Growing up in a small town, my friends and I were limited as to where to spend our time. We could listen to albums at a friend's house until their parents told us to go bother someone else, kick a hacky sack in the park or perhaps loiter in a parking lot until we were chased off. Not all of us had a sports team to consider our second family or an academic club where we might encounter like-minds, but when a coffee shop opened we had finally found our stomping grounds. We followed in the footsteps of many generations of outcasts, artists, philosophers, activists and really just anyone looking for a sense of community. Finding a social safe-haven outside of home and work is incredibly important to not only an individual's well being, but to society's as well.
"Man is by nature a social animal." -Aristotle
This can be debated, if man was social to begin with, but one thing is common knowledge; we find strength in numbers. We come from tribes and villages. We know that working together takes us from just surviving to thriving. We have been gathering together and conversing over drink and food since the beginning of language. It seems only natural that coffee houses came into existence. It became a place to converse about what is going on in the world around us and come up with solutions on how to make it better. Since the beginning of coffee houses in Constantinople in 1475, we have been using these spaces to come together and find comfort amongst friends or to plan grand revolutions (even if they don't make it out the front door). Ray Oldenburg deemed these informal gathering places the "third place". It is a neutral ground for us to seek out and interact with our community, but is community dying? Are we so wrapped up in ourselves, our personal trials and the computer screens in front of us that we are letting our strength as a community weaken? The death of the "third place" has been a major debate over the past few years as social networking has made a change in how we interact. We no longer send out invitations via snail mail or phone calls; we use Facebook events and if you don't see it, sucks to be you. We have major debates from the comfort of our keyboards and don't have to fear the retaliation of face to face confrontation. Can the coffee house culture fight back and keep community in coffee?
Coffee culture is all about community, from the farms where the beans are sourced to the relationship between the barista and the customer they are serving. As baristas, we are the face of the coffee world for the general public. We are ambassadors of our industry and keeping the community strong requires effort and we should lead by example. The art of conversation can make even a socially awkward nerd like myself feel like a long-time friend and is the difference between a drive-thru customer and a regular. Every customer that walks through the door had to walk through that door for the first time at one point. Engaging with customers beyond just knowing them by what drink they order is key to feeding that atmosphere of neighborliness (yes, that is an actual word). We can help community to not only survive, but to thrive by extending our friendship to our customers. By welcoming them into our coffee houses they will welcome and integrate us into their lives and we can continue the longstanding tradition of coffee community.