Coffee shop sketches are not among my favourite moments on Hi. Yet, I do enjoy the universality of the concept. Almost anywhere in the world that you walk into one, you know it immediately for what it is. If you do look for particularities of design in individual shops, these, when found, may reflect the taste of the owner or perhaps certain structural eccentricities of the building; rarely do they betray even a trace of local culture.
Starbuck’s certainly did not create the concept, no matter how widely they may have scattered their milquetoast version of the idea. No, from what I have read, the original conception is Middle Eastern, with early examples in Istanbul, Mecca, Damascus, and Cairo, gradually spreading to Europe through Greece and Italy. Surely, Europe contributed quite a lot: not only the Italian espresso and the, often, French pastries but also by maintaining the relaxed, agreeable, always comfortable, ambience. I sometime wonder if the modern coffeehouse is merely a down market, highly democratized rendering of the British gentlemen’s club?