Yesterdays brainstorm was one of those rare times when you simply did not want it to end. Maybe I am older, I can’t spend a day sprinting anymore with thoughts operating at full speed, or, perhaps I got a little wiser and took walks, ran, broke the 5 main themes into manageable sections? Then I got an email from a coffee group that was about this:
Why is this interesting to me? Simple. If you scroll down a few blog posts in this site you will find many of them deal with the vice of coffee in my life. From the 50 cents bottomless cup, to the day where I experienced actual mango and papaya flavor in the coffee where just the beans cost $5 a cup at stumptown’s Oregon tasting room, years ago.
Then there is the element of décor, from the anything goes eclectic I see in many of the mom and pop shops, to the images that I took in Bern, Switzerland at the Einstein café. Each had its own unique brand of design and style. If memory serves me correctly there is even an article somewhere about the lighting crew teaching me about the “coffee road case” from a George Lucas show in japan.
This is all good, but what appears to have changed, particularly in the USA, is what a coffee shop is, and what it is used for. I used to go to coffee shops each morning to just let my brain go nuts on ideas and thoughts. The reason why was that It was beneficial for me to watch people to trigger ideas is that there is something different with the people who went to cafe's then. i don't know how to quantify it but, How we fundamentally use the coffee shop appears to have changed a bit in the past 20 years. If you are looking for quantified data to prove this, I am not going to dig any up, just simply offer my observation from the past 20-30 years. What scares me a bit is almost in tandem to a quote a friend who worked in drug enforcement said when he quit. He simply got tired of the war on drugs being a money making entity for both sides and he said, “in the 80’s, people were taking drugs for recreation, today, they are taking them to medicate.”
what i see more today is people going into coffee shops to amp up, get a fix of caffeine and go off on their way - or - there is the concept of the one chair per table coffee shop i want to put in a music video of how society is all in the same spot, yet not interacting with each other, only staring into their own mobile phones and tablets. has anyone else noticed this trend? one can just cut out half the seats to improve the immediate bottom line ROI.
The correlation seems to follow along through the coffee shop as well. There was one place on the planet I would go to in the late 1980’s in New Orleans, where a coffee shop whose name I forget, resided in an old bank building. There was nothing amazing about the shop or the coffee – it was the people inside the shop that made it amazing. One day you could enjoy a café with an esteemed old boy lawyer, the next you could play chess with a homeless man that happened to have advanced degrees from university. What made that shop so interesting was that once everyone walked through the door whatever race, creed, color, political, or military view – somehow was left at the doorway.
Today’s coffee shop? I can remember when starbucks actually had really nice coffee and was fun to go to before the corporate growth model had one stuck on every corner. If you had a problem, the manager could take care of it. Although, I do apologize to the manager in the Reston, VA store in the early 1990’s when we stuck a computer into it, thinking the Internet was common sense to everyone. I should have known then with the bureaucracy of the corporate and district manager that they didn’t realize what the Internet was at that time.
I digress and will edit heavily to say, most of the coffee shops of today seem to have been polarized. The neighborhood cool spots and creative areas are being overrun with gentrification and wealthy moving into what were the makerspaces of creative’s. Starbucks has done a remarkable job at building a giant company, yet, like any company that big, they have problems with maintaining consistency and trying to make their coffee great, yet, fit the production cost model they have to keep in line with. My fear is some of my favorite roasters like stumptown will have to simply grow really large and sacrifice the quality.
Then I read the article and had never heard of blue bottle coffee or Mr. freeman. But I really like what he is doing with the idea of coffee. The part that has me wonder, is this simply another tech fad bundling of hip money? Will blue bottle be a place where young folks who came into too much tech money too soon reside and put a strain on the limited high quality beans and shoot auction prices even higher? In a sense gentrifying the coffee shop neighborhood? With 45 million in venture, is the entire operation slated to be a pump and dump stock bonanza?
What I do not sense with this VC funded coffee shop idea, is that despite what appears to be attention for detail and a great respect for coffee, is that the Shoppe’s will also throw back to the days of that old new Orleans café I frequented – where everyone left their race, creed, color, money, and political views at the door – and simply enjoyed their coffee and the people. Where I see all this going, is much like the way the internet brings like minded folks together. Would I walk into the blue bottle and feel at home? Or would I feel like I was in some of the nyc stumptown locations? is it possible to recreate a chain of coffee shops that can retain the charm that made them popular in the first place?
Typing this note has also led me to rekindle the thoughts for smart space coffee shops meeting the actual designs for the brainstorm café concept – I will build a little one in the new lab, but if anyone wants to put actually put some on the map, you know where to find me.
To all that made it this far - may your coffee be great this fine day. If I haven’t bored you to death with one guy typing away, typo’s and bad grammar for free – and you still want to read more about one guys love of coffee, creation and invention - Here are the aforementioned posts: