This may be just about the most first world of first world musing, but I got to thinking about what I’d want in My Perfect Coffee Shop, and I wrote a thing. Here you go. Here are the things I want:
SOFT, BLAND LIGHTING
Have you ever seen that episode of the X-Files where there’s a guy whose shadow kills people, so he spends all his time skulking around places like train stations, where there is soft, shadow-less lighting? That’s the kind of lighting I want in my hypothetical coffee shop. Shadows are evil menaces when it comes to writing by hand.
Once upon a time, “my” coffee shop had this sort of lighting. It was a little more clinical/industrial, maybe, but I COULD SEE. And I could write without weird crisscrossing shadows making me want to punch things.
Then the place got hipsterized and they added trendy drop lighting: half a dozen single bulbs suspended throughout the room, depositing little pools of random light, and making weird shadows of any objects passing in front of them–objects like, say, my head, my hand, anyone walking by.
The lights may look kind of cool when you first walk in, but they are miserable instruments of torture. I hates them. I make do, shuffling around from seat to seat until I find the least obnoxious angle, but I hates them.
This is where I’m likely to sound like the Knights Who Say “Ni” and their shrubbery request. “Music that sounds nice…but not too much. And not the wrong sort.”
Background music is necessary, in my opinion, to sort of fill the empty spaces in the room, softly pad things out. Usually there is some sort of Pandora mix playing in the background at “my” coffee shop, and that’s good. If the playback stops, I feel exposed, like curtains have unceremoniously been yanked aside, leaving me out on a stage with no backup, no costume, and no prepared lines.
On the other hand, I don’t like to listen with headphones in a public place like that, because it makes me feel like I’m wearing aural blinders, and I feel vulnerable.
So I like places that play music. This place is nice in that most of what it plays is sort of angsty folk rock–easy on the ears, interesting but not so much that it’s distracting. Sometimes they also play older swing vocals, like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, or very elderly pop.
All of that works. Once in awhile someone decides to switch it to something peppier or turns it up too loud, and it’s as if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair–there’s just no way to ignore it, and it becomes more and more unbearable as time goes on, until I flee to work early to get away.
Let’s face it: one of my primary reasons to go to coffee shops is because I want to be not-alone, but still pretty much left alone. Coffee shops are like bars for introverted morning people.
It’s nice when the baristas make some effort to say good morning and make conversation. Yes, I will mumble and blush and not know what to say, but still, a tip of the mug to the people who have to be cheerful and coherent with people who have not yet had their own coffee!
I don’t like to be the only one there besides the baristas. It’s the wrong ratio. It’s like being the only kid at a grown-up party, where everyone sort of awkwardly bends over backwards to make you comfortable and only accomplishes the exact opposite.
Ideal is if there are a handful of other people sitting having quiet conversations around me, but not crowds, and not constant turnover. Crowds are claustrophobic, and every time someone walks behind me, I feel like I should cover my work.
Regulars are cool. Even regulars who just get their coffee and go. It’s like watching a show or book in slow motion, day by day, learning names and stories.
- The super bubbly gal who just moved here from Montana and who has a new hiking tale every Monday.
- The retired professor who is still finishing what will be just about the only book on his favorite esoteric subject.
- The overly enthusiastic young car salesman who is all too obviously using his pitch techniques on the newly married young barista whose ancient car barely lives day to day–he is amused but no more, and those of us who live for the Adventures of Rusty Lemon are secretly relieved.
- The three women who stop in every Wednesday, seemingly just to talk about the exciting times of a mysterious fourth friend, who is never present.
A few of them know my name. Most don’t. I wonder sometimes just who *I* am in their table of regulars.
Oh, yeah, almost forgot about this, didn’t I? Good coffee is…well, good. I’ve been through some pretty extreme coffee snob phases in my day, and I’ve owned pretty much every cheap-ish coffee brewing mechanism known to man: French press, Aeropress, Melita cone, moka pot, Clever Coffee Dripper (my current main squeeze). That said, at this stage of my life, I’m less demanding. Also, I’m cheap. Hence, I usually get drip. I like it strong and tasting like coffee and not half-drowned cigarettes and sorrow. You’ve all had *that* sort of gas station coffee, right? A splash of real cream or half-and-half, please.
And for those times when I splurge on a latte or mocha, a teensy bit of latte art will make you my favorite forever. Maybe it’s shallow, but I love it when food is pretty. Along the same sort of lines, real ceramic cups > serving even “for here” orders in paper cups.
I don’t usually buy food at a coffee shop, but the option is important. Sometimes, especially *after* writing a gazillion words, you need a cookie. Or a chocolate croissant. Or a breakfast burrito. My favorite places either bake their own treats from scratch, or else get them fresh every morning from local bakeries. Hard work deserves a fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie, not a nasty road-weary cookie.
So…there you have it! What did I miss?