Remember radical chic? Now it's coffee cachet.
The coffee is Pure Nicaraguan, grown in the mountainous Matagalpa region, harvested by Sandinistas, roasted by a Dutch collective and imported by a nonprofit cooperative in Indiana.
"There's a World in Your Coffee Cup," burbles the advertising slogan, a perky rejoinder to "Head for the Hills." Says the brochure from Friends of the Third World Inc., in Fort Wayne: "Enjoy your cup of coffee as you work to build a better world."
In the last year the coffee has gone on sale in Washington and 48 of the United States (but not Mississippi or Alabama). It is the only caffeinated coffee served by the "wait-persons," as they are called, at the politically correct Takoma Cafe in Takoma Park. And in Los Angeles, trend capital of the nation, actor Martin Sheen was recently spotted buying several pounds of the stuff at a consciousness-raising session.
"He was drinking a lot of coffee that night," says Tim Strawn, a member of a West Coast cultural workers collective called Shock Battalion, who saw Sheen make the buy at a Nicaragua Task Force poetry reading. "In that respect it's trendy on the 'New Hollywood Left' scene."
Vacuum-packed 8.75-ounce bricks of drip grind can be had for $3.50 at Common Concerns book store on Connecticut Avenue, where they are wedged between $16 four-pound bags of whole bean and a stack of facsimile CIA "Freedom Fighter" manuals ("Drop typewriters . . . Threaten the boss by telephone . . . Throw tools into sewers").
The coffee is, according to the label, a "high quality Arabica."
"It doesn't bother your stomach and it gives you a great jump start in the morning," says Takoma Park resident Donna Stamford, who drinks it on her job as "the last of a dying breed -- a waitress in a go-go bar."
"It's a very rich coffee," says Pam Banks of the Takoma Cafe, "a relatively dark roast, with about medium acidity and medium body. Some people here do take it with sugar. But most of us use honey."
"It's a very hot item," says Susan Thomas of the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-Op. "Once people understand what Nicaraguan coffee is all about, they buy it as a show of solidarity."
Marcos Wheelock, minister-counselor at the Nicaraguan Embassy, agrees.
"Coffee is one of the ties that make a close relation between the American people and the Nicaraguan people," he says, noting that most of his country's coffee exports -- $148 million worth in 1983 -- goes to Europe. "It also shows the political will of Nicaragua as a country, which has not been followed by the Reagan administration so far."
Although Wheelock says "I sacrifice myself" in Washington by drinking such standard blends as Hills Brothers, Folger and Maxwell House, in coffee-loving revolutionary Managua most people sip a domestic blend called Cafe' Presto. "Nicaragua se levanta con Cafe' Presto!" is the slogan, meaning that "Nicaragua wakes up with Quick Coffee!"
And "contra" leader Eden Pastora -- does he wake up with Quick Coffee, too?
"He wakes up with CIA money," Wheelock says with a snicker.
Hoosier Jim Goetsch, one of the Friends of the Third World, says his Indiana cooperative imports about five tons of Nicaraguan a month -- a drop in the million-ton American coffee bucket, but impressive nevertheless. Marian Waltz, the cooperative's bookkeeper, adds that while Mississippi and Alabama have yet to show any promise as markets, a retail outlet has just been established in Utah -- "and Mormons don't even drink coffee." New England and Colorado (especially Boulder) are very strong, she says, and the Nation's Capital is "doing pretty well."
"Any product from Nicaragua is a faddish product right now," says Goetsch, "primarily because there are a lot of people who are becoming conscious of what's going on in Central America."
Not everyone endorses that view, however.
"There are a lot of people," says coffee hater Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus, "who give aid and comfort to the enemy. They do it in various ways. This way, at least, they pay a penalty in terms of higher blood pressure."
Coming soon from the world of coffee, according to Goetsch: Socialist Blend, a mix of Nicaraguan, Tanzanian and Angolan beans.