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Obama, a coffee cup and how to spread culture


by Steve Toloken*
Can a coffee cup be a vehicle for carrying a culture around the world?

A Turkish executive thinks so, and he would like the plastics industry to help by making a Turkish style disposable cup.


T. Murat Kolbaşı, chairman of coffee machine and appliance maker Arzum, was inspired by a recent controversy in Turkish media — a minor “brewhaha” if you’ll pardon the pun — over President Obama’s choice of coffee cups at the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, last month.

Obama was photographed drinking his coffee from the kind of paper coffee cup used at Starbucks around the world.

Apparently most of the other leaders at the G-20 were drinking from traditional Turkish cups, which tend to be smaller, rounder and more heavily decorated.

So Turks, who love their coffee, wondered why Obama was at the summit sipping from a cup most people there associate with Starbucks.

To push Turkish culture, Kolbaşı wants the plastics industry’s help making a disposable cup with a distinctly Turkish feel, which could be used to instantly convey the country’s rich and storied culture.

Kolbaşı was speaking on a panel at the Turkish Plastics Industry Congress Dec. 2 in Istanbul, urging the 200-plus delegates to come up with a new design.

“Maybe you as plastics producers could come up with a design that represents Turkish coffee,” he said. “I’m asking you to produce materials suitable for this.”
The cup in question.
I caught up with him after his talk. He said for those who see that picture in Turkey, Obama’s cup immediately conjures up Starbucks and American movies and — his words — the American dream.

“All these stories go through the president of the United States, Obama, in Antalya — he’s got that cup in hand, that cup is American style,” Kolbaşı said. “From the president to one truck driver, it’s having the same style of culture and bringing that culture to everyone.”

Kolbaşı wants a Turkish version. He said he’s been working on introducing Turkish coffee more widely in the United States.

He even urged his Turkish colleagues to ask for Turkish coffee when they travel abroad, even if they can’t get it, to build a small “buzz” among restaurants.

I can see his point about cups and culture. Here’s a photo of a Turkish tea cup. It does have a distinctive style.

No word, though, on why Obama was not using one of the smaller Turkish cups.

There could be no special reason. Or, judging from who’s next to him in the picture, maybe he wanted his caffeine supersized to keep his wits about him dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.