Coffee Shops

If necessary, use words

This is a cloud based on the words found in Coffee Shop Journal.

This is a cloud based on the words found in Coffee Shop Journal.

Words have always defined who I am. I read them, I write them, I learn through them. Lately I seem to want to decorate with them. I love words.

So the St. Augustine quote “Preach the gospel always. If necessary use words.” never really resonated with me. Of course you use words!

But a few days ago I walked into my regular Starbucks to order my breakfast. I go there nearly every day to study, journal, write: all the things that are so difficult to do here at home! My barista, whose name I think I know but I’m not really sure, took my Starbucks card and said, “So you’re a Christian, right?”


I’ve never spoken to her beyond a “Hi” now and then.

“Yep, I am.”

“Thought so. Do you go to Christ Fellowship?”

It was a safe bet that I did go to Christ Fellowship. After that she talked about the “Atheist” I was chatting with last week for a moment (apparently he has a reputation with the ladies!) and that was the extent of the conversation.

I’m so glad that she knew I was Christian. I’m so glad that I’ve taken the time to sit in one particular Starbucks and begin relationships — however bizarre or minimal — with the Rabbi, the Atheist, and the group of senior singers that livened up the place two days ago. That’s life in the community, and I’m pretty sure it’s my thing.

Starbucks in the Future…


Travel days are long. They take it out of you. We woke up at four AM to catch our flight to Boston, and then put in a full workday after that! When 2:30 hit, the crash was imminent.

Fortunately, Starbucks was in sight. It’s right along Massachusetts Avenue, in the next town over from my high school haunting grounds. This is the town that I remember when “Whenever I call you friend” by Kenny Loggins plays on the radio. Or maybe “Rock down to Electic Avenue…” High school.

So I was expecting a short walk back in time today when David and I strolled in for an iced espresso doubleshot. Instead, I found a glimpse into my future.

You see, this Starbucks is next to a drugstore and a nursing home. And on this lovely spring day, the patio was literally filled with octogenarians in all stages of mobility. There were scooters weaving through cars in the parking lot. There were walkers parked next to tables while their owners sipped away happily. I couldn’t help but wonder what they were drinking. Did they all want decaf? Or were they escaping the surly bonds of the nursing home to indulge in illicit caffeine? They all seemed happy, in any event.

This encouraged me today. Somewhere in my future there is a place for me next to a walkable, wonderful Starbucks.

Choosing a seat in a coffee shop

I spent some time today in three coffee shops: Starbucks, Barnes & Noble cafe, and Nordstrom’s. I enjoyed going back to my roots by watching the people near me. As I did, I was reminded of a comment I read by (I think) Leonard Sweet in “The Gospel according to Starbucks.” In discusing people’s desire to be connected he proposed a test. Go into an empty movie theater. Sit down. Wait until someone else comes in. Do they sit sort of near you or totally elswhere? Most of the time they will pick a seat somewhat near to you. People have an innate desire to be connected.

I watched that play out today in my three coffee shops, too. Picking your spot is an art form. Near, but not too near…near certain people but not others. And, once in awhile, pick a seat away from everyone. All send powerful messages. Use that information next time you decide to be intentional spending time out in the community.

What makes community?

Going back to the roots of Coffee Shop Journal for a few minutes, I’ve been thinking today about what it really takes to feel like you are in a community. We’ve all known people on the fringes of a real community who just never seem to fully enter into the common life. There are also times in my own life when I feel as if I am “in” a community, but not really feeling as if I belong. And yet community is the most necessary component to a fulfilled — and even healthy — life. We were designed to live and move IN community, not just wandering through the edges of someone elses community.

When it comes to designing and living in Third Places, the question of true community becomes even trickier. Generally speaking, there are a few elements that must be in place before a person feels like they are in a community setting. According to a psychological study by MacMillian and Chavis (1986) that I read recently, these are the essential ingredients to community:

  • Boundaries – how we dress, what we do and say – the outward signs of “belonging.”
  • Emotional Safety – I am in a comfortable zone when I am in this community.
  • A sense of belonging and personal identification
  • Personal investment – I have paid my dues to this community.
  • A common symbol system – We understand the symbols and their meanings.

If all of these elements are in place, says the study, then a healthy community will flourish. But think about some of those elements and how difficult they are to just “create.” The best Third Places are organic in nature. They have a culture that has matured over time, and it is a unique culutre. It may be welcoming to outsiders and it may not, but either way it has its own unique characteristics. Creating from scratch a Third Place with character is difficult.

I write this as I am sitting in our new Life Center coffee shop at Christ Fellowship. At the moment it is a large room with chairs, couches, tables and a coffee bar. Its personality is missing. This is the first time I’ve sat down and spent time here observing, and I do see beginning signs of a culture growing. Here’s what I am looking for in order to see a community grow up in this new space.

  • People: We need a few regulars hanging around this place. They need to stake out their favorite spots and set up shop. There are definitely people coming and going and interacting already. If this can grow and expand, then there will be a warmth generated by their conversations and bodies filling the room.
  • Aroma: Good coffee shops develop their own scent over time
  • History: There need to be events in this space to create a sense of history. An accoustic guitar evening, a games night, book clubs, life.
  • Personality: File this one under people if you want, but there needs to be an individual whose personality begins to imprint itself on this open space. “Welcome…how are you? I brewed that coffee you recommended…Are you having your usual?”

I get excited by new construction. The sense of possibility permeates everything here in the Life Center, and I’m anxious to see how that possibility is fulfilled. I’m curious to see what history develops, what people wander by, what function this space will fulfill in the life of my church. I am anxious to watch the serendipitous meetings between departments that may have been holed up in their own hallways before. The organic “bumpage” of one person interacting with another is part of the magic of a Third Place.

In the meantime, I’m trying out all the tables, finding the spot with the best view of the comings and goings, yet still secluded enough to get some work done once in awhile. I’m sampling the coffees slowly. I’ve already participted in one of those “accidental” meetings, and felt the small bonds of connection begin to unfold. Give me another week: I’ll have my spot staked out.

The Coffeehouse Mystery Series

It’s a perfect weekend to share my latest find: a whole series of lighthearted mysteries centered in the kind of coffeehouse we all wish we ran. Or at least were able to frequent. David and I wandered over to Starbucks yesterday and sat in Maria’s store. You’ve all heard me talk about our friend Jeremy, who runs our favorite Starbucks in the area. Maria is his wife, and she can be found in the third Starbucks in the same mall. Maria runs a great crew, with a lot of interaction with the customers. Anyway, David and I perched at her counter with our books yesterday, and this series is what I found. It was the perfect companion.

Cleo Coyle is the author of the Coffehouse Mystery series. I am currently reading the first book, On What Grounds. Coyle has captured the true heart of the coffee-lover’s sole, and created a corresponding coffeehouse. What I wouldn’t give to walk into her Village Blend and have a cup of perfectly brewed Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain. As a mystery, the book naturally opens with a nefarious deed. I would say murder, but I haven’t read far enough to know if the victim dies or not! As the plotline unfolds, our narrator (and Village Blend barista/manager) shares her coffee knowledge and lore while trying to solve the crime. I’ve learned a lot about the bean while puttering through this mystery. I’ve also forgotten to pack for my upcoming trip to Atlanta, but that can be remedied. Enjoy this series, you readers out there. And on this rainy Sunday afternoon I leave you with the opening lines of On What Grounds.

The perfect cup of coffee is a mystifying thing.

To many of my customers, the entire process seems like some sort of alchemy they dare not try at home.

If the beans are Robusta rather than Arabica, the roasting time too long or short, the filtering water too hot or cold, the grinds too finely or coarsely milled, the brew allowed to sit too long — any of it can harm the end product. Biilance is what gets you that perfect cup — vigilance and stubbornness in protecting the quality.

As the 1902 coffee almanac put it, “When coffee is bad it is the wickedest thing in town; when good, the most glorious.”

I was hooked from the first words. There is also a very fun companion website to snoop around and read about the author’s upcoming works. You can find it by clicking on this link.

Happy sleuthing!

Stumptown Coffee, Portland Oregon

Stumptown is a Portland, Oregon companyStumptown’s staffVery cool retro feel to thisKind of industrial, but lots of open space to visitMy family enjoying coffee. Colby…you made the blog!Stumptown sign…cool downtown vibeColby…two pics in one post!

Continuing with my series of cafe wanderings, I dragged my family into Stumptown Coffee, a Portland Oregon based roaster and brewer. They have five locations in this area, and I was excited to find one and try it! So here are my impressions. I was in their Belmont location, a newer venue in the downtown area. They have four other locations, each with its own personality.

  • The decor was industrial in nature. There were tables and a long banquette-type seating with people on their computers, but there was a surprising amount of open space. They had some funky barstool chairs that swiveled in a way that made me suspect they were really motorized and wanted my rear end on the floor. I found this entertaining rather than annoying, but with an espresso in my hand everything is entertaining.
  • The aroma in the store was perfect: a great blend of coffees scenting the air and unadulterated with anything else such as food preparation. They had some pastries, but nothing that would interfere with the primary purpose of a great coffee venue.
  • The staff was well-trained, friendly and quick. Since there was a line in there nearly the whole time we hung out in the shop, they weren’t super chatty. I got the impression that this is an in and out kind of place, not necessarily a Third Place. I would like to know how their other locations are designed.
  • The coffee was good. It wasn’t my favorite blend, and I probably should have had a straight coffee rather than an espresso. On the other hand — and this is one of my pet peeves, so to speak — their straight coffee was available only in thermal carafes. It was not fresh-brewed. Call me a coffee snob, but there you are. I like fresh-brewed.

I enjoyed the ambiance of the hustle and bustle, but Stumptown in this location would not be my hang out of choice if I were sitting with my computer or a book. Next stop??????

Gold Cafe, Lancaster, PA

Irresistable combination:coffee and banking?

I read about this unique coffee shop in the book “Authenticity” by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II. In trying to create a new blend (pun intended) of services, Union National Community Bank decided to open a full service coffee shop, which can also provide banking services. It is called Gold Cafe.

The book claims that the customer perceives this blend as an authentic offering because it is unique. I would love to see this in action. Would it feel like both a bank, and a coffee shop? Or would it feel like neither? Could the community profit from literally sitting down to a cup of coffee with the people who approve (or not) a mortgage?

In either case, I had to pass this one along. Anyone been here? Join in and let us know what it feels like!!!!

Lessons I’ve learned in the kingdom of God this week

Cleaning in God’s Kingdom: messy work

The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, has probably affected me more than any book I’ve read recently. It strengthened my resolve not to just think about the work God has for me to do here, in His community, but also to DO the work. Words are useful, and my stock in trade so to speak, but they are limited in their use. So reading the Tangible Kingdom I began to wonder what kind of adventures would await one who stepped out into the wide, wide world. This week I learned a few lessons about life out here, and I thought I would try to return to my first love and put them into words.

  • There is nothing more important to do than the thing God puts in front of you that only you can accomplish. It just won’t look like you thought it would. This thing that you must do will almost certainly test every preconceived notion you had of yourself. Competing opportunities will immediately look far more attractive. But only you will be able to do this thing. That’s how you know that God is in it.
  • Don’t expect a storybook ending. There is a storybook ending, of course — God’s story, and not yours.
  • Don’t expect to feel sufficient. Funny thing about jumping into the fray: it’s a battlefield and there are casualties, including you. We can’t do it. We can’t begin to even comprehend it. But there are wounded sitting next to us in coffee shops, churches, or even our small groups who are counting on us to do it anyway.
  • So do it anyway.

Maybe that’s the biggest and hardest lesson I’ve learned this week. Nothing is tied up in a pretty bow, nothing turns out beautiful in the end, it’s messy and grimy and covered with unimaginable filth. But we have to do it anyway. I had no idea so many, many people were waiting for me to agree to walk through the kingdom with my eyes open, connecting with the people around me. I had no idea. I’ve never been more heartbroken.

But somehow through the grime and sludge of life out there, I’ve never been happier. Jump in with me.

Alexander McCall Smith and Coffee Shops

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Flying home from Boston yesterday I was reading Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith. Having just typed that, the book sounds so “paperback romance”! It’s not…Alexander McCall Smith has written lots of great contemporary Scotland-based fiction. My favorite is Espresso Tales.  Anyway, I came across this little passage that sums up my passion for community and the possibilities of connecting in third places like coffee shops.

Matthew was crossing Dundas Street to that side of the road where Big Lou kept her coffee bar, at basement level, in the transformed premises of an old book shop. The Morning After Coffee Bar was different from the mass-produced coffee bars that had mushroomed on every street almost everywhere, a development which presaged the flattening effects of globalization; the spreading, under a cheerful banner, of a sameness that threatened to weaken and destroy all sense of place. And while it would be possible, by walking into Stockbridge to get the authentic globalized experience, none of Big Lou’s customers would have dreamed of being that oxymoronic. One feature of the chain coffee shops was the absence of conversation between staff and customer, and indeed between customer and customer. Nobody spoke in such places; the staff said nothing because they had nothing to say; the customers because they felt inhibited from talking in such standardised surroundings. There was something about plastic surroundings that subdued the spirits, that cudgelled one into silence.

Big Lou, of course, would speak to anybody who came into her coffee bar; indeed, she thought it would be rude not to do so. Conversation was a recognition of the other, the equivalent of the friendly greetings that people would give one another in the street, back in Arbroath. And people generally responded well to Big Lou’s remarks, unburdening themselves of the sort of things that people unburden themselves of in the hairdresser’s salon or indeed the dentist’s chair in those precious few moments before the dentist’s probing fingers make two-sided conversation impossible.

I found the perspective offered from this Scottish writer to be very interesting. I don’t know that I agree with all his assessments of the impossibility of feeling at home in a “chain coffee shop”, but his words are cautionary tales for us to make sure that we continue to be human and warm in our interactions no matter where we find ourselves sitting with our coffee cups and computers!