Lately, I’ve seen a definite trend on Twitter and elsewhere, extolling the idea (and attendant, buyable merchandise) for making “café-style” drinks at home.
They usually focus on how much you’ll save by making your own lattes and cappuccinos, and while the entry-price is steep, it is undeniable that those daily plunk-downs of $5 at Starbucks mount up pretty quick – so I cannot dispute these claims.
But I think that in so many ways, the entire idea misses the most salient points about coffee houses.
First of all, the chains are frequented in the early a. m. by people whose lives are not going to accommodate getting up 20 minutes early to make their own delicious mochaccinos.
I’m serious: no one who uses the Timmie’s drive-thru or whips into the Starbucks across from the office is unaware that the coffee is overpriced, and that pushing the alarm back a quarter-hour and then actually getting out of bed could save them a bundle.
It doesn’t matter how gorgeous and pricey the appliances are, or how thrifty and delicious their drinks would be: they still won’t do that.
And for everyone else, it isn’t the coffee.
Heck, half my friends meet me at the local café and grab a can of soda, for Pete’s sake.
It’s not about the coffee – or at least, it is only peripherally about the coffee.
It’s about the where.
It’s about the comfy chairs, the neutrality, the socialization, the feeling of specialness and the conversation.
It’s about the conversation.
Even when you are alone…there’s a reason why Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter book in a coffee house, and despite what she may say, I suspect it wasn’t any of those reasons, but because of the community feel, the ambience, the sense of the past backing you up and cheering you on.
Otherwise, she could have saved more money and just gone to the public library instead. It’s very quiet, and there are tables and chairs, and all the research material you could dream of, right at your fingertips.
But she went to a café, and that is no simple accident.
Café society, coffee houses – they have a long and honourable (although sometimes disreputable) history of fostering the arts. Of welcoming the different, the outcast, the misfits of the world.
They have been at the forefront of so many cultural and political movements that were they to utterly disappear, I suspect society would vanish immediately thereafter.
I don’t know what it is, exactly, but my friends are smarter, more articulate, and a whole lot wittier when we sit down in a real café to have a catch-up.
Their advice is more thoughtful – and I’m more open to it, in a café.
Their jokes are wilder and funnier than they are in someone’s living room. Their stories are more compelling, and we all listen better, harder, than we do at home. We give each other more space.
So stop with the “this $500 gizmo means you’ll never buy Starbucks again.”
Because that really isn’t why we go out for coffee.