I ventured to the copy and print shop today to print some new designs for the shop. As I was taking out my money clip to pay, the woman next to me commented on my coffee. “Oh, Vivace! That’s close, isn’t it?” I smiled and told her, yes, just a couple blocks away. She proceeded to ask me how much I enjoyed their coffee; I told her it’s one of my favorite coffee joints in Seattle. “Even more so than Stumptown?” Even more than Stumptown. “Wow,” she smiled. “Do you just like the vibe better?” I told her maybe. My thoughts turned as I asked myself the same question over. I did adore Vivace’s coffee, but was it based on my comfort level with the establishment? The baristas are always a joy. There’s a lot of seating, great lighting, transient customers to sketch, and I’ve never had a bad cup. But maybe my “good” coffee was based merely on my association with the environment. The experience. I spoke again, “I suppose it’s all in my head; Because I do love the vibe.” She gave a short laugh and replied, “Well, that’s true with everything. It’s all in your head; It always is.”
This concept isn’t new or radical. I’ve written about the topic years ago. It still stands true. When I lived in Cincinnati, local coffee shops were rare gems (or so it seemed). Starbucks was a frequent hang out spot. After moving to Seattle, I had more options. In between the Starbucks and Seattle’s Best lie local coffee shops with vegan treats, indie rock music and baristas with thick rimmed glasses, queer hair cuts, and earth tones. I’m not trying to perpetuate a stereotype; I’m just calling it how I see it. I got a taste of what “good” coffee was, and it was a new chapter. After nixing the ‘Bucks, I returned for a cup (when other coffee wasn’t an option), and would have been content spitting and carrying on my day without the help of caffeine. But I didn’t. Back on track; Sometimes it’s not about the quality. Sometimes it’s about the comfort. Associations. Nostalgia.
I had a friend who once traveled the United States via motorcycle. He stopped in cities across the country, and unsurprisingly, the USA is sprinkled with corporate coffee, including, but not limited to Starbucks. Jeff loved Starbucks. When questioned why, he told me “because they’re all the same.” He felt a certain comfort standing at the counter, gazing at a familiar menu. When you’re three thousand miles away from the neighborhood you’re accustomed to, the closest thing to a taste of home can be found in a coffee cup in a familiar place. That place, for Jeff, was Starbucks.
It’s not a matter of what the best is. It’s a matter of what you like. Perhaps someone would deem it a sub par Americano, but if it’s worth the smile that delivers it, it just may be the best cup you’ve ever consumed. It’s all in your head.