I do recount my first encounter with the modern day “coffee shop,” and, thinking about it, it most certainly was a Starbucks. I don’t recall ever having to go in there before. When my brother and cousin first began to venture into coffee, my family would bring them to a local gas station that served their own concept of “cappuccino.” Thus, living where I did in college, I had the advantage of entering into the proverbial “Starbucks on every corner,” which was still very much the case in 2010.
It just so happened that the crowd I was with at the time did not order anything semi-close to coffee, but rather some juice substance or blended ice-beverage with about four other titles associated with it. Yet it was with that group of people that my future hangout spot had been secured.
After that I encountered a coffee quantum leap from the pit of murphy drip I had once wallowed in to an Ethiopian ecstasy. Certainly I hadn’t developed a palate refined enough to yet distinguish between countries. I think my entire mouth had been caught off guard. But at that point, coffee shops, not the coffee itself began to influence the way in which I lived. A certain ambiance emanated from the operation of an espresso machine and the mystical steam which it created. The deafening scream of steam-lances frothing milk or coffee grinders cracking away gave the impression that the necessary production of the world economy was taking place amidst conversations of the utmost importance which seemed to tolerate the inevitable bustle of blue collar labor. Certainly no one would give way to the consideration that the environment fabricated for them had no way to penetrate the core of their more than human longing.
Before I enter into more critical commentary, I will say that this concept of background production at the helm of human thought or discussion at least offered me a degree of solace. I could inwardly resonate with the yearning that man has to be of some utility, of some use-value, despite all his other desires centered on the sole objective to do absolutely nothing at all. Certainly this notion had the power to solidify a bond, or at least create some semblance of cohesion, since it mingles two of the most inherently held aspirations. Yet as assuring as the average coffee shop may have seemed in maintaining such bonds, their actual outcome proved otherwise. Indeed, most of the relationships I formed when at coffee shops did not persist. I cannot account for the rest of humanity, but I’d propose this to be true for a majority of people longing for meaning and genuine relationship at a coffee shop.
It’s odd when you think about it: we tend to evaluate the people, not the coffee shop itself, as the reason in which loners go to ponder life, non-busy people go to look as though they really ARE busy, friends go to gossip, dreamers go to dream, hipsters go to... whatever. What’s most strange is that when we are making these assessments, we typically do it from the stance of... a chair in that very coffee shop. And at all other times, when we are not contriving these judgments, we can fit the bill of any of the formerly categorized people. Meaning that coffee shops tend to be a place where judge, jury and executioner all silently perform their unsolicited functions while perpetuating the very stereotypes that they (I) inwardly indemnify. Maybe that’s why coffee today is being enjoyed more for itself rather than for the masquerade of community that it creates. Maybe that’s why the appreciation for mobile coffee is increasing amongst young people especially, who see past the façade of the fixed pondering stations of liquid beanery. And maybe that is why companies like Sojourner are currently just a cup away from being catalysts in reshaping the thought of coffee shop inhabitants.
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