Monday, February 17th, 2014 | By: Mike Donahue

No Sweat’s Ode To Coffee Shops

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During an email exchange with my friend No Sweat Kosinski last week, I mentioned that I hold about 50% of my meetings in one of three coffee shops in my neighborhood. We ask ourselves, “Where did we meet back in the day before coffee shops?” And No Sweat followed up with this ode to coffee shops.


Like you, I have a lot of meetings over a cup of coffee. Although my Keuring coffeemaker brews a great cup of Java, and I have a comfy office, I too prefer the ambience of a coffee shop for most meetings.

Besides all the wonderful caffeine they offer, the sheer energy of coffee shops gives me another kind of boost when I’m working. Next time you’re sitting in your favorite café, take a look around at all the activity. And then, think about all the energy expended in all the coffee shops in all the world on any given day, as people sip their coffee and collaborate on projects, negotiate deals, converse with friends, flirt, read, study, text, talk on cell phones and answer email. When I see a solitary figure sitting at a table for two, sipping coffee and looking lonely, I think of the words of the song Exhilarating Sadness by the Irish rock band, The Saw Doctors:

You were sitting in a cafe
At a table by the window
Making cups of coffee last for years.
You never heard the fanfare
Never saw the sunshine smiling
And the summer slipped in unnoticed
From beneath your tears.

At the other end of the spectrum of the subject of this song, are the teens I see in Starbucks getting to know each other over mocha Frappuccinos. For them, Starbucks is a safe place, a great venue to overcome shyness and muster the caffeine-stoked courage to ask for a date. My son and his friends were socializing at Starbucks by age 16. When I asked him what he did there, he replied, “I chat with my friends.” At 16, I’ve never had a cup of coffee and I certainly never use the word “chat” in a sentence.

I drank my first cup of coffee at the counter of the Walgreens in South Chicago on Commercial Avenue, across the street from Goldblatt’s Department Store; I was just 17. It cost a dime and tasted horrible. Coffee became a steady part of my diet during college. I drank gallons of it in the student union; it cost a nickel more than the brew at Walgreens and tasted almost as bad.

The union brewed a cheap Robusta blend in giant five-gallon vats and serve the stuff in thick white mugs. I was convinced they most made the coffee taste better, but it was probably more the ambience of the union that compelled me to drink a couple cups between classes. The union was a tribal place where each fraternity and sorority carved out its turf by staking out a table. You’d find a dozen guys sitting around a long cafeteria table, drinking mugs of coffee, reading newspapers and talking about nothing. This is where I first learned how well coffee fuels conversations.

My favorite place in the student union to drink my coffee wasn’t our table; it was a place called the “Browsing Room.”

Full of upholstered chairs and a free jukebox that played soft background music, it was a cozy spot to study and a precursor of today’s coffee shop. It was also a terrific place for girl watching or taking a short map.

Like you, I’m a regular couple at a couple different coffee shops in my neighborhood. My favorite is the café at the art museum. Its weapons-grade French roast keeps me coming back. I can sit in the café, drink my coffee, connect to the Internet and work. If I need a little inspiration with my French roast, I just look out the windows of the Café onto the plaza with its flowering plants and fountain.

I’m a fan of Starbucks for three simple reasons:

    1. they’ve changed the way we work,
    2. how we socialize, and
    3. the way we drive from point to point.

On a trip to Vancouver, I discovered to Starbucks on opposite corners of the same intersection. The barista in the one I visited told me they serve two entirely different audiences: one artsy, the other business.

Of all the ways our world has changed since we left high school, the coffee shop is one I wish had been around back in the day. It would’ve beaten the hell out of all the Cokes we drank in the Mendel High School cafeteria in the morning before class.

My buzz is wearing off. Enough with the reminiscing, time for some Java. I’m headed to the coffee shop.

No Sweat

I successfully recruited a new member for one of my groups in a coffee shop just last week. That’s what triggered my motivation to post this blog. The coffee shop is become such an important part of how we live our lives that I thought most of us could identify with. If you have a coffee shop stories share, please post it.

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Posted in: No Sweat | 1 Comment »

1 response to No Sweat’s Ode To Coffee Shops

  1. Great article.