Last week, I drove to a city 45 minutes away from where I live to give a “talk” to 40 complete strangers at a Pecha Kucha Night about why I love coffee shops. Despite the things that I’ve done of much greater magnitudes, it was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever experienced.
Here’s some quick context: Over the last 4 years, I’ve given countless talks to hundreds of college students and their parents, with audiences of as many as 900+ about preparing for the future, choosing a major, and excelling in today’s job market. I have been afforded the opportunity to offer trainings for professionals who have been in my field for as long as I’ve been alive, and have done a ton of cool things in between. Yet, somehow, this small experience, my shortest presentation to one of the smaller groups that I’ve spoken to, moved me in a way that none of the others have. I think that it was because what I gave the crowd, more than my words, was a piece of myself.
So, aside from the unanimously agreed upon aura of innate inspiration that they possess, why do I love coffee shops? Most simply, because they serve as a common ground; no pun intended.
A common ground is defined as, “a basis of mutual interest or agreement; A place where both parties are equally comfortable or uncomfortable.” The “commons” or a “common” area is historically symbolic of a safe and public place, accessible to everyone. For those who are in a new and unfamiliar place, this area represents a point of comfort and familiarity. The beauty of coffee shops is that regardless of our respective positions in life, coffee shops communicate that we believe in a common ground. A place where presidents and pimps, students and staff, atheists and angels can collide. Waiting in line for a double-shot cappuccino with more milk than foam has led to many a conversation with individuals I would not have otherwise had access to.
Another reason that I appreciate coffee shops is that they celebrate the diversity of culture. Whether I’m drinking an Indonesian Sumatra with a Filipino friend in a Slovakian cafe while ruminating over the implications of socialism in Europe, or enjoying a Papua New Guinea Peaberry with a native North Carolinian over a warm conversation on a cold winter evening in Lynchburg, I am able to experience multiple layers of culture through the context of a cup.
This is beautiful because, in all of its brokenness and all of its fullness, culture displays our humanity.
Here is what I see: The homeless man grabbing a free cup of coffee and a warm bistro meal paid for by a coffee shop regular; the successful lawyer grabbing a latte on his way to meeting a client; the young family with their newborn infant planning their budget over Saturday morning muffins and chai; the recently divorced man introspectively learning to reframe his new identity while maintaining his connection to others over his daily double ristretto shot; the college couple on their first date, grabbing Flat Whites and French Macaroons before dinner because life is more exciting that way. The pageantry of life is manifested in the seemingly mundane ruminations of coffee shop denizens all over, and the shops’ owners serve as our temporary curators in the public museums of “us.”
Sunsets piercing downtown windows, providing havens for creatives in the midst of suburbia, serving as a respite for their untamed souls. Lattes turned lotuses; brown beans brewed into beautiful beverages buried in breve and brûléed bliss. The open-mic nights and literary readings, the creative meetings, the inspiring conversations, the solitude for reading; I can’t get enough.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, over-exaggerative, and disingenuous, I decided to share the above thoughts with this crowd of strangers, and they listened intently. Without having practiced my presentation a single time, my words flowed seemingly effortlessly, because I was speaking from my heart. Afterwards, several people mentioned appreciating the talk, and shared with me some of their favorite coffee shop experiences. Then there was the woman who said that she hadn’t been to a coffee shop in months, but planned to go within the next week after hearing my talk. I even received a couple of business cards from people who wanted to get-together for coffee in the near future. Mission accomplished.
This entire experience confirmed a belief that I’ve held for quite some time now. We all want to be known, and for our humanity to count for something. We want to share our lives with other people, but our current individualistic societal structure does not foster many experiences that allow us to feel safe in doing so. I want to be increasingly and ever more intentional in the pursuit to share life with others, new and old acquaintances alike, especially after this experience.
So if you’re reading this, I’d love to grab coffee with you!
::raises mug:: To humanity. To new experiences. To being known and sharing life. Cheers.
P.S. Below are the slides, sans commentary, from my talk.