What’s the point of coffee?

barrista coffee

Don’t kill the experience.

All through lockdown, I’ve been looking forward to the small things, like having a coffee. Going to the pub. A meal out. Nothing flash, just little pleasures.

This week the papers have been full of what these businesses might look like when they re-open. And now I’ve changed my mind.

Pre-booked tables, ordering apps, screens, one-way systems, hand sanitizer. Queueing. Face masks. I’m not suggesting that working environments shouldn’t be safe – no-one should suffer disease and possible death just because I fancy a cortado.

But it does make me wonder whether the coffee itself is rather beside the point. I can drink coffee more cheaply at home. I go to the cafe for the experience. The waft of warm air and coffee beans as you open the door. A friendly ‘hello’ from the patron, a chat with the barista. People watching, eavesdropping conversations, bumping into a friend. Wondering whether to have a pastry. Coffee served in a cup and saucer. Someone else doing the washing-up.

Our local cafe is open for take-aways of their excellent coffee. Yesterday there was a queue of people outside the store. It looked like addicts waiting for a state-sanctioned fix. One person at a time emerged, gripping a non-recyclable waxed paper cup of rapidly cooling coffee to enjoy sitting on a bench beside the public toilets.

Going out is more than the sum of its parts. If we reduce everything down to a transaction, where is the ‘experience’? 

I’m not picking on the hospitality industry – heaven knows they’ve had it tough, and there’s more to come – it’s more that coffee shops are an analogy for all customer-driven businesses. In a world of perspex screens and social distancing, we still need to delight and excite our customers.