Hooray! It’s almost time for me to gather with my little brood of about a dozen local poets. We meet at non-chain coffee/tea house once a month to share our poetry. It’s not an open stage, although we do read our poems aloud for feedback and in so doing inflict our verses on any patron in the shop. I save my racier poems for evenings without cocoa-sipping kids in the shop.
I have to say there’s something about coffee/tea shops that sets an excellent atmosphere for writers. J. K. Rowling famously penned her first drafts of Harry Potter in a coffee shop.
Why is a coffee/tea shop a great place to percolate creativity?
(Or should I say, percolatte?)
Maybe because even poor starving artists can afford a cuppa. (Although in my group, we all have day jobs.)
Maybe because caffeine is a cheap legal stimulant. (Although I go with the herbals. My current favorite is blueberry hibiscus.)
Maybe because it’s locally-owned, and the owners pull out your favorites when they see you come in. It starts to feel like some non-alcoholic version of Cheers, where everybody knows your name.
Maybe because of the slow-roasted aromas tangling in the air. Ordering a cuppa is a form of poetry itself. I stand in line and listen to people who don’t even belong to the literary crowd recite rhythmic poems like:
Ok, I don’t even know if those words in combination form a real drink, but those are the phrases that float in the air, like the steam that rises behind the counter.
I love reading such poetic names of drinks on the permanent menu. Drinks that never seem to be in stock, so you ask the coffee barista for her seasonal recommendation. But it’s fun reading the names of key beverages overhead, like the names of indie movie stars on a marquee.
Maybe because they let us rearrange all their furniture, and don’t kick us out at closing time until the last chair is overturned on a table.
Indeed, coffee/tea shops have a high tolerance for table-roosters. (By this I mean patrons who just don’t leave.) Perhaps the highest tolerance in the food and beverage industry. Coffee is served fast but it’s not fast food, because the mentality is different.
It’s not fast food, it’s slow drink.
You can’t chug a scalding cup of coffee. And you have to let tea steep as you never have to let your supersize soda steep.
Tea/coffee shops have tables perfectly sized for intimate conversations and small writing projects. They have big windows, perfect for people-watching. And writers love people-watching.
Writing is by nature a semi-solitary pursuit, but we need people for stimulation. A tea/coffee shop allows you to choose your own level of interaction. We can steep ourselves in the hot public waters, then pull ourselves out and drip ideas on a napkin.
The window becomes a living picture frame. Every person who crosses that space carries a bit of plot. A character quirk. A “what-if” writing prompt.
Why is the girl in the scarf carrying 5 shopping bags and her friend none?
How long has the couple holding hands been dating?
Will the bald man ever catch the hat that just blew off his head?
Bits of stories flit by in 10-second fragments. Catch them if you can.