The Magic of Coffee Shops

By Sofia Nolan

Beside me, two white haired women talk about a dead husband, whispering about loss and longing over a worn wooden table. A couple stares out a window, silhouettes soaked in afternoon light, occasionally turning toward each other to chat or lean in. A bald man takes notes in a text book, murmuring to himself. A woman grins at her computer screen, giggling between emphatic nods. They each hold coffees, teas or lattes, sharing sips between sentences and stories. 

Photos by Daniel Sarché

I love coffee shops.  I love that they are someplace to go when you don’t have anywhere to be. I love how romantic they feel, how you come to know strangers through the way they hold on to their cups and keyboards. I love the eye contact and the evasions. I love the show of it all, the way people grin and giggle at the baristas who ask, “Just a coffee today?” I love the way time passes, over and over, filled with variations of similar moments, forming a sort of communal, continuous story.  

It starts with the opening — the 7 a.m. unlockings and turning ons and filling ups. Then, the people in routine waltz in, repeating orders before work or school drop offs. They leave quickly. In a flood, long term tenants layered with laptops and jean-jackets, sipping slowly, stealing glances at strangers who trace their way between tables and chairs.  

Then, there may be a lull as those tenants pack up and head out. But they are replaced by similar suspects, sipping slowly for hours on end, writing novels, essays and emails — all looking a little too serious. Finally, it’s evening and coffee loses its relevance, and everything is locked and turned off. 

If you turn left down Cascade and bike straight for seven minutes, you’ll find Building Three. If you turn right on Uintah, bike for five, turn right on Institute, then bike another six, you’ll find Switchback. If you weave through the neighborhoods along Weber, you’ll stumble upon Good Neighbors. Walking through any of these front doors will invariably add a semicolon to your day, through which you’ll notice the way someone moves through that very door, how they stare blankly, or how they laugh and look and nod. 

Now, perhaps I’m overthinking it. Maybe, coffee shops are not complicated in their purpose and function. Maybe, you’ll dismiss this as a dreamy wandering through public privacy. But I see this mixing of air and walls and drink as some sort of magic, fueled by $5 bills and an itch that can’t be scratched by kitchen coffee makers or packets of instant caffeine.

The magic here must come from the woman, wrapped up with her newborn baby, scribbling in a spiral notebook between sips. It must be the two laughing in line, teasing out their order, and the girls dancing behind the counter between customers. It must be the constant movement between door, table and cup. Surely, it has to be the way lives mix and meld — the way one room houses a lifetime of moments, experienced individually by strangers, yet swirling together as some sort of shared, unintentional story.  

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