According to Statista, a leading online statistics company, there were 51,000 coffee shops in the United States in 2013. If you are like me, caffeine from these shops in some way fuels your life. For most Americans caffeine gets us through the work week. We even socialize at coffee shops and cafes, meeting for dates, catch-up sessions and networking. Heck, my church hosts a men’s Bible study at our local coffee shop (and my personal favorite) Café Moka. I think though, that Americans are missing out on one of the historical purposes of coffee shops.
As you sit and sip your latte think about this: coffee shops have been around for centuries, according to Colonial Williamsburg the first coffee shop in England was opened in 1650. In fact, as coffee popularity waned in Europe it is probably due to the Boston Tea party that the popularity of coffee continued in America. John Adams himself told the story of a landlady who stated, “We have renounced all Tea in this Place. I can’t make Tea, but I’le [sic] make you Coffee.” He wrote to Abigail of this story and related that, “Accordingly I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better.” (See masshist.org for the full letter). In Europe and America coffee houses were considered places where men from various levels of society could gather for business and social exchange. This free exchange of ideas lead to the term “Penny Universities,” referring to the penny admission fee paid at the door in London coffee houses. Wouldn’t it be great if we could reinstate this tradition? Arrive at the coffee shop not just to sit with friends and socialize, but to debate and exchange opinions with others; possibly even people you don’t know?
The next time you’re standing at the counter waiting for your decaf grande non-fat no foam extra hot latte (or cup of black coffee) take a look around and see if there is anyone you might start a conversation with. Don’t just sit down and open up your laptop, ask someone how their day is going, or what they think of current events. Be polite and friendly and maybe if enough of us do it the term “coffee shop university” will be used in the future.