Whereas last week I dealt with tourists and the ethnic diversity of San Francisco, this week it’s immigrants, more or less. I Remember Mama stars Irene Dunne as Mama and Barbara Bel Geddes (of Vertigo fame) as Katrin. As a 1948 adaptation of Kathryn Forbes’ fictional memoir Mama’s Bank Account, the film chronicles the drama and finances of a Norwegian family in 1910s San Francisco.
Well, more like their coffee addiction. The Folger family brought coffee to the city, but it might as well have been the Norwegians. The Hansons (those hardy Scandinavians) down cups of joe as ritual nightcaps. Have a hard day? Try a brew. Need a pick-me-up? Dip a sugar cube in some java. Life revolves around the roasted bean, and it’s a rite of passage when Katrin can finally quaff a coffee with the adults.
The Hansons’ coffee wasn’t elaborate; it was as quotidian as brushing teeth (which coincidentally is not depicted in the film). Today, Folgers is a four-letter word often associated with crystals and those who would rather punish themselves than actually enjoy a cup. San Francisco is a coffee mecca, where “single source” and “fresh” inform a barista’s Lord’s Prayer.
Across the bay, Alfred Peet revolutionized the American cafe, roasting his own beans. While Peet’s Coffee remained rather local, his proteges took up the idea to Seattle…and, well, do I really need to go into details about the history of Starbucks’ popularity?
Everyone in SF has their personal favorite coffee, whether it’s something old school like Graffeo or the comparative newcomer Blue Bottle. Coffee may be an American thing, but San Francisco especially revers the bean in an almost religious ceremony of praising its freshness, roasting quality, small-batch-ness, and general shaded growth. Swill? Here? Not when you can drink coffee out of lab equipment.
Norwegians like the Hansons challenge even Americans with their affinity for the beverage. In I Remember Mama, the family doesn’t drink coffee because it’s the San Franciscan thing to do. Now, though, you’d be hard-pressed to call yourself a true San Franciscan if you haven’t stepped into at least one iconic cafe or sipped the latest buzzworthy roast. Folgers in 1910, sure. A hundred years later, not so much.
Starring San Francisco is Appeal culture reporter, Christine Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a locally set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at firstname.lastname@example.org