I used to think that coffee shops were a place where my daddy went every morning and every evening to get his cup-of-Joe. He met his cronies at the local diner in downtown Adel in the morning and met up with the same group, or sometimes different ones, who gathered in the afternoons at another local restaurant. I specifically remember meeting up with him in the afternoons after school, when I was in high school, to drink coffee along with him. We often met up at the Adel Motor Lodge out near I-75.
It wasn’t until I moved to Italy in the early 2003 that I truly began to appreciate coffee shops, and twenty years later, I love them more than ever. In Italy, they were called cafes, and were the center of the universe for the small villages I frequented. Many of them only had one little café which was the hub of life in the community. Many residents stopped by on their way to work, the retirees gathered around the counter, and the little old ladies stopped on their way to the market in the mornings.
Besides being a hub, they also offer refuge. There are so many things that make coffee shops wonderful. So I’ll start with these few things:
1. The coffee smell
I love coffee, but more importantly I love the smell. There’s something comforting about the aroma of coffee enveloping me that makes me feel like I’m at home.
2. People watching
People watching is one of the number one reasons to drink coffee in a coffee shop. Today, we can get our coffee on the go—and many do. Coffee shops provide a great atmosphere to watch how people behave in certain situations. First dates—you can feel the awkwardness in the air. The reader—who grabs a cup to read the paper (which not many people do today) or stick their nose in a book for a few minutes. The busy executive tapping away on his laptop, tie pulled over to one side and his suit coat draped over the back of the chair.
3. The baristas
In Italy, watching the baristas work the crowd was especially enjoyable. They knew what their daily customers wanted before the customer opened their mouth. I noticed some times all the customer would do is nod or lift a finger and the barista would get to work preparing a cappuccino or espresso exactly as the day before—and the day before that—and the one before that. Customers came into the establishment daily for thirty or forty years, if they lived long enough. Most of the time, they gave out a healthy “Buon Giorgio” and got to work. I loved listening to the chatter and the tap, tap of the metal as they emptied the sump before they went on to the next order.
Call me a snoop, but I love listening in on other people’s conversations. Sometimes they are talking about something interesting, other times it’s just petty gossip. Being a writer, I love getting to peek inside someone else’s life—and write down the phrases or “isms” I hear. It makes for writing great dialogue when I jot down actual words and speaking habits of people.
5. Soft background music
Most coffee shops in the US play smooth jazz or 80s pop or country, but it remains in the background. All too often today, the music in stores and shops is blaring—to the point you cannot communicate with the cashier or clerk without shouting over it. It’s so nice to have a quiet, relaxing atmosphere with smooth music softly playing.
6. Good friends
We all know about a great television show that showcased friendships that played out in coffee shops. What a better way to catch up with your best friends than to get a coffee or tea in a homey coffee shop?
7. Comfy chairs
Some coffee shops have comfy sofas or chairs where you can lounge as you drink your coffee. I think they are designed for those who want to hang out and work. Either way, it’s a nice place to land. Sinking into a plush chair to read a good book is heavenly.
8. White noise
Silence can be deafening. Listening to people talking to their friends about their latest troubles or happy news gives a perfect background for studying or reading. I enjoy this immensely as long as people are respectful and keep the tone down.
9. Great place to study or write
Why study at home when you could do your homework around others? If you don’t find it too distracting, it can force you to get some work done. In my writing, I find if I leave my house and go to a coffee shop to write, I get more work done. I am forced to focus. I get distracted at home—the dog needs to go out, the doorbell rings, I decide to cook while I work—dozens of things erode into the time I need to write.
10. Ultimate escape
What a better place to get away from your worries than a coffee shop? The possibilities of activities are endless.
When it comes down to it, coffee shops are not necessarily for everyone. Sometimes the atmosphere is exactly what you crave though—without even realizing it.