As a college student, coffee has — for better or for worse — become a habit. I visit coffee shops around campus regularly and have, along with many others, witnessed the price of coffee-based drinks creeping up into the $5-6 zone, even for 12-ounce beverages. In 2022, a cup of coffee cost $4.90 on average, mainly due to inflation. While a leap in costs like this is far from ideal, coffee will still hold onto its portion of my budget because coffee culture has morphed into a valuable aspect of our lives.
Coffee culture, driven in large part by local independent coffee spots, has exploded in our generation. While the culture is relatively new, the principles that drive it are not. Humans are social creatures and, in every generation, they find ways to connect, though what this entails does change. Now, coffee has become an activity in which to participate more than a beverage to drink. You are not just paying for the drink; you are paying for the experience.
The importance of coffee shops in our culture is perhaps best displayed through what has been dubbed “the coffee shop effect” — the idea that working in an environment like a coffee shop increases creativity and productivity, according to an article at Trello. I, along with many other people, tend to find my way to coffee shops over the weekend to finish work and study because of this phenomenon. The buzz of activity and the change of scenery can motivate people to complete tasks and work more efficiently — coffee shops offer this ideal working environment for many of us.
Coffee shops also offer a much-needed social atmosphere, which I learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Until we were in a lockdown, it was difficult to comprehend how valuable it is to hear people conversing around me and to chat with the barista as I ordered. Now, coffee shops have once again become hubs of activity that can provide these simple yet much-needed social interactions.
Independent coffee shops are especially valuable in fulfilling this social need. Hearing my local barista ask if I want my “usual” and integrating coffee runs into my weekly routine help me organize my days and start off on the right foot.
Sure, I could brew my own coffee — which I sometimes do — but doing so takes the fun out of the journey (and the handcrafted beverages, unless I decide to invest in an espresso machine that costs hundreds of dollars). Focusing on the price hike of coffee and blaming coffee shops for it is like blaming your local grocery store for the skyrocketing price of eggs — most of these businesses cannot help raising prices in the current economic climate. The prices might have increased, but you are receiving a much larger return on your payment than just a drink: valuable social interactions, the energy boost of going somewhere new and perhaps the best possible work environment. Isn’t a productive, happy day worth an extra dollar or so?
Of course, some will always argue that — even with all the perks — the coffee will never be worth the price. But if you go to Twee down the road from campus, you know sometimes the coffee really is that good.