A Field Guide to Your Uncool City’s Coolest Coffee Shops

Hipsters have become a non-phenomenon.

There might be one living next door. You might sit next to one on a bus. You might see one poking the self-checkout screen at Ralph’s bewilderedly, just like you.

And as hipster culture bleeds into the mainstream, the Hipster Coffee Shop (HCS) has become as ubiquitous as your neighborhood Starbucks.

Gone are the days when we had to travel to Seattle or Portland to take a photo of the art-gallery interior of Handsome or Blue Bottle. Now we can just pop down the street.

Whether you know it or not – one of these hipster bastions is probably tamping single-origin espresso in a gentrifying neighborhood near you (if you’re unclear on what is and is not a hipster coffee shop, look first at the building’s appearance. Does it have an austere exterior? Might one describe the interior as “woodsy?” Are there stacks of decorative books anywhere on the premises? If the answer to these questions is yes, you’re in an HCS).

I wanted to find out more about the fine men and women manning the espresso machines in these other, not-so-hip places. Who’s brewing the pour-overs in Tucson? Who’s glazing the gluten-free doughnuts in Tulsa? Who’s roasting the artisanal fair-trade beans in Santa Fe?

After a year and a half of undercover investigative research at a very hip coffee shop in Phoenix, Arizona, I’ve drawn some general guidelines to help identify the behavioral patterns that dominate this counter-cultural scene (by counter, I mean the place where you order).

The results have been compiled into the following field guide.

  1.     The Connoisseur
  • Speaks about espresso in terms of “oakiness,”“acidity,” and “zest.”
  • Behavioral Patterns: Pauses between sentences to let you catch up with his complex thought process. Thinks fascism makes a lot of sense in theory.
  • Markings: Affixed sneer
  • On break: Dog-ears his latest issue of Imbibe.
  • Misc: Owns a taxidermied head.
  1.     The Recovering Bro
  • Lives in the suburbs with his mom.
  • Behavioral Patterns: Maniacally enthusiastic about hipster culture. Sprouts new facial hair overnight (see: handle-bar mustache, lumberjack beard).
  • Markings: Urban Outfitters clear-lensed glasses
  • Misc: Can’t throw away his old Affliction t-shirts. You never know.
  1.     The San Fran Ex-Pat
  • Can also be from Seattle, L.A., or New York. Bonus points if from BK.
  • Behavior: Complains about the lack of public transit. Talks about his garden.
  • On break: Unfurls yoga mat and performs ten sun salutations by the dumpster.
  • Misc.: Never says why he moved away from SF – or wherever – since he loved it so much.
  1.    Militant baker girl
  • Cannot wait until she can get the fuck out of here and move to a REAL city.
  • Behavior: Arrives at 3 AM every morning to bake scones for your fat ass. Territorial about counter space.
  • On break: Glares.
  • Misc.: Bakes vegan shit when the boss is on vacation
  1.     The Alt-y Betch Counter Girl
  • In her early twenties. Vague aspirations towards a college degree.
  • Markings may include any/all of the following: Nose ring, blunt bangs, high-waisted skirt. All clothing purchased from Forever 21, H&M, or American Apparel.
  • On break: Chats with the dude who’s been looking at her like she’s what’s for lunch.
  • Misc.: Cant. Fucking. Wait. For. Coachella.
  • (She will refer to it as ‘Chella).
  1.    The Ph.D dropout
  • He’s in his late thirties. He’s fluent in Latin. He’s been there so long they’ve named a menu item after him.
  • Behavior: Drinks a lot. Watches documentaries.
  • Markings: Over-bitten fingernails and bags under his eyes.
  • On Break: Wonders why he’s not getting any matches on Tindr.
  • Misc.: Has a devoted circle of young male followers who turn to him for wisdom.
  1.     The Undiscovered Novelist
  • Frustrated about the lack of literary sophistication in this city. Claims this is why she can’t finish her manuscript.
  • Behavior: Talks about how late she stayed up “researching.” Asks customers what they’re reading just so she can tell them what she’s reading.  
  • On break: Reads experimental poetry while texting and making sure people are watching her read experimental poetry.
  • Misc.: No one has ever seen or read said manuscript.
  1.     The Anarchist
  • Hates the boss. Hates the manager. Hates customers.
  • Markings: Face tats.
  • Behavior: Not totally clear, but we think he’s in a Fight Club.
  • On break: Reads Nietzsche.
  • Misc.: Orders a Strawberries ‘n’ Cream Latte, Xtra Whip
  1. The Hipster Christian
  • Tattooed, smoking, and devoted to Jesus.
  • Behavior: Plays in the church’s indie rock band. Saves Africa.
  • Markings: Leather bracelet he got on his mission trip.
  • On break: Texts CHANGE to Worldwide Prayer

I know you’ve encountered one, if not all, of these types. I’m sure they’ve made you feel all kinds of ways: intimidated, annoyed, inspired, confused, horny, lovestruck, seasick.

But if there’s one thing I learned during my year undercover, it’s that, beneath those hip, prickly exteriors, you’ll find gushy sweet mounds of love who just want you to be polite when you order your con panna.

And tip well.


Tip well.


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