Coffee shops. Or cafés or coffee bars or ‘better-than-Starbucks’ or whatever else you choose to call them. The holy grail of people-watching, the “office away from office,” and the location of many first dates.
I love coffee shops an immeasurable amount.
There’s the ability to do some quality people watching, there’s often a sense of community and belonging, and most importantly – there’s the sheer number of opportunities that coffee shops hold.
People-watching is neither a new phenomenon nor a ground breaking reason to love coffee shops. Nonetheless, it is part of why I love them so much.
I enjoy seeing people from all walks of life in different coffee shops around the world. I love seeing the different ways people take their coffee or tea. The variety of outfits, mannerisms, and habits that come out. I believe that you can always learn something from everyone. And while that usually presents itself in conversations, I have still learned a lot from observing others quietly. I’ve learned to not slide into a coffee shop entrance no matter how fun it looks (you will knock the display over), I’ve learned new coffee orders, and I’ve learned how to make baristas smile after a tough morning rush.
Coffee shops are what I call a “character-revealing” situation. It’s easy for people to be friendly to the waiter in a 5 star seated restaurant. It’s, apparently, more difficult for them to be friendly to the barista at 6 am in a business town. It’s eye-opening to see the ways people interact depending on the time of day, your location, and the type of coffee shop it is.
Though most will think of people-watching as a passive activity, I think of it as one that fosters creativity and imagination, as long as you let it. There’s people-watching, and then there’s people-watching.
I don’t mean that you should go intruding on peoples’ lives or overtly stare at them the entire time they’re in the coffee shop. What I mean is that, rather than just passively observing someone, you can use people-watching as a creativity exercise. Think up back stories of why each person has come in for their cup of coffee that day. Picture the kind of job they have and what their daily routine is. Imagine their likes, dislikes, and biggest secrets.
You don’t need to share your people-watching daydreams with anyone. Particularly not with the person that caused you to create them. Be respectful of people! But I think it’s a fun thing to do while I wait for a friend, or take a break from my studies. I could do it anywhere there’s a crowd, but coffee shops are my favorite place to do this. I think it’s because people tend to be more themselves in coffee shops.
Warmth. Community. Belonging.
Those are often the things necessary for human beings to feel at home, or at peace, and to feel as though they can be themselves. In most coffee shops, these are present. Each coffee shop is a little different – even the various locations of the same chain! And yet, each one creates a small sense of community. A temporary community of caffeine deprived people, if you will.
The warmth is present through the coffee itself, to begin with, is something special. As people rush in from the cold air, as hands wrap around mugs to warm up again, and as the steam rises in flowing patterns dissipating slowly. Even when the snow melts outside and winter turns to summer, coffee shops still have their characteristic warmth. A friendly smile from the barista, the pastries in the display case, the cozy furniture or artwork.
The menu, the decor, the atmosphere – these can all be used to create different ‘vibes’ to attract different types of clientele. Sometimes you find a coffee shop that matches your vibe right away, and sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes you’re just passing through a town and stopping for some caffeine, while sometimes you’re exploring a new neighborhood because you heard the lattes taste better here.
Whatever your reason, once you walk through the door of a coffee shop, you’re a part of its community for a little while.
If you’re lucky, you find the coffee shop you feel most comfortable at, and it’s in a convenient location. You go often. You soon become a regular. The baristas know you, they know your order, they know what specials you would like and which you wouldn’t. When you skip one of your regular coffee shop times, someone notices. When you stay longer, and the barista accidentally makes a mistake with an order, you get offered the ‘mess up’ drink for free. A sense of belonging settles over you.
You start to become friends with the other regulars. Trading silent nods, warm smiles, or even friendly pleasantries. Or, if you find the right people, deep life discussions, and debates. Though camaraderie can happen anywhere, coffee shops seem to hold a greater opportunity for it than the average location.
Opportunity – a word that in itself encompasses almost anything. I feel that the same is true of coffee shops.
I’ve gotten good news and bad news in coffee shops. Job offers, tough conversations, and more. I’ve had arguments, first dates, and moments of pure relief in electronically submitting an assignment on time. But more importantly: I’ve had far more open and honest conversations in coffee shops than I may have elsewhere.
Whether it’s with the stranger, who sits down next to you and turns into a friend or an already close friend who becomes even closer. Between the soft coffee smells and the background chatter, it’s easy to fall into the flow of the conversation and to let inhibitions and insecurities fall away.
Part of the beauty of a coffee shop’s opportunity is that you never quite know who you’ll meet. Even the times that you’ve planned to meet someone there – the opportunity for another encounter is right there.
Through hushed tones and with coffee-stained sleeves moving animatedly through the air around me I’ve formed bonds – and broken a few too. My closest friendship was started in a coffee shop, and a friendship I once held dearly was splintered and left behind in another coffee shop. I fell in love with someone in a series of coffee shop visits. I fell out of love with what I thought was my dream career through a long conversation in the corner booth of a coffee shop I’ve only ever been to once.
Just as a coffee shop presents each patron with an infinite variety of opportunities and experiences, there are endless reasons why people love coffee shops.
Cheers to the next cup of coffee you drink, the next kind stranger you meet, and the next coffee shop you enter!