Coffee Shops: Human Attachment to Physical Spaces
While visiting London in the 1680s, French traveler François Maximilien Misson, a 17th century equivalent of a travel blogger, encountered a small subset of storefronts that he had not previously seen in his motherland across the English channel. These peculiar shops were not quite workshops nor were they restaurants, but they possessed qualities of both. In actuality, these places of business likely resembled a commoner’s version of an aristocratic saloon combined with a pub.
Misson described the features of these peculiar establishments as follows:
You have all manner of news there. You have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please. You have a dish of coffee; you meet your friends for the transaction of business, and all for a penny, if you don’t care to spend more.
These establishments known as coffeehouses, an earlier breed of today’s coffee bars and shops, were beginning to gain traction in England during the mid 1600s as imports of Turkish coffee were increasing in volume and popularity.
Let’s dive deeper at what Misson observed. Coffeehouses were, as observed in the previous quote, places of social interaction, transaction, and exchange. A place of news, both written and spoken. A place of business, both potential and ongoing. Coffeehouses became a central point of connection where people gathered in cozy, living room’s away from home to read, chat, catch-up, gossip, and discuss business. Coffeehouses were socio-economic forums manifested in physical form.
It appears not much has changed in over a 100 years. Cafes still hold the same dimensional and functional features of those coffee pubs located at the capital of the British Empire. The descendent of the coffeehouse have maintained the spatial blueprint of bar, seating with tables, and elements of comfort with an emphasis on aesthetics and atmosphere.
Coffee shops are still a physical space in which socio-economic activity occurs on the daily (pre-COVID). People go to cafes to work, and take business meetings, go on first dates, and catch-up with friends alike. If you sit in a coffee shop long enough, you gain access to both solicited and unsolicited news. Eavesdropping is a common occurrence in such settings, even when not intended. It’s somewhere to go to relax and feel the vibes when bored. Perhaps, you’re waiting for your friend to get off work or to arrive to a certain part of town. Maybe you want an afternoon, post-lunch pick me up. Or its a lazy Sunday morning and you want to get some joy reading/writing done.
And as Misson observed, the coverage charge for entrance into this social space? “All [this] for a penny, if you don’t care to spend more.” Yes, all for the price of one cup of coffee. Wouldn’t it be amazing if a latte only cost a penny? Alas, $5.44 for hours of Wifi, human interaction/observation, and pleasurable aesthetic comfort doesn’t sound too bad does it? I know it doesn’t because the U.S. consumes around 66 billion cups of coffee per year, while specialty coffee, (a.k.a. bougie minimalistic aesthetic cafe coffee), sales are increasing 20% with each passing year. (stats).
Needless to say, not everyone is fond of sitting in a cafe and chatting all day. In the words of some of my friends, “What are we doing? Like what are be doing right now!?” However, it is clear that consumption and market cap are only increasing, especially as non-specialty coffees also play into the equation of the need for caffeine for capitalism to function. Can you imagine getting through your 9–5 without caffeine?
From a historical perspective, the coffee industry in it of itself is a continued legacy of colonial commercialization and consumption. Coffee culture has many overlaps in feel and, to put it plainly, culture. Much of the sociological dynamics surrounding coffee is not so different from European fetishization of products, peoples, and artifacts from exotic origins in the imperial periphery. Today, we still drool over the origins from which coffee beans are sourced- almost completely in the developing world. There isn’t much difference of the modern day from the imperial fascination of tea, coffee, and chocolate the 17th-19th centuries. Many-a-snobs obsess over where beans were farmed and washed, reminiscent of the excitement with which metropolitan Victorians of the past spoke.
As I continue to ponder on a personal, long-standing dream of owning inclusive, creative spaces at the intersection of coffee, art, and entrepreneurship, I find such trans-generational patterns from the past to the modern day fascinating. The constant socio-economic place of coffee shops and coffee in human society across different eras provides a powerful insight in the socio-psychological attachment of man to a specific type of physical space, one that elicits certain experiential connotations, rituals, and sensations.
Detecting, analyzing, and building upon such patterns lasting over multiple generations is a key part of creating and providing products/services that connect with human beings at an intrinsic level.
If you’re looking to collaborate and partner in coffee, creative, etc.- feel free to reach out. Love having discussions with dreamy peoples :)