Culture in a Coffee Cup
Writing is a solitary act so I often work at a café. I frequent several, taking comfort in the white noise of conversation and the familiarity of alternative living rooms.
The café culture, perfected by Europeans and promulgated by Starbucks, is integral to social interaction. We chat with friends over coffee, or tea. We hold meetings. We linger with a book or computer. Friendships are forged. First dates.
However unlike the iconic bar, where one goes to engage, the café offers an opportunity to maintain a distance, if preferred, enjoy an eavesdrop or write, and each one has its own cultural identity.
Picture Zinc. Populated largely by locals, many regulars cluster under its iconic umbrellas or hide in the tiny eatery. Zinc is our gourmet café, replete with elegant gifts and dramatically tall vases filled with exquisite bouquets to set the scene. Stage directed to perfection, for those who wish to see and be seen.
Down the street, at Anastasia’s, a more intimate scene, where an artsy crowd favors proximity to fashion, lingering over beautiful food served to paper-topped tables, perfect for scribbling notes or numbers. Patrons there socialize, philosophize, or seal business deals.
The Coffee Pub near the Post Office might be called the un-Zinc, for those who would rather hang out with a newspaper or colleague. I’m told barefoot patrons at the Orange Inn get high on organic coffee. Jean Paul’s Goodies, barely visible in North Laguna, is the place for Francophiles, and Café Vienna in South Laguna the final outpost and a personal favorite.
Regulars at Laguna Coffee Company favor fresh roasted blends and Saturday morning jazz. Close by, Heidelberg serves as an anchor for Hip District workers and shoppers, and a stop for tourists en route to town, who might have missed Koffee Klatch two blocks south, tucked way like a Moroccan teashop, where the pastry case beckons and cushioned banquettes are perfect for curling up with a good book or a close friend. And, by the way, the only coffee café open at night.
For those who prefer a bitter blend, there is always Starbucks, with a view of Main Beach.
Café culture is less about thirst than atmosphere. We choose in the moment where to socialize, or not, or gravitate to the same spot like swallows to their nest. Where we land reflects who we are or who we want to be, as much as where we live or what we wear, and as integral to our society as the art that lines the walls at just about every café in town. In fact, it has little to do with coffee in the end, especially for tea drinkers like me.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered City Hall for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com.