I went to dinner last night to celebrate a friend’s birthday (happy birthday Lili). On the way there, as I was a little early, I thought that I would take a few moments to myself (and also to write her birthday card). I looked around for some convenient location that would allow me to sit and write the card. After dismissing sitting on a bench on Clapham Common in the dark, I was drawn to the bright lights of the nearest Starbucks.

I only usually frequent Starbucks, and their like, when I am with other people. As a rule, I do not find the idea of expensive coffee remotely pleasurable (also, I am not coffee connoisseur and it all tastes remarkably similar to me). However, last night the bright lights were the most welcoming place in the area.

There were three staff and three other customers sitting inside drinking their favourite Starbucks coffee. A couple sat at the table behind me and a girl sat to my right talking on her mobile ‘phone for most of the twenty minutes I was there. And there were no other customers.

While I sat there, three somewhat-unconnected things struck me for which I have no real answers:

  1. What would these people have done before the advent of the coffee shop? I can’t think where they would go. There were no independent cafes that I can recall. These places have become a refuge for the privileged – those who think nothing of spending £2 on a cup of coffee (or a double tall skinny whatever).
  2. Why do coffee shops never smell of freshly ground coffee? Maybe they do, but I don’t smell it. It’s almost as if the smell would deter people and they go out of their way to reduce the impact. Surely, that much coffee in one place must stink!
  3. There was a sign behind the counter: “Spring is in the air – Enjoy the romance of Coffee. What is the romance of coffee? A date with some Arabica beans, perhaps? What a bizarre marketing effort for Valentines Day. Get romantic over a Starbucks steaming mug.

On this day…