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Well-versed in coffee

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-03-18 09:42:43

Well-versed in coffee

[Photo by Li Feng/China Daily]

A Vienna company will treat you to a free drink later this month, if you will 'pay' for it with a poem, Mike Peters reports.

I have been known to wax eloquent when presented with a superb cup of coffee. But I never imagined I could pay for it that way.

I must have missed hearing about Pay With a Poem, an Austrian coffee company's global campaign tied to International Poetry Day on March 21. The promotion went global last year, and the 2016 event day will include 34 countries. In China, it will be the second year of celebration in Shanghai and the first year that reciting a poem will cover the cost of a Julius Meinl coffee in Beijing.

In China, a country that reveres its classical poets, this should bring out any lyrical types that aren't firmly embedded in teahouses.

"The poem can be in any language you want," says Meinl's Shanghai representative, Ela Saleh, "as long as it is from your heart".

"For us, inspiration is the soul of the Viennese coffee house culture. Its essence is poetry," says Marcel Loeffler, CEO of Julius Meinl. "It is this unique philosophy to consciously take your time, to enjoy the moment and to get inspired just as Viennese coffee house literati did. And this is not just in Vienna. This is also relevant for fast-moving cultures. Whether in Shanghai, Dubai, London or Chicago, people look for moments of deceleration, which in turn become the source of inspiration. In this sense, we want to actively encourage people on all continents, to bring more poetry into the world and hence make it a better place."

That's pretty high falutin stuff, no matter how good the coffee might be. But these poetic flights of fancy shouldn't suggest that the Meinl company is a collection of happy hippy types: The modern corporation has 600 employees worldwide, markets its coffees in more than 70 countries and generated 125 million euros in sales in 2014. Today Julius Meinl V heads the substantial family business, which now includes banking and other interests, which was founded by his great-great-grandfather. The original Julius Meinl was one of the first people to develop a mechanical way to roast coffee beans; today he's counted as a spiritual father of Vienna's coffeehouse culture.

The notion of coffee as a font of inspiration or simply reflection is not an exclusive conceit of the Meinl company, which revels in the slogan "inspiring poets since 1862". A clever 2007 book series from publisher Duncan Baird, "Coffee With...", invited different authors to revel in the philosophic power of Coffea arabica and write books such as Coffee With Mozart, Coffee with the Buddha and Coffee with Isaac Newton.

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