Breaking Out of Starbucks to Try the Independents

375x321_coffee_and_your_health_featuresMy coffee tastes are pedantic, I favor Starbucks, and like Peet’s. We don’t have a Philz nearby, but I doubt I’d care if we did. Recently, I’ve pushed myself to break out by visiting a local independent coffee shop, and found myself in a less chilly version of Northern Exposure.

Discovering a new subculture is interesting and a little baffling as to how this crowd stayed off my radar. The staff and most of the patrons know each other well, and they are an eclectic group, some with crisp business attire, others with purple hair and leather. It’s far more chatty than Starbucks, yet then most people may come in with books and laptops, but they seem to want to connect more than people at chain coffee shops, who may meet with friends, but are more focused on meeting their one friend or getting some work done, instead of looking up to greet everyone who walks through the door. People here linger at the espresso machine to chat as if they are at a bar.

The best example of what makes this different was recently illustrated as one barista recounted to another some feedback from a new customer: “He said, ‘Whoa! This isn’t a regulation-issued cappuccino.’ I said, ‘No way, this is a coffee house and it’s hella real, fool!’ The guy said, ‘I’m going to order a second.’ Hell, yeah, you are!”

The independent place is fun to visit, but there are quirks – the seating and supplies are far less consistent than a chain. I’ve never heard Starbucks say they are out of decaf or chocolate, both things I’ve heard at the smaller place. Their food supply varies even more. Sometimes they have many edible options, other times they have one sad bagel with the news that their supplier hasn’t shown up in days. Also, the independent place is more expensive, and while I don’t mind paying the additional charge occasionally to support the diversity, it’s too much to become a daily thing. I thought Starbucks prices were inflated, but this place makes it look like a bargain. And without kid-sized drinks with kid-sized prices, it’s not a place I’d bring the family for a hot chocolate.

The small experience is a reminder to try new things and explore the tiny shops – and people – I’d normally walk by with little notice. While there is a fear that chains like Starbucks and Peet’s drive out little coffee shops, it’s created a thrivable place for them. People have been encouraged by Starbucks to drink coffee, and this coffee house is pretty busy with people who wouldn’t be here without the coffee resurgence, including the high school kids studying during a down period and the 20-somethings writing papers. I’m so happy this place exists.

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