld pitched to NBC. Kramer asked George if he had ever “yearned” in that cafe.
Monk’s Cafe is closer to a diner. I’ve never been in a diner but Monk’s is what I imagine a classic American diner to be like. The aesthetic was not as refined as that of Central Perk and Cafe Nervosa. The sign said “restaurant.” It was definitely not a coffeehouse. I have never expected any of the main characters to order a Guatemalan single-origin at Monk’s, although I could see Niles doing that.
I am presently watching Seinfeld. I’ve not watched Friends or Frasier in a while. I will have likely forgotten some key coffee moments from these shows. I do know that all of these shows have played a little role in my life. I’ve gone to Frasier for comfort. I went to Seinfeld because it seemed similar to Frasier. I watched Friends because so many people have spoken about it I felt like I was missing out.
The award for “television show that had the greatest impact on coffee culture” has to go to Frasier in my books. Cafe Nervosa was a coffee house. Many conversations occurred over a cup of coffee. There were scenes that were about the coffee house itself. Roz dated one of the baristas. Niles once dated a barista. Daphne’s mum worked there. Niles once ordered a half-caff no-foam double-shot latte and complained about the system through which his order was delivered (every barista shouted out the order and there were breaks in the chain of communication).
I remember a lot more about coffee in television than I thought. I cannot draw a clear link between any of these shows and my appreciation for coffee but I do know that I’d happily watch a scene from any of these shows in which their cafes were featured.