The Culture Surrounding Coffee in North America

How a cup of java has become so much more than a morning routine

By Brady Coyle, Staff Writer

PC: Sam Charal

PC: Sam Charal

One cup of coffee in the morning is all some people need, but at Lakehead University, it’s tough to wander across campus at any time of day without seeing at least one person carrying a cup.

The societal impact that coffee has had in North America over the last decade or so is enormous. It is no longer just a drink to wake us up in the morning; now, it’s something we drink all day long. We go on coffee dates, we go to coffee shops to study and work: we drink coffee habitually, even when we do not need it.

In recent years, drinking coffee has also become something that we let others know we are doing. Pictures of happy people enjoying a fresh cup of coffee are big hits on our Instagram and Facebook accounts. How has this become the norm? Well, we can thank Starbucks for that.

When Starbucks opened its doors in 1971, it was built around the premise of making coffee an experience, rather than simply just a cup of coffee. They offered comfortable couches to sit on and tables to work at. They hung art displays in their shops and, in more recent years, they have provided customers with free wireless Internet. This template set the model that many coffee shops have since adopted.

“The success of all the little coffee shops now is based on the back of the educational process that Starbucks has been putting us through for the last decade,” says Brian Hamilton, owner of local coffee house The Bean Fiend.

On top of the experience, Starbucks offers a wide variety of different coffee types. Cappuccinos, espressos, Americanos and lattes are only a handful of the drinks on the Starbucks menu, and these options have become commonplace in many coffee shops. Hamilton recognizes the impact of Starbucks on coffee culture, saying, “I’ve always been grateful to Starbucks because without Starbucks, nobody would even know what a latte is.”

While Starbucks created the idea of turning a cup of coffee into an experience, small coffee shops have taken this design and run with it. In Thunder Bay alone there are a number of independently owned coffee shops.

Not only do small coffee shops reap the benefits of the business plan Starbucks put into place four decades ago, they also serve a purpose for those looking for a unique experience. It seems that amongst younger crowds, there is an obsession with finding coffee shops that are most off the beaten path.

In an attempt to become more identifiable and unique, many coffee shops have become themed in order to appeal to the younger demographic. For example, Toronto-based Snakes & Lattes provides a wide range of board games that can be played while the customer enjoys their drink.

While more independent coffee shops are surfacing, brewing coffee these days is a difficult service to provide. When Starbucks created their extensive menu, they also turned coffee creation into a skill. It was no longer simply running water through ground-up beans.

“The real trick for a coffee shop is to be able to give people what they want consistently, across a broad spectrum of potential baristas, at the same establishment,” explains Hamilton.

While the change in coffee culture has formed small business opportunity and created skill-based jobs, it has also brought major changes for coffee shop owners and the expectations their customers have of them. Thanks, Starbucks.