Day 19. Coffee Culture

I go out for coffee everyday.  I like to write in cafes.  I like the ‘buzz’ of human energy.

When I work I tend to zone right out.  Especially when the writing is going well.  So although I know there are other people there, I’m not really aware of them.  I have no idea when they arrived.  I don’t notice when they leave.  And I can’t tell you what they talk about while they’re there.

But from time to time I do look around.  It’s fascinating.  Different purveyors/brands definitely attract very different people.  And depending on the time of day, you may also find totally different types of clientele — at least much of the time.

Tim Hortons is as Canadian as the maple leaf.  Founded in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964, today it is a multi-million dollar franchise, best known for its coffee and doughnuts.   Although I’ve worked in advertising, I’ve never worked on the Tim Hortons account.  I’ve never seen one of their creative briefs so I don’t know who they would tell you their audience is.  I can only speak about what I’ve seen any time I’ve visited:

Go into any Tim Hortons, anywhere, and you’ll see your average Canadian. Ethnically diverse. Families. Parents with kids.  Multi-generational families — grandparents, with their kids and grandkids.  Seniors on fixed incomes.  Students on tight budgets.  Office workers.  Hard hats.  Policemen.  Some professionals.  Highway travellers stopping for gas, bio breaks and a coffee  on long road trips.   Shift workers, because so many of the stores, even in the city, are open all night.  But regardless of how they earn their living, they are hardworking, decent, looking for friendly service, a good cup of coffee and a price that cannot be beat.  It is not pretentious.  It is not intimidating.  There are not a myriad of choices.  It’s easy, in every respect.  Consistent.

Their customers don’t tend to hang around long.  If they’re not just there for take-out, if they’re eating in, they don’t dawdle.  They don’t sip, nibble and talk.  They eat, drink and leave.  It will be interesting to see if that changes when Tim’s starts testing free WiFi — which they apparently plan to do in the very near future.  It will also be interesting to see if that attracts a new audience for them — the laptop and tablet crowd.

Here in Toronto we have another very small franchise:  Lettieri Espresso + Bar.  I used to love it until they changed their regular coffee to something I didn’t like as much.  But I do still go, from time to time, when I want an espresso or an Americano or one of their lemon cranberry muffins — which are, without doubt, the best muffins you will ever eat.  They’re great for sharing because they are huge — impossible to finish yourself — at least in one sitting.

A relative newcomer to the scene, Lettieri has been around for about twelve years.  It ‘feels’ very European which could, at least in part, be attributed to the fact that they tend to attract a lot of Europeans.  Duh.  Probably because they are known for their rich, full bodied coffees; and the fact that you can get wine and liquor there.

Interestingly they don’t offer free WiFi — at least not in the location I frequented.  When I asked why, the answer was very logical:  “Because people stayed forever, but never ordered more coffee.  There was no room for new customers.  It was bad for business.”  Okay.  Makes sense.  Except much of their crowd stays there forever, anyway.  Like you’ll find in Italy, a lot of their regulars are men of a certain age, who are retired or work whenever the mood strikes them.  They hang out there for hours on end, with their compatriots, nursing espressos, sharing news from back home, complaining about their wives and arguing about soccer.

But there’s a pretty dramatic shift in the crowd at Lettieri, depending on the time of day — or whether or not it’s a weekday or a weekend.  Early mornings on weekdays it was mostly take-out.  The office crowd, stopping by to pick up their hits of caffeine.

By mid-morning, the stay-in crowd started to arrive.  The older men escaping boredom, seeking the companionship of their friends … some young mothers with baby carriages, obviously on maternity leave (12 months in Canada) … folks with a bit of time to spare before appointments — lots of doctors, dentists and lawyers in the neighbourhood.  Mid-afternoon it would change again.  The ladies-who-lunch-crowd — stopping for cappuccino and a pastry, after shopping (lots and lots of tony boutiques there).

It’s open quite late every night and that’s a totally different crowd.  Mostly the after-movie, after-dinner folks who want a glass of wine or a shot of something with their coffee.  And, like so many of the people who show up on the weekends, for the most part I never saw any of them at any other time.  Much more transient.  Just passing through.

And that brings us to where I am right now, and where I am most of the time.  Starbucks.

It’s now around 1 p.m.  I arrived at 10 a.m.  There were two students, both working on laptops, when I arrived.  They’re still here.  There was an older man, sitting in an armchair, plugged into his iPod.  I have no idea when he left.  And me.

Right now there are 20 people here, 21 including me.  More than half of us are working on computers.  The most significant difference between today and when I’m here during the week, is that there are no meetings going on at any of the tables.  With so many people now self employed, myself included, we are turning our local cafes into meeting rooms.  Think about it.

We work from home offices.  Not all my meetings are with my clients, at their offices.  So would you want virtual strangers coming to your house?  I don’t.  And judging from all the people I see at every Starbucks I have ever been to, I’m going to go out on a limb and say not very many other people do, either.  Somebody should open a cafe that has a private room — a quasi boardroom — that customers could rent by the hour.  You’d have privacy, for one thing; and you’d even be able to project a presentation on a screen, or the wall.  I bet it would be booked pretty much all of the time.  Hell, maybe I should do it.

So what’s the crowd like at Starbucks?  Different from Tim Hortons?  Different from Lettieri.

Absolutely.  Right off the top, because of the free WiFi it’s always packed with students and writers, freelancers, consultants and entrepreneurs.  More fashionistas.  More hipsters.  More well-heeled.  Or at least more willing to shell out big bucks for a designer coffee.  Younger.  And if they’re not younger, they’re well-preserved (do I really need to spell it out for you?).  Fewer families, although there are a fair number of pretty, perfectly-coiffed, artfully made up and trendily-dressed young women with cute, trendily-dressed babies and toddlers.  Tourists who, because Starbucks can be found virtually everywhere, come for something familiar, something that reminds them of ‘home’.

Bet you never thought having a coffee could turn into an almost 1200-word dissertation.  Now you know.  A coffee is clearly not just a coffee.  It’s a reflection of who you are, what you like and even what, and who, you aspire to be.

And it’s also an opportunity for me to show off my talent for multi-tasking.  It seems I can drink coffee, observe and work at the same time.  Who knows?  I might even be able to chew gum.

One thought on “Day 19. Coffee Culture

  1. Pingback: Day 49. Pink Poison | Three Hundred Sixty-Five

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