The Real Reason We Are So Obsessed With Our Coffee Shops

The language of lattes

Have you ever found yourself blatantly staring at someone in a coffee shop because you were wondering what on earth they were doing? Or perhaps someone was observing you because they didn’t quite understand why you were sobbing into your chai latte while attempting to read your untidy study notes? I’m sure we have all either been “the one people stare at” or have observed some interesting things in a coffee shop.

Why is the “coffee shop experience” different for so many people?

During my undergraduate degree, I befriended almost all the Starbucks baristas at my go-to location. After years of consuming Americanos, shedding tears, contemplating life and the meaning of it, and taking up the hobby of people watching, it is safe to say that I have seen a lot within the same space. Spending a significant amount of time in that place and seeing the night owls to the early risers has given me such an interesting perspective on humans in general. All these individuals, no matter what time of the day it is, all co-exist with one another in this space despite their diverse paths of life. Is it perhaps some form of disconnected co-dependency that we all rely on to remind us that we are a part of a larger community? Why do we gather in spaces such as this?    

Coffee shops are so thought-provoking to me. It is a space that proposes an interesting blend of safety and unity while at the same time encouraging independence and productivity. So many people flock to coffee shops to indulge in both intricate beverages and intimate conversations. As I look around this space for the hundredth time, I see friends gathered together, sharing stories and laughter over their earl greys. I see students drowning in a sea of articles, attempting to find a way to highlight and sticky-tab their way out. I see love, I see heartbreak, I see confusion.

This space makes one feel comfortable. But how can we all enter this comfortable and unified space and yet all have such unique experiences? How can this public space seem so private?

As humans, we all face the same need to interact with one another, despite our tendencies to isolate ourselves every now and again. There have been many times where I have sat in a coffee shop alone and have wondered how others perceive me – as a young woman using her time to invest herself in her studies, or as a lost soul, looking for this disconnected warmth that this group of coffee-drinkers brings. There is a kind of vulnerability about this “independent-worker” at a coffee-shop. When I am talking a quick mental break from my work, I find myself looking around the room, seeing what others come to this space for. Wedding planning, catching up on “old times”, group assignments. All of these conversations are prompted by this relaxing and creative “safe” space. However, despite all the organized commotion, the moment I lock eyes with another “independent worker”, I feel this wave of vulnerability wash over me. As if I was the only one in the entire room. The initial sting of the moment fades, and I find my way back to my articles.

All I know is that I have designated “the coffee shop” as a place of productivity in many senses – to finish that assignment, to have that talk, to read that book. For others, it could be a place of pure bliss or a place where one can “be” without being alone. It is places such as this where I am reminded that there is so much more to this big picture.

Featured Image via Patrick Tomasso

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