It seems like no matter where you go, there’s going to be a new coffee shop to try out.
So, as I study abroad, I’ve made it a personal mission to find somewhere to study, a favorite drink, an escape from the depths of one of Oxford’s many libraries - and I always tend to fall back on the classic coffee shop. I’ve tried more Americanos than I can count and discovered that Britain has a strange obsession with music usually reserved for throwbacks when it’s played in the United States. I’ve been taught the so-called ‘proper’ way to take a cup of black tea, and sampled more than one or two sugar-laden pastries.
Despite the raving recommendations and the great atmosphere of many places I’ve tried, nothing seems to quite fit my tastes. I hadn’t noticed it until recently, when a friend of mine pointed it out, but I can’t settle on just one place. As someone who prides themselves in not being too picky, I took a moment to think about just why I can’t find the right cuppa for me. Reflecting on it really leads to only one conclusion: I’ve already found the perfect place for me, tucked away on Georgia Street in Sewanee, Tennessee.
In high school, I didn’t particularly care for cafes and coffee shops. However, when I started at Sewanee in the fall of 2014, I was given the chance to complete a work-study job at Stirling’s, our campus coffeehouse. I was over the moon with excitement (mostly over not having a job running errands in in academic apartment), but looking back, there’s no way that I could have predicted then just how special Stirling’s would come to be to me as an employee, student, and person.
Thinking of it now, I can practically hear the ever-present hum of conversation between professors, students, community members, prospective students - whoever happens to wander through the door.
I can see the wall of drinks, named after beloved memories, places, and people in Sewanee, and remember the times I’ve told visitors to the Domain just what a drink was named after.
I can remember the meetings I’ve had on that front porch, the laughter I’ve shared over a ginger chocolate chip scone and a hot All Saint’s, the tears that have been shed in the back room. Stirling’s is as much a part of me as Sewanee is, nearly every experience I’ve had somehow connected to those well-worn floors and the hand-painted ‘open’ sign.
The thing about Stirling’s is that, in a mere couple of rooms, it captures the essence of Sewanee. There’s almost always a smile to greet you, and a familiar face somewhere in the building - often behind the counter, as nearly all of our employees are current students. Stirling’s is where the people of our little school come together. As an employee, it’s where I frequently got to shed the pressure of classes (or at least pretend that those responsibilities didn’t exist for a while) while spending time with others, pouring latte art, rolling out crusts for quiches, and being the source of that smile when people came through the door. There will never be anything quite like handing over your professor’s iced coffee, and trying to say “no problem” and “you’re welcome” at the same time, resulting in the awful combination of “your problem!” (I only have freshman year me to thank for that one, really).
There’s something undeniably warm about Stirling’s, and it isn’t just having a hot cup of coffee. It’s no wonder I can’t find the perfect coffee shop here, when I’ve been so spoiled by that little yellow house with the eggplant-purple porch. However, I know it’ll be there for me when I return, the same way it’s been there since my freshman year, and the same way it’s stood, (relatively) unchanged for so many students before me.