10.24.2006

What do you want in your coffee?


There comes a time to talk about coffee shops and it is time again. We have visited the subject of coffee shops, or cafes if you prefer, from time to time, and will probably revisit the topic in the future.

Those that know me know that I’m not a huge fan of Batdorf and Bronson’s. I care less for Starbucks. You will find me having coffee at B&B because it is the lesser of two evils, but not by much in my estimation. Certainly B&B has a great location. The decor I am not concerned with. Physical plants are not what ultimately turns me on. I ask you readers to consider this, what do you prefer to be turned on by, people or things? I take the people every time, just can’t get too excited about things. Ambiance is good, but I don’t consider it the highest thing on my list for a place to drink coffee.

Drinking coffee is what coffee shops are about. But it is not so simple as that. You can drink coffee anywhere. So what is it about the coffee shop that makes drinking coffee there the experience that it is? The answer is the people. People that drink coffee in coffee shops want to be with people that are also drinking coffee, but more to the point they want to commune with those drinking coffee. So coffee is the hook and the communing is the reason for being there.

Why I find issue with B&B and Starbucks is that there is very little communing going on in those places. Free WiFi glues people to their laptops. The arrangement of furniture does very little do further conversations, particularly for larger groups. Starbucks is even worse, you really don’t even want to hang around with your laptop very long in a Starbucks, seating really only a step above what you get at a McDonalds, and you have to realize that the seating in McDonalds is specifically designed so that you only occupy it for 20 minutes maximum.

A coffee shop should always be designed to be a place of conversation. A place to meet and greet and settle down in conversation. The coffee shop should be flexible enough to allow people to enter and leave conversations, even with people they might not know at first. Furniture should facilitate conversation. If you are a stranger to town a coffee shop should be the kind of place where you can get a cup of coffee and in 5 minutes be part of a conversation. A coffee shop should be the first place a stranger goes to find out what is going on in the town.

I like reading in coffee shops, I like writing in coffee shops. Those are fine solitary things to do in a coffee shop, but what I really want from my coffee shop is community and I don’t believe we have such a thing in Olympia. I know those out there are saying “ooooo, what about B&B? they have community there”. I ask you, next time you are in B&B to pay attention to what is really going on. You will find mostly solitary people engaged in solitary activities. You’ll see a sprinkling of conversation, but you will not find a conversation to join in on within 5 minutes.

There is room in our town for the B&Bs and the Starbucks. No doubt about it. They serve different purposes. But don’t really call these places coffee shops, they may pretend to be coffee shops, they may fill the void when there are no coffee shops, but they ain’t coffee shops, at least in my estimation. If you have enough conversation in a good coffee shop it doesn’t matter how much they charge for a cup of coffee. One cup will last you the whole afternoon in such an environment.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to get off that one block in Olympia where starbucks and B&B are....Thats all. Try Olympia Coffee

6:42 PM  
Blogger crenshaw sepulveda said...

I checked out Olympia Coffee this morning. I must say that I had the best cup of coffee I ever had in Olympia, something called Guatemala Loma Linda, or close to that. The coffee was a bit tepid, but tasty, boy was it tasty. Sadly the shop was mostly devoid of humanity. The person behind the counter and someone chatting up the counter person. I guess I was an interruption. So much for finding any sort of community at Olympia Coffee in the morning.

Checked it out on my way home, must have been like 4 pm. The shop was empty, the door was locked. Not much community there. The coffee was dang good, but I'm not certain how they stay in business. During the same time frames both Starbucks and B&B were doing brisk businesses. I will return for more of the tasty coffee, but I'm wondering if you actually read my original post. Based on two visits, Olympia Coffee ain't no real coffee shop.

6:11 PM  
Blogger DaveW said...

I've been checking out your blog the last few days and I really have to tell you it is a great read. I admire and whole heartedly agree with your opinions.

In this thread I think you are dead on about what cafe culture is to most folks. Some folks geek out on the coffee, some like the social aspects of a great neighborhood cafe, and some like some solitary space to reflect or whatever. However... Starbuck's and B&B aren't in the same league. No matter what you personally think of them or their atmosphere, B&B is a pioneer in the modern (1970's+) specialty coffee industry, their coffee is highly respected within the industry and they employ & train skilled (varying degrees of course) baristas to prepare their beans. Starbuck's trains their crew in one button coffee preparation and don't get me started on their charred beans.

About Oly. Well you said one small thing I disagreed with. That location is a coffee shop by every definition. A shop is what it is you buy good coffee and you hang out a bit or you leave. It isn't the type of cafe culture you crave is there isn't a hidden nook to read or write in and they don't serve you up a heaping helping of wifi there. By design it is a small but serious SHOP (not cafe) for those who like good coffee.

The new shop that is being put in at the roasting location between State and 4th on Cherry should be more of what you are looking for when it is done. Glad you enjoyed the coffee. ;) GREAT BLOG and I do mean that!

9:45 PM  
Blogger Terry Z said...

It's true that Olympia Coffee's Shop is not a coffeehouse. It is truly more of an espresso bar, in the traditional sense. The large table that seats six was intended to create the type of community you suggest and at times this does occur, however the wifi set prefers to plug-in and tune out. I ran a popular coffeehouse in Olympia for many years, and the largest problem with a coffeehouse is that the income often does not match the attendance. What I mean is that you cannot run a business on 1.50 cups of coffee that are nursed until 11:00 PM, unfortuneatly. This is why places like B&B and Starbucks can succeed, as they have the corporate funds to drive a coffeehouse environment. Unplug the Wi Fi and watch people get back to basics. I'm really glad you enjoy the coffee. Look for our new shop on Cherry St, soon.

11:10 AM  

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