The whir of machines over ambient jazz, the bittersweet smell of coffee in the air permeated only by the perfume of a customer waiting at the counter. Creased uniforms in that same familiar green hold little name badges of staff members who ask your name in return, as if making an introduction. The small wooden tables have water rings from coffee spilled long ago, the wide windows look out onto a different world, where each person goes about their lives.
‘Starbuckin’ man, it’s happening everywhere!’- Gary King in The World’s End. He is, of course, referring to the standardised aesthetics of chain coffee shops, restaurants and bars, a practise which takes away some aspects of the more ‘local’ feel to these spaces, the aspects which make them unique. This critique is common among travellers, with many people outright rejecting chain coffee shops in favour of higher culture, even with it’s higher prices. It’s a noble and valuable goal to support local coffee shops (and we all should make attempts to do so where possible).
However, standardisation isn’t always a bad thing. Standardised aesthetics allow that wonderful sensation of a familiar welcome, even in an unfamiliar environment. In new spaces, this familiarity can allow access to local people and culture without that extreme feeling of displacement which so often comes with solo travel to far-off places. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a local city, just a short walk away, or across the sea in the commercial district of an unfamiliar town, standardised coffee shops often have that same colour scheme, the same ambient sounds, the familiarity of something like home.
Coffee shops are reliable. Always transient spaces, where the traffic of people distracts from any attention on a resting traveller. Conversations with baristas reveal small local customs and accents, little pieces of culture amidst familiarity. Sometimes, there will be another solo traveller to befriend, other times, lonesome locals looking for conversation. Coffee shops take you out of the hotel room, away from the bustling attractions, and into the common view of the locals. After the people-watching, the time spent reading among locals, the familiar coffee- exploring new environments seems more accessible.
Do you like to visit coffee shops while travelling? How do they influence your travel experience?
Featured image: Vaishnav Chogale via Unsplash.