Coffee as a social tool

Aug 17, 2023Jason Harvey

Last year, we had an interesting conversation with two guests staying in the hotel attached to Mayvn.

Two men in their sixties, in town for ongoing medical procedures, ordered breakfast and sat on opposite sides of the cafe. We brought them each a coffee, and they did something that startled us. They shouted across the room, politely introducing themselves to one another through masks and over a pretty serious distance.

During this period, we’d become pretty accustomed to relative silence at work, so we decided to chime in, too.

Over the next half hour, the three of us debated lockdown, Scottish politics, football, cars, meat reductionism and whether it’s called Netflix or “the net flicker”. We very rarely agreed on anything, but we all had our views changed and challenged in valuable ways. Since then, these guys have always timed their breakfasts in order to continue our conversation.

In preparation for this post, we asked one of the men what he thought of that very first conversation we had as strangers. He put it simply: “It was nice, that. It felt normal. That’s what you do in a coffee shop.” It’s true, people have set aside worries to debate and converse with perfect strangers in coffee shops throughout history.

This interaction made us really appreciate a bustling café. It also encouraged us to reflect on the role that cafés play in our patterns of communication. Why is it that we are more likely to talk to strangers in a café? Why would our environment encourage us to be friendlier and more respectful when debating sensitive topics? How can we harness this power to do more good in our communities?

Today, we want to have a brief look at the idea of cafés as ‘third places’. ‘Third places’ exist in that grey area between our public and private spheres, which people have considered a safe haven for creativity and freedom of thought throughout history. An individual in a ‘third place’ can set aside worries and/or stress caused by their work and home bubbles, like we do with the guys each morning in Mayvn.

Personally, we’ve always thought that cafes have a strange ability to create a close-knit community when only a door separates them from an overflowing street. There’s a familiarity, cosiness and feeling of safety that brings others closer, even when they’re strangers. We’ve had meaningful conversations with customers that have appeared one minute and vanished the next. There has to be something to that: an environmental factor that makes us so comfortable to engage on a deeper level with people we meet in cafes.

Why do you think we feel so at home in coffee shops?

What are your strategies for separating work and home life in this era of hybrid living and working?

How can we preserve a sense of community without physical closeness?

We hope that, in a time where we are so grateful for that cafe atmosphere, our little community can replicate it as much as possible by discussing in the comments, on social media, or when you pop by for your takeaways.

If you’d prefer to scroll and ponder instead, fear not. Pour yourself a warm drink and rest your weary mind. This is a safe haven, after all.

Common love,

Team Common

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