Let’s Talk About Coffee Shop Instagram Culture

I’m a coffee addict. But besides stopping by the Starbucks my best friends work at, you can almost never catch me hanging out at a coffee shop chain. I go to coffee shops for the experience.

I don’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur, but I do consider myself a coffee shop connoisseur.

I recently made a survey for a class in which I asked people different questions to try and see what their perception of me is, and one of the questions I asked was, “What place best describes me?” And 39 out of 52 responses were some sort of coffee shop. People know what I like.

In December of 2017 I made one of my most popular blog posts, a list of some of my favorite coffee shops. My school newspaper also heard about my affinity for these establishments (absolutely no idea how), and asked me to write a list for them in 2018.

And yes, I pay attention to the quality of the coffee and of whatever food these places serve, but honestly? What I love most is the atmosphere.

Is it just me or are coffee shops getting prettier?

This is a hypothetical backed up by no data whatsoever, but it seems to me that coffee shops are becoming more and more about appearance as time goes on. I can only assume it’s because of the Instagram culture, because what’s more basic than a coffee pic? Taking photos of the places you’re getting your coffee is normalized. We don’t whip out Instagram for our grocery store runs, but when it comes to coffee, it’s become so much more about image.

I’m guilty of this. I. Just. Can’t. Stop. Taking photos at coffee shops. It’s a compulsion. I don’t know why, I just can’t not.

In my Media & The Art of Fashion Design class, we’ve been discussing stores that have turned into things that resemble museums. More high end stores like Louis Vuitton or Prada, for example, are more like an experience. You go in, you’re waited on, you observe the modern art and the way the store looks, but there isn’t a pressure to buy from the thousands of items on display. The stock is minimal, the salespeople are accommodating.

This is something I see in coffee shops now. Yes, you go for your drink of choice, but so many go for the “feel” of the place and the look of the place. As if the cool aesthetics help one get their work done better or facilitate better conversation. But there have been so many new places popping up with such attention to interior design as to firmly weld that marriage between the words “cute” and “coffee shop.”

It’s almost as if we pay for the Instagram picture. A $5 to boost your feed. An extra shot to add to your story. Maybe even a muffin for a new profile pic.

According to Wes Gay on an article on Forbes.com, “Millennials aren’t necessarily drinking more coffee than other generations, but they are spending more money on coffee. In other words, they are spending more on higher quality coffee experiences. ‘Millennials have a lot of disposable income,’ says Kahn. ‘But they aren’t spending it like their parents did on cars and clothes. Instead, they’re spending it on a better food and beverage experience.’”

Different studies have pointed to this generation spending more on experiences than things. And I think that has trickled into Instagram coffee shop culture. Here is my hypothesis:

A coffee shop is only as good as it is photogenic.

Though, wouldn’t you agree? Yes, I understand that the real coffee drinkers don’t care if they get their bean water from a hole in the wall, but for most of the world, we flock to the pretty places. Starbucks is always trying to catch up, seemingly renovating their stores every other year, but they will never beat the local hipster shops. Slap some cool art on the walls and some man buns on the baristas, and presto! you’re tagged in a million Instagram stories and could serve brown paint for all these kids know.

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