Thursday, June 27, 2013

White Paper Coffee Cup Culture

There was a time when virtually every coffee cup in hand was from Starbucks. The gap between Starbucks locations is shrinking, but so is their patronage. Starbucks is something for the suburbs, where people have big families and drive big cars. For them, there is no urge to try a new coffee place because there is not enough time, too many options, and really, why bother? 

Totting a white coffee cup is much more indie and appeals to the downtown crowd who is younger, poorer and happy to find a community coffee stop en route to work. We are at the ground level, experiencing the city by its neighbourhoods, exhibits, parks and free movies in the park. We don’t look into the city from a traffic jam on the Gardnier while sipping our brew, we talk to strangers and smile at dogs and experience the city as a part of it. This sense of inclusion is what keeps the coffee shops thriving and the reward for helping your community to develop in your picture is what keeps you coming back. 

Fair trade may not be our daily mantra, but we appreciate it and choose it when the option is given. Sometimes the beans are fair trade, roasted locally and sometimes in the evening the coffee shop turns into a screening room for emerging artists. The main attraction is that the white cup implies sustainability and community. 
There is likely only a handful of employees and you know all of them by name and together you scoff at triple mocha swirl type drinks that barely resemble coffee at all and are marketed to teens who are lured in by sugar. Most indie coffee places have raw cane sugar or setiva - a subtle hint that the place is about the coffee and culture and not about addiction to caffeine and sugar. 

The white cup isn’t just full of coffee, it’s full of hope. The independent coffee shop owners of this city didn’t meet and collectively decide to use non-branded white cups (sometimes with a stamp of the logo), but the unified preference goes with the territory. These are people who oppose mass marketing, who don’t want to expand and who care about the customer more than the profit. 

The white paper coffee cup has become a subtle clue that the carrier may be a hipster. With many definitions ranging from snob to stylish, the main gist of ‘hipster’, I believe, is an awareness (perhaps over awareness) of and connection to the independent music, art, film, fashion, and/or coffee culture scene.

These shops choose to remain independent and small scale and that is what makes them attractive. Owners provide their customers with an environment of enlightenment, not bogged down by 6 word coffee cocktails or seasonal marketing. An independent coffee shop has become a social hub where you can also buy coffee. The popularity of Mac products stems from their marketing strategy; the company represents an idea, and if you agree with that idea, you will buy their products. You drink coffee from independent stores because you see them as like-minded. This is why hipsters on Mac products flood indie coffee shops. Alternatively, Starbucks marketing focuses on who you become, or how you feel because of drinking their coffee. And nobody tells hipsters how to feel or what to drink. 

Ironically, by collectively choosing to remain unbranded, the white coffee cup has become a symbol of independence. The coffee shops fill the streets with their idea, but not their brand. 

So, maybe you’re a hipster for avoiding Starbucks and scoffing at ‘blended’ coffee drinks, but more likely you are just a young adult with not too many bucks looking to drink coffee out of a cup you can be proud to hold. 

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