On the other hand, I do find a good cafe to improve my overall productivity, because I tend to thrive on an occasional change of scene. If I work for a few hours at home, for instance, I usually need to go somewhere else if I expect to work for a few more hours. Back when I first returned to school and was taking classes at San Francisco State, I wrote one of my papers in some sort of marathon that involved 1) several hours at the UC Berkeley library; 2) several more hours at a cafe (I believe it was Coquelet, which has been in existence since before I first moved to the East Bay and shows no sign of disappearing these many years later--in fact, it's open 24 hours); and 3) a final frenzy of composition at home sitting on my bed. While one need not drink coffee in most cafes, it is what one does usually get unless a confirmed tea-drinker. (I drink tea more as a change of pace, or herb teas.) Thus, there arises that nagging question of whether I drink too much coffee.
My coffee-obsessed friends have been pleased to note that the medical world is no longer stern about the evils of coffee. Numerous recent studies seem to indicate that unless you really, really drink lots of the stuff, it is probably even good for you. The New York Times recently ran an article claiming to demystify the conflicting claims, though as far as I could tell it was only citing the favorable studies as a corrective to the previous anti-coffeeism.
I am a little skeptical of all this. I'm quite willing to believe that coffee is not bad for humans unless taken in huge doses; after all, people have been drinking coffee for quite some time without there being any discernable terrible effects. I am glad not to have an addiction to the stuff, since I hear unpleasant things from people who try to cut down their caffeine intake, but as addictions go, it is pretty benign, and I am sure coffee is much better for people than the various forms of cola. But given the size of the American coffee industry, I think there are quite a few people with a vested interest in seeing studies that promote the benefits of coffee. I wouldn't be at all surprised if many of these studies were funded at least in part by the coffee industry.
Having said all this, I feel obliged to add my voice to the many that protest the Starbuckization of America and the world at large. I do not, in fact, detest Starbuck's; it has brought decent coffee and pleasant places to drink it to many remote parts of North America. If I am driving across country, and don't see a promising local coffee house, I am perfectly happy to visit Starbuck's. I am opposed, however, to the chain's habit of opening new branches right near thriving independents or local chains. In some neighborhoods this doesn't cause a problem--any place that can accommodate three or four cafes in one block obviously isn't endangered by a Starbucks--but in others, it drives the competition out of business. But perhaps this is no longer happening; I gather Starbuck's is closing some stores.
I dislike, however, the way that other cafes feel they have to imitate Starbuck's menu. I don't care where I am, I am going to order a small coffee (unless, like Tazza d'Oro, "small" truly means small and not big), not a "tall," because no matter what it's called, it will be more than I usually drink and I don't want to encourage tallness. And, apart from getting the occasional latte or cafe-au-lait, I am not about to spend my small cache of disposal income on fancy coffee drinks that will just make me fat and broke. I don't know what most of these are and I don't think I want to know. I first heard of "Americano" in Prague, as that seemed to be what I began hearing American tourists order, circa spring 2007. Whatever Americano is, I now hear it constantly in American cafes as well.
In the Berkeley area, total coffee devotees have gone to Peet's for a very long time. The original Peet's locations seem to have kept their extreme-coffee ambiance, which was always a little too coffee-worshipping for me, but which I respected. Mr. Peet has now retired and Peet's has expanded quite a bit. I regret to say that the El Cerrito Peet's is pretty much a clone of Starbuck's, even including being too chilly to sit in for any length of time. (El Cerrito does not have a climate that requires air conditioning more than once or twice every five years, so why must Peet's be so cold?) Still, it is not a bad place in general, especially since Fat Apples, which has memorable coffee and pastries, is more a restaurant than a cafe.
Having rambled on at length about coffee, I think it is time to gather my projects and remove myself from the temptations of the internet.