As the home of Starbuck’s and Tully’s and dozens of independent coffee shops, Seattle is one coffee-drinking place. Not surprisingly, a recent survey found that Seattle is the second most caffeinated city in the country (after Tampa – where they drink a lot of tea) but it comes in at the #1 spot for the consumption of coffee. Although the image of everyone in Seattle carrying around a cup of coffee has become a cliché, there are lots of places to drop in for a cup. It often seems that there is at least one coffee shop per block and in keeping with the pattern we have a Tully’s in our building.
One of the things that strikes me whenever I go for a latte is how so many different people use the space for so many different things. Use of the term “third place” to describe libraries, coffee shops, and other community spaces has become so ubiquitous that it now appears in wikipedia. People use our coffee shop to work on their computers, to meet business associates, and just to “bump into life” (an especially apt description by Kathleen).
It is this bumping into life part that is the lifeblood of third places like my coffee shop. It is true, as many ads for pricey coffee makers claim, that it would be cheaper to make my coffee at home. But if I did that I would miss the chat I had last week with some other residents of our building – wonderful people who I had not had the opportunity to get to know – or learning about the informal inauguration party that will be happening tomorrow. I would miss being a part of an informal community that I value.
Which brings me back to the question: why are there so many coffee shops in Seattle? Is there something about this community that values community? Is the value of serendipity an implicit value in this entrepreneurial town? As the most educated city in the US are we driven by our need to exchange ideas? I’m not sure about the answer but I am pretty sure that it’s not about the coffee.