There is a certain magical quality about the perfect combination of a warm coffee, a brisk fall day, and the familiar hustle and bustle of a local coffee shop. The hubbub of strangers — each with their very own coffee order — and the low hum of background music makes for the dreamiest environment to get inspired, study, or relax. Most of all though, the sweet aroma of brewing coffee and fresh pastries is always enough to make me drop $10 on an afternoon snack while I study. Going to school in the Northeast (shoutout Emerson College) has fully launched me into the wonderful world of iced lattes in the winter and coffee shop study dates, a very faraway land from my hometown of Miami, Florida. 

Anna Arriaga

Back in South Florida, coffee shops exist, but they do not hold the same power as they do in northeastern cities; the sense of community, comfort, and familiarity I feel at a Boston coffee shop is unlike anything I have access to in my hometown. Coffee has always been a constant in my life and within my family culture: a family dinner never ends without everyone sipping on their Cuban coffee and a morning never begins without the simmering of the cafetera on the stove.

Because of this, I’m thrilled when the barista at the coffee shop downstairs from my dorm remembers my name and my order (last semester, it was a small almond milk hazelnut latte from Tatte). Also, going out to eat in-person was more realistic and accessible in Massachusetts than it was in Florida thanks to better COVID-19 guidelines. So my journey into the beautiful, coffee-filled universe of the Northeast finally set me free to be comfortable in my independence, help balance my mental health through social interaction, and be inspired as ever in my school work.

Anna Arriaga

Food is certainly the best (and my favorite) way to bring people together. The glorious ceremony of (safely) sharing iced lattes and flaky, buttery pastries with your friends, strangers, or just yourself is no different. Especially when moving to a brand new city, this sacred ceremony can be a saving grace. Many people and frequent travelers agree that visiting coffee shops in a new city is one of the best ways to become aware of your surroundings, feel the vibe of the culture, and get a secret look into the world of other strangers living in your city.

Audrey Silahali, a rising sophomore at Emerson College, shared in an interview with Spoon University that she got used to living in the overstimulating city of Boston last year by exploring all the different coffee shops downtown. It also helped her build her confidence and get out of her suffocating dorm room during the pandemic.

“Socially, I’ve gotten to know so many new people while lining up for drinks in coffee shops around campus,” Silahali said. “It’s also one of my favorite spots to hang out with friends before or after class. Mentally, it’s nice to go alone and just wind down; it’s like you get a clean slate every time you enter a new coffee shop, you don’t know anyone and nobody knows you either.”

Personally, I didn’t truly grow comfortable being away from home until I immersed myself in the culture of my college town, asking myself questions about the people around me: What's the most common coffee order people drink around here? Are there a lot of other students, businessmen, working people? Upon observing strangers share muffins and coffee amidst chatter, I gradually felt myself fit into the patchwork of a new city’s culture. 

Anna Arriaga

When you’re new to a city or community, you’re going to have to face the world alone in order to make friends. Let's be real: Going out alone for the first time can be a scary experience for a lot of students. The idea of eating and sitting alone can terrify the socially anxious, but the beauty of coffee shops — especially in a college town — is that everyone is more worried about themselves to concern themselves with the business of others. Once I could get past the scary awkwardness of my insecurities while gulping down a drink and a snack, I’ve found that being alone has been one of the most empowering aspects of moving away for college.

Being new to a city is difficult because nowhere necessarily feels like “home” in the beginning, even your dorm or apartment can sometimes feel alien. However, the good thing about coffee orders is that they won't vary greatly among coffee shops — that iced chai latte with oat milk might be the sip you need to be flooded with a comforting feeling from back home. The familiar scents and comfort of strangers can make a coffeehouse feel more like home than your living space.

Anna Arriaga

Moreover, coffee shops have the mysterious ability to inspire a passionate work ethic with the help of caffeine and a change of scenery. At the end of the day, students are in college to get a degree and sometimes studying alone results in endless scrolling through social media and burnout. Sebastian Duque, a rising sophomore at Yale, shared in an interview that he likes to take a walk to a local coffee shop to get a change in scenery and refocus his brain whenever he feels burnt out or “mushy-brained.” The process of walking to a coffee shop, interacting with the coffee shop workers while ordering, and the lovely background noise of a people-filled place, Duque says, are the main factors that ground him and are helpful in improving his work ethic.

While going alone can be useful, using the neutral environment of a coffee shop for low pressure social situations can change your college experience: study dates, first dates, self-care dates, and friend dates are just a few of the ways you can use the atmosphere to your advantage (and to make up an excuse to grab another coffee). In my first semester at Emerson College, I found myself going to a local coffee shop at least four times a week, even if it meant sitting down without ordering anything and taking advantage of the free wifi — soon these coffee shop visits became routine group events with my two best friends after our afternoon classes. We’d set up at a table, order our drinks, and catch up on the events of the day while typing away on our laptops. Truthfully, the three coffee shops in that 5-block radius of campus saw some of my favorite moments of my first year as a college student.

My advice to any incoming freshman or college student struggling with work-life balance, to make friends, and/or to complete their school work, is to check out your local coffee shop. You never know what magic awaits inside!