Finding Common Grounds

It’s not about the coffee. Well, maybe a little.

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

It’s Tuesday morning, 9:07 a.m. I’ve just dropped my kids off at school, wiped their mouths one last time, and reminded my kindergartener to take his lunch. I take a deep breath, shrugging off the chaos of getting littles out the door.

A few blocks away, I arrive at a coffee shop, a former hardware store at the end of a quaint residential block. The wooden floors creak as I walk to the counter.

“Twelve-ounce medium roast, please,” I tell the barista. “Heavy on the oat milk, right?” she asks. They almost always remember my order.

The steamer hisses. A grinder buzzes. Acoustic John Mayer pipes overhead. “Order for Elizabeth!” someone announces.

I settle into a two-top table with a tiny antique vase at the center. Laptop open, coffee in hand, I scan my e-mails. I’m a freelance writer, so I can work anywhere. At this moment, I could be at home, on my couch, doing exactly what I’m doing here. I could make my own (admittedly, inferior) cup of coffee and sit quietly in the stillness of my empty house.

But I don’t. I choose to come here, to my coffee shop. I welcome the friendly distractions of toasty fumes and bustling to-goers.

By a large window, a grandmother shares a muffin with a toddler. Next to them, a college student highlights a paperback book, sipping tea. Two young professionals, trendy with clear-frame glasses, nurse cortados and discuss a startup campaign. And then there’s me, a thirtysomething mom who writes in the stolen hours of naps and preschool. When I’m working at home, it’s hard to ignore the dirty breakfast plates and the crumbs below the counter. But when I’m here, I can just be a writer.

As I observe the strangers sharing my space this morning, I realize we’ve all come here for different reasons, seeking different things—caffeine, conversation, productivity, belonging.

Many needs, one place.

That’s the enigma of the local coffee shop. It’s not about the coffee (though I do love need it). Yes, the coffee gets me in the door, but it’s not what makes me stay. It’s the people. The vibes. The feeling of being part of something. Coffee shops are a manifest reminder that coffee, itself, is about connection—connection with each other, connection with the earth, and, sometimes, simply connection with our ourselves.

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