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Coffee: A Relational Brew

Coffee has long been a catalyst for friendship, tradition and even culture. We’re constantly reminded that it goes way beyond what’s in our cup. When we drink water, our physical selves thrive; when we drink coffee, it seems our souls and spirits are fed. For our December blog, we interviewed individuals who interact with Commonplace on a range of levels. They include a shop manager, café regular, and our owner. All shared their memories, experiences and thoughts about coffee, proving once again, it’s more than a great beverage.

Allyson Barrante was one of the earliest managers of flagship coffee shop at University Square in Indiana, Pennsylvania. After eight years, she left the company in 2014. Luckily for us, we were privileged to welcome her back in August 2019 to manage the very same shop.
Bob Hinrichsen is a regular in Indiana. In fact, he was at the shop on opening day and has been a regular, more like family, for nearly 17 years.
TJ Fairchild is the proud owner of Commonplace Coffee. The company has experienced significant growth under his guidance, changing and shaping many lives along the way – including his own.

Here’s what the three had to say about the storied beverage…

What is your earliest memory of coffee?

AB: Walking in the Strip District in Pittsburgh as a kid early on Saturday mornings and getting fancy mochas at one of the local shops. Looking back, it was sugary and gross but as a child it was delicious
BH: There is a photo of me when I was 6 months old on my grandmother’s lap, and she is giving me a teaspoon of coffee – so I guess that was the earliest. By the time I was five years old, I was drinking coffee a few times a week – but with lots of cream and sugar!!
TJF: I remember “stealing” or “sneaking” spoonfuls of my mom’s coffee (I can remember this from pretty early – four or five.) I will every now and then remember the exact flavor of that coffee. It was horrible. Not in the sense that coffee is horrible to a five-year-old…it was objectively horrible. It was thin, dank and acrid. That taste memory is something that drives me to want to find coffees that are special and beautiful. I don’t want four-or five-year-old kids (on my watch) stealing spoonfuls of coffee that turn out to be terrible.

Do you have any coffee traditions? Habits?

AB: Every day for almost five years while I lived in Illinois, I would make a pour over. The smell of the grind and the precision of pour was an art form to me. It made me enjoy my cup of coffee with gratitude because I waited for my water to boil, measured out my grind, ground my coffee and wet my filter, then I would weigh my pour and pay attention to the process. It was almost holy and inviting. It made my cup of coffee (and labor of love) have a depth and a goodness to it.
BH: Coffee has always been a part of my life, and I can’t remember a morning since I was in high school that did not start out with a cup of coffee. One of the traditions I had in college and graduate school was going to a movie, play, or seminar, then off to a coffee shop for hours of discussion about what we had seen or learned that evening. Those were such great moments that only an excellent coffee shop can provide.
TJF: The best coffee times that I have, because of how happy it makes my wife Julie, are when we slow down in the morning and stop for a coffee together. We make a v60 or a cappuccino and sit and talk. It is wonderful. This experience is something that continues to drive me to create spaces for people to do this in their homes and offices as well as in our cafes.

What has coffee provided you besides a great beverage?

AB:
A routine, an appreciation, and it has provided community and support – coffee has provided to me more than a cup but has invited me into a grand story.
BH: I can say with a great deal of confidence that coffee is far more than a great beverage. The social experiences provided by a coffee shop are the real benefit of coffee. The setting of a good coffee shop, allowing for social discourse, is what makes coffee so special. While the quality of the coffee is important and appreciated, it is the environment that makes it special. I have found that unlike a bar, in which the conversation is usually insignificant and loud, a coffee shop lends itself to a much richer conversation. Most of the great discussions I have had in my lifetime have occurred in a coffee shop. For me, this is the real value of coffee – the spirit of social interaction.
TJF:  Conversations. Gathering Places. At Commonplace, we have introduced life-long friends. We have introduced wives to husbands and vice versa. We have helped sell homes. We have met people literally from all over the world, arranged kids’ playdates, and provided a livelihood for my family.

Do you always drink coffee the same way (i.e. with the same ingredients)? If not, does it change based on the environment, occasion or company?

AB: At home, I like a pour over. When I’m out and want to treat myself or am in the company of others, I enjoy a cappuccino or a cortado.
BH: I am very boring in this sense. I always have brewed coffee black. It is the only way that I can appreciate the flavor of the coffee. However, Amy Rogerson (past manager of the Indiana shop) made me a latte one day that was awfully good!!
TJF:  I usually start the day with a cappuccino and then have multiple drip coffee experiences throughout the day. I love walking into a shop and having the barista share a drink they are working on.

Any other sentimental thoughts about coffee or the coffee-drinking experience?

AB: It’s hard to put into words what this shop has done, or maybe, what it has had the honor of holding really. As I tell my kids, it’s the people and the stories that pass through and not the walls that create goodness.
BH: In a very heartfelt way, I can say that the Commonplace Coffee shop [at University Square] has had a profound effect on me. I was never one to have a close group of friends until I started going to Commonplace, and now, the people there have become my family. The coffee they serve is wonderful – the best I have ever had – but it is really secondary to the people who work there and the customers who show up on a regular basis. They are my best friends. This is what a coffee shop, and the coffee they serve, is all about.
TJF: I am so grateful to be a part of such a human business. I love that everything we do has an impact on people. On humans. I love that we can create a taste experience. I love that we can create a hospitality experience. In a culture that is often focused on individual time, I love that we can give people an alternative and offer communal experiences.

We feel incredibly honored to share these stories and wrap up 2019 and this last decade by featuring a blog about our personal connection to coffee. These stories inspire us and reinforce why we love being part of this community. Thanks for reading, sharing, sipping and caring.

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