I should invest and buy Starbucks shares. Or apply for a barista position. Either way, it’s time to get something out of my coffee shop addiction. Oh wait, I did—Starbucks Canada sent me a fancy-looking plastic gold card for being such an awesome… I mean, regular, customer. It comes with a few perks, like free drinks and samples, so I tell myself it offsets the cost of my daily $2.36 grande cup of coffee.
When I first came to Canada, I had little interest in these franchised coffee shops. In my French mind, cafés were unpretentious places where you 1) chain smoked; 2) argued over politics with your friends or planned the next protest movement; 3) hid when skipping classes; 4) nursed the cheapest drink you could buy for as long as it was humanly possible. I didn’t like coffee back then, and since smoking is banned in all public places, I had little incentive to go to Second Cup, Starbucks, Tim Horton’s or Bridgehead. Beside, Feng and I were broke. If we had $10, we’d spend it on food, not drinks.
It all changed when I started my first office job on Parliament Hill. There was a Starbucks downstairs and a Second Cup across the street, both always packed since to people who work 24/7, coffee is the next best thing to booze. As the newest employee, I liked to volunteer for the afternoon coffee run. It was a fun brain exercise—Jane wanted a latte, two shots of expresso, soy milk; Bob ran on macchiato, whipped cream; and Joe loved Americanos, three creams, one sugar—and a good excuse to go for a walk. Besides, I was often hungry in the afternoon and sipping a sugary vanilla latte felt healthier than eating a candy bar.
That year, for Christmas, a friend of mine offered me a five-dollar reloadable Starbucks gift card. I became one of them—one of these people who order complicated customized drinks and walk around with a giant branded cup in hand.
After Mark was born, I developed a taste for practicality and caffeine and learned to enjoy black coffee instead of frappucinos or hot chocolate. Not that I had a choice: newborn Mark was screaming on top of his lungs as soon as I’d stop walking, and waiting for my drink at the counter was a stressful experience. So I started to order whatever you could get on the spot—black coffee it was.
However, “grabbing a coffee” with Mark meant just that—running inside, ordering, paying (with the app, because it’s faster) and leaving.
Now that Mark is at “school”, I can finally enjoy a relaxing coffee break alone.
In fact, the coffee shop experience is almost therapeutic.
I work alone and I mostly interact with clients by email but for the occasional quick phone call. I don’t mind it at all—I guess I’m not that social. I like it best when I’m surrounded by people who mind their own business. I often say hostels are my favourite hangout place because it’s communal living without social commitments.
Coffee shops offer me just that: a friendly and neutral social environment where I don’t have to be social.
I just sit there and observe the people coming and going. It can get very crowded some mornings, and even though this is a country where personal space matters a lot, it’s fine to share a table with a stranger.
The father with the very unhappy newborn baby: holding him upside down probably won’t make him stop crying, dad! Oh well, he will figure it out soon enough… The mothers on maternity leave, with their little ones in the stroller, trying to catch up with friends—they are already seasoned experts and can manage feeding the baby while having a conversation . The students, their homework spread out on the table, more interested in their phone than in their academic life. The office employees, holding impromptu meetings and laughing on cue as the manager tells a lame joke. The occasional candidate being interviewed for a job at the supermarket or at the gym next door.
I see a bit of myself in all of them.
The noise level is perfect—I can focus on my book if I want to.
I sit there and relax, sipping my drink, enjoying a chapter or two on my Kindle.
For twenty minutes.
It feels awesome.
And this is why I spent $2.36 every day. To escape, to relax, to share a moment with complete strangers. Worth the price, doesn’t it?