Coffee Shops in Austin: A Generic Description Jovahana Avila

Introduction

The culture of coffee shops and coffee in its entirety has shifted throughout the years. There are coffee shops where people can enjoy a cup of coffee while socializing and engaging in a conversation with other coffee shop customers or friends. There are also coffee shop chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts that serve customer’s coffee through to-go windows and crowded counters, eliminating the aspects that made the coffee shop a place for conversation and slowing down.

The concept of coffee culture is changing, and here in Austin, a fast-growing and self-proclaimed college town is fundamentally fueled by coffee. Coffee shops have become necessary for work, study, and play as a result of a higher demand for these spaces by the growing population in Austin. As a result, the coffee culture in Austin has adopted both aspects of a sit-down, traditional café, and a quick, come-and-go coffee chain.

To justify the existence of this genre, I will analyze the elements of three well-known Austin coffee shops using a particular method of genre criticism - generic description. Generic description involves collecting two or more artifacts that not only seem similar in function but share enough rhetorical similarities to describe a genre. Generic description, according to Foss is a person’s, “observation that similar situations, removed from each other in time and place, seem to generate similar rhetorical responses” (pg. 141). Using this method will allow me to argue how the three coffee shops can describe the rise of a new coffee culture. Additionally, business owners and entrepreneurs can then utilize this genre of “Coffee Shops in Austin” to construct a marketable coffee shop for Austin consumers or other areas populated by college students. Additionally, other growing cities or “college towns” throughout the nation can utilize these characteristics as a platform for a successful coffee business in their area.

Description of Artifacts

I chose to analyze three coffee shops in Austin: Jo’s Coffee Shop, Summermoon Coffee Bar, and Bennu Coffee. All of these coffee shops are equidistant to college student populations in Austin.

Picture order: Bennu Coffee, Summermoon Coffee Bar, and Jo's Coffee Shop

Jo’s Coffee Shop prides itself on its activity with the community. They regularly host fundraisers, concerts, and open-mic nights. When you walk into Jo’s, you are led to a row of refrigerators overflowing with soft drinks, food, and snacks. This is way before you even get to the register to place a drink order. Jo’s has designed seating inside and outside of the coffee shop in order to make room for as many people as possible. Lastly, the coffee shop also played rhythmic music.

Summermoon Coffee Bar prides itself on “Keeping South Austin Caffeinated.” A distinct characteristic about Summermoon is the scent of their wood-fired coffee, which is made through their custom designed brick hearth allowing them to hand-roast their coffee over a wood fire. Summermoon used to be designed where a customer would walk through the door and be directed to the front of the register, which placed the importance on the coffee shop’s menu and products sold. However, after the remodel to include more outdoor seating as well as indoor, the shop’s front door moved closer to the indoor seating as opposed to right in front of the register.

Upon entering you have the option to go to the bar for some coffee or to the tables and couches. This way, a person is not inclined to sit down immediately nor order from the menu; instead, you can take your time to look at the menu or look around to find a comfortable seating place. They create this space by putting the door in the middle of the coffee bar and the seating area. Bennu Coffee is the only 24-hour café of the three locations, and it is also the coffee shop that is located furthest from a university. However, the coffee shop is central to two apartment complexes in the area.

Substantive and Stylistic Elements

The Substantive and stylistic analysis of the coffee shops in Austin unveil similarities between three different coffee shops. Seeking commonalities in how the rhetors, which in this case are those business owners who wanted to appeal to a demographic, dealt with the problem in the situation. This problem being the demand by college students and working professionals for these spaces. This stage requires looking at the significance or insignificance of the similarities of the coffee shops in order to uncover the meaning. Jo’s Coffee Shop, Summermoon Coffee Bar, and Bennu Coffee Shop address the needs of the communities by creating these spaces for people. All of the shops aspire to succeed in five important substantive elements that provide consumers with a product and experience, which ultimately persuade consumers to establish a habitual presence in the shop.

Niches: One of the most distinct characteristics of coffee shops in Austin, is the distinct sight of people in their own niche. At places like Jo’s and Summermoon where there is more booth seating than table seating, people still tended to sit what would be a seat away from another person. This was still true even if people knew each other. This distance allows people to create a space they can call their own even if they were to share a larger space, table, or booth with those they were acquainted with. This distance can also suggest that people value coffee shops that allow them to create these spaces of solitude, as opposed to spaces of conversation. To fit into the genre of college shops in Austin, there must be a sufficient amount of seating to provide this space for people. Mobile workstations made possible through technology has created a demand for places such as coffee shops, where people can avoid people from home, school, and at the office. This rhetorical move by business owners to allow people to create these public office spaces contributes to the personal relationship that people have with coffee shops, and what people view as the function of coffee shops as a whole.

Functionality over style: Coffee shops dedicate a large portion of their space for seating and lounging. This is not surprising seeing as the majority of these spaces are meant to accommodate populations that seek spaces of solitude, which is discussed in the first characteristic as a “niche”.

At Benuu and Summermoon it is more apparent that they gave more attention to the number of seating as opposed to the design of the shop because they wanted people to be able to have the space to create these niches for themselves. Bennu and Summermoon have couches, tables, and booths that ranged from modern to antique styles of furniture. At times the Bennu and Summermoon felt crowded and difficult to navigate, because of the overwhelming amount of seating. The areas had no coordination nor cohesiveness, as long as it fit the definition of a seat with a table. Even though Jo’s focused more on the aesthetics compared to the other two coffee shops, Jo’s still has a variety of seating styles from high-chairs, couches, and booths. In order for a coffee shop to be successful in Austin, it must provide a plentiful seating, which could come at the expense of style.

Access to technology: One of the most fundamental aspects of a coffee shop is their ability to provide Wi-Fi to consumers. This allows consumers to mobilize their work and re-create their own office spaces in a public location. Additionally, people could spend a number of hours at a coffee shop because of the presence of outlets that allow people to re-charge their devices. Bennu had outlets hanging from the ceiling for easy access and to allow people to work for long periods of time without having to relocate to re-charge their device’s battery. Jo’s and Summermoon had a plethora of extension cords throughout the coffee shop available for use. Technology has played a huge role in shifting the coffee culture in Austin because coffee shops have become transformed into an environment fit for work and study. In every coffee shop, the large majority of the people were either on a laptop, tablet, or cell phone. Only at Jo’s, which is located on a college campus, did I find that there were people who decided to have a conversation with one another, but it was usually with a device to accompany them. Coffee shops in Austin are obligated to provide access to Wi-Fi and electrical outlets in order to meet the needs of a technologically dependent population.

Music choices: In all three coffee shops, the music being played was rhythmic and exciting. At all three coffee shops, baristas had full control of the music being played, which gave them the opportunity to play a role in facilitating the atmosphere of the coffee shop for consumers. However, most, if not all, of the people at the coffee shop had headphones or earbuds on. This suggests that the music being played by the baristas fit their needs more than the needs of the people in the coffee shop because they recognized that people were going to play audio of their own through their own devices and would not pay attention to the music in the shop. At Jo’s and Bennu, baristas could be observed singing along to the music they were playing. Summermoon stuck to a more family-friendly playlist because of their proximity to an elementary school. The music at Jo’s and Bennu was not ambient nor study music, on the contrary, they played a large range of music including uncensored songs. The only instance I observed where people noticed the music, was while they ordered a drink or item. This suggests, that music did not play a large role in the coffee shop, and wasn’t even considered a large part of the experience for people in the coffee shop.

Support of the local community: Coffee shops in Austin pride themselves on working to help support the local community’s small businesses. For instance, Jo’s works to promote local Austin businesses such as My Fit Foods and Clean Cause drinks. Jo’s also works with local vendors like Borrego de Oro, which provide breakfast tacos. Bennu also works closely with local vendors such as Taco Mex and Russell’s Bakery to provide for their breakfast tacos and baked goods. Summermoon also works with Russell’s Bakery. This increased importance of social entrepreneurship is a staple characteristic to coffee shops in Austin. This can suggest that consumers are more attracted to businesses that allow them to feel like they are supporting their community.

Organizing Principles of the Genre

The essential features of this genre common to all of the artifacts is the ability to create a niche within a public space, the normalization of technology as a companion, and the emphasis on branding the coffee shop as a community and small-business advocate. The purpose of these elements in coffee shops is to persuade consumers that mobilization of their office space is not only good for them, but it is also good for the community. The coffee culture has shifted into a place where people can escape and be a part of a community of people who seek exclusive spaces within an inclusive community. In Austin, college students seeking work environments could benefit from these niches because it could have a profound effect on their productivity because they will not be disrupted within their niche. Additionally, making these niches in a public space will not elicit the feeling of loneliness while being in solitude; instead, people would feel connected to those surrounded them. This feeling of inclusivity could bring a sense of security and belonging, which adds to the coffee culture in Austin.

These elements are important to Austin coffee shops because of the heavy college population that demands workspaces, even if the intention is not to interact people at the coffee shop. Austin coffee shops continue to preserve the community aspect of traditional coffee shops through promoting small businesses and social causes. Additionally, through their efforts to create private niches within a shared space, Austin coffee shops present a new kind of community that is not formed through interaction, but through creating a sense of belonging by just being a part of a space. If all of these elements are present and the situational requirements are met, a coffee shop would seem to fit into a distinct category of a coffee shop in Austin.

Conclusion

College students in Austin are no longer looking for a library or a classroom; instead, students are looking for an unconventional place of study. Because coffee shops provide ways to fuel up on caffeine, the association of coffee shops as a place of work was natural amongst a college population. The transformation of coffee culture suggests that college students are influencing the coffee market and are shifting the focus towards places of work and study.

Works Cited: Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration & Practice. 4th ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1989. Print.

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