A brewed awakening

Taking issue with the modern coffee shop


Julia's column runs biweekly Thursdays. She can be reached at j.horowitz@cavalierdaily.com. 

Coffee shops are theoretically my favorite place in the world. I always go to coffee shops thinking they’ll be a blast.

Hypothetically, my experience unfolds as follows:

I am whisked away to some alternate realm where the air is filled with the aroma of free-trade Guatemalan coffee grounds and the light guitar of a rising singer-songwriter from Madison, Wisconsin or Place From Twilight, Oregon. I sit in a booth and sip on a rich cappuccino when Justin — the 24-year-old I am about to have a fabricated meet-cute with (he recently returned from a stint in Peru in which he helped indigenous populations secure access to water utilities completely independent of the fact that he screwed his case interviews at all the lead consulting firms) — comes to my table and gives me a generous smile.

He asks what I’m reading (the new Lena Dunham book, but Vonnegut is on the table to generate intrigue), and I tease him for ordering the last chocolate muffin, leaving me with a flax-oat-bran disaster with kale sprinkles, which I bought and threw directly into the trashcan to make a statement about its qualifications as actual food. He finds this endearing, and not a waste of $2.65. We fall madly in love, and I never have to pretend to eat organic.

In my opinion, this is the ideal business model for a coffee shop. If only it were actually implemented. I really think investors — namely Ethel, Joe the Manager’s independently wealthy great aunt, and Joe’s parents, who gave him $100 last Christmas and told him to “get himself something nice” — would all be on board. Alas, it is not the reality.

I shall list my qualms about the modern coffee shop in order of offensiveness.

1. Music

If I wanted to listen to Pearl Jam, I would buy tickets to their fall 2014 tour (on sale now). But I don’t. In a light-conversation, study-heavy environment, I would like to listen to calm indie crooning, recorded in a log cabin 15 miles from the nearest drugstore while the band was conducting a hunger strike, giving the lead singer that breathy quality I really love about the genre.

I should note, though, this doesn’t mean I want to listen to The Shins on a loop for two hours. The baristas can mix things up with other indie bands invariably named after plural nouns. But please — indulge me. I want a den of zen.

2. Organic and vegan takeover

Want to know what goes well with coffee? A ham, egg and cheese sandwich. Want to know what doesn’t? “Food” lacking animal byproducts. Animal byproducts are the glue that holds this nation together — and, incidentally, all baked goods. Three hundred crumbs does not a muffin make.

3. Lack of eligible bachelors

I always think I will run into someone single, attractive and intelligent at a coffee shop. Instead, I keep running into this guy who I think is named Carl. He is very studious, always orders a small Caffé Americano and is definitively not interested.

4. Lack of anything which can qualify as a romantic interaction

I spent five hours in Shenandoah Joe’s the other day writing a paper. At no point during that time did anyone approach me. Two small girls sat down at the table with their dad — though I suppose he could have been a manny, which is a male nanny, but not an au pair, which is a nanny who feels less threatening because of the accent — and, when he shushed them, one of the girls pointed to me and said, “She’s not even really reading!” I wasn’t — I was on Facebook trying to decide if someone was actually pretty or not — but I did not appreciate her ability to be so perceptive.

When I left, I thought one of the baristas would grin at me. I had become a fixture that morning, and he was kind of cute. Instead, he said, “My god, you’re actually LEAVING?! You’ve been here for, like, five hours!” After mulling it over, I determined this was an objective fact and not, in fact, flirtation. This hunch was confirmed when he did not follow up his confrontation and instead began angrily bussing my table.

We are not dating.

One day, I will open a coffee shop of my own to prove how easy it should be. I will easily circumvent the four deadly sins listed above, and it will be quite lovely. I will exclusively play the music of California naturalist band Muir Muir on the Wall and anti-corporate group Walt Whit Against the Man. My Yelp review will explicitly read “vegan unfriendly,” and romantically available Joseph Gordon-Levitt look-alikes will abound.

The name will be quaint, demonstrating character without needing to revert to a coffee pun — though if I do meet my future partner in a coffee shop and he leaves me, I reserve the right to operate a small outfit called Grounds for Divorce. It will be a wild success.

I think my vision is groundbreaking.

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