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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Column: The coffeehouse

I love café hopping. During breaks back home in Berkeley, I make it a point to hit up all my favorite cafes on College Ave; Café Bittersweet, The Beanery and Espresso Roma are all either quaint, independent coffee shops or local chains.

Davis has its share of cafes that I enjoy hopping to as well (Cloud Forest and Delta of Venus being two of them). Most every one of these columns has been written while under the influence of a white mocha or iced Americano, some form of relaxing café music playing and the whir of blenders sounding in the background. The café I’m at in downtown Sacramento right now is quite the find. It goes by the name of the Naked Lounge.

Open until midnight, Naked Lounge plays an eclectic blend of music, ranging from ’80s to The Knife to reggae to acoustic. Peach and pomegranate walls complement a black ceiling. Two marigold colored couches next to the window form a communal area much like the space on the TV show “Friends” (I had thought those spaces were now nearly obsolete in modern day coffee shops).

And yes, in accordance with the name of the coffeehouse, there are even two paintings of naked ladies hanging on the wall among vintage photographs and a large Van Gogh-esque canvas. In addition, the views of streets and tall buildings remind you that you’re not actually in the middle of nowhere (as much as Davis students like to complain about the nothingness that surrounds Davis).

I know I’m not alone in my love for cafés that have character. Coffeehouses with their own special vibe make for an experience. So, though some people don’t understand why you would pay for a beverage that’s available at home for a much lower price, we café-goers know that it’s more than about the beverage. Here are some of the elements that constitute the experience, at once providing appeal and contributing to positive psychology.

Private and public. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the café is that it combines the personal and private experience with the public and communal. Many of us strive for a balance between individual and group space; at the café, we can be alone among many.

We have our laptops where we can listen to our own music on our headphones, but we can also tune in to the music that’s playing at the café. We can listen to the chatter of others before tuning out those conversations and focusing on our own thoughts.

Escape. The space of the café is also clearly a retreat from the clutter of the home, where household belongings pile up to create a mess that can negatively influence mental processes.

We pay to relax, to not have to worry about shopping for beans, preparing the machine, and cleaning up after ourselves. We pay to have our espresso made just the way we want it.  Howard Schultz’s vision for the café was of a “third space,” somewhere between work and home, where one can relax without the worries associated with either.

Positive motivation. Additionally, seeing other people working diligently in our immediate surroundings prompts us to work harder. In this sense, the café experience can positively reinforce productive behavior.

Stimuli. The stimuli beyond just the people at the café can also inspire us to work harder. This includes the artwork, the outfits, the smell of coffee, the sound of machines, newspapers crinkling. While such stimuli might distract some, it can also stimulate others to work harder.

This being said, nowadays we’re not only paying for a beverage, but a multi-sensory production. We’re paying to look at the art, smell French roast, watch that eclectic middle-aged man think out loud as he types away at his laptop. We’re paying to not be lonely in our rooms.

Architecture / layout / seating. Places with a “creeper’s ledge” optimal for creeping (common euphemism: people watching) is a must for some people. Many cafes have tables situated next to windows overlooking the sidewalk, prime spot for aforementioned creepy behavior. An earlier column of mine mentioned how rooms with low ceilings were better for tasks that required more intense focus and technical skills. Higher ceilings, pretty artwork and visual stimuli are good for tasks that require creativity or more open-ended thinking.

So a small cubicle might be better for that physics homework, whereas Naked Lounge is your go-to for an English essay about magical realism. Adjust your study setting based on the task, and also based on your own knowledge of your distractibility and attention span.

Coffeehouses today. The website ClassicCafes expresses concern that the modern day café seems to have strayed from its roots.

 “Too many have been replaced and refitted with ghastly plastic molded interiors devoid of atmosphere. But those that are left are national treasures,” the website said. I’d say the Naked Lounge maintains many traditional elements of the classic café.

Whether the “cheapened” new café works for you or you prefer a more eclectic, personalized outing, switching study locations to the local café can make for a varied, delicious-smelling experience. Can we drink to that?

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at estephanides@ucdavis.edu.

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