An Ode to the Coffee Date, the Gateway Social Activity

How does one reenter society after months of social isolation? Grab a coffee and a friend, and get to talking.

June 21, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist. Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.

Welcome to How to Be Social Again: The No-Stress Guide to Returning to Society. In this mini-series, you'll get a brush-up on everything from invitation etiquette to navigating bars again—plus, a drinks menu-planner for any party size and an ode the most underrated of gatherings, the coffee date.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles as I write this, waiting for a girlfriend to meet me for an afternoon coffee date. We agreed to “meet for a coffee,” and we may end up doing that, but we might instead take a stroll through Griffith Park or the more pedestrian-friendly blocks of Los Feliz as we catch up on each other’s lives. Or perhaps we’ll just perch ourselves in the hotel’s sunny courtyard and waste no time talking. Maybe we’ll order tea—or green juice, or kombucha (this is LA, after all)—and skip the coffee altogether. It’s all pretty much one in the same...and yes, it’s all still a “coffee date” in my book.

Grabbing coffee is the quintessential, low-flex daytime meetup. It can work as a date with a potential romantic pursuit, or a facile opportunity for talking shop with a colleague. I’ve met some of my best friends for the first time over coffee, and I’ve reconciled disagreements with others in the safe, neutral territory of a cafe. Indeed, the coffee date is such a malleable idea, with its definition dependent on the situation’s context that we can consider it to be a catchall for any sort of non-alcoholic, anytime-during-the-day drinking hangout. Generally, there’s coffee or tea involved, but not always.

Budding friendships practically thrive on coffee dates as low-investment, high-yielding engagements. However infrequent, those occasional meet-ups over lattes and cold brews can bring a deep sense of fulfillment when it comes to how we manage the peripheral rings of our social circles.

And coffee dates are just as integral amongst best friends who know they don’t actually need to legitimize their time together, yet recognize the value of a regular, shared experience. “When can we have our next kaffeeklatsch?” requests a girlfriend who used to live in Berlin. The German word roughly translates to a social gathering in which coffee is served, yet it can also refer to the conversation or gossip that sometimes occurs during these occasions. As is often the case with the linguistic evolution of words, the context and custom of a kaffeeklatsch has taken on as much, if not more than, the meaning of the word itself. That’s certainly the case for my friend and me. It’s about each other’s company and the fact that we put in the time for one another, not necessarily what we’re drinking.

When the pandemic forced many of the city’s restaurants and bars to shutter, and it seemed as though the world was spinning off its axis, a stronghold of coffee shops remained open throughout the neighborhood. In the early hours of the morning, I’d often slip out for a hot Americano and idly walk home through the stillness, steaming cup in hand, as my mind drifted from one random idea to another. In retrospect, I’d say this was a coffee date with myself—and ultimately, a form of self-therapy. And let’s face it: No matter how much we may have stepped up our coffee-brewing techniques at home, baristas will always do it better.

And now, after a year or so of staying socially isolated, we’re jonesing hard to break free from the confines of our spaces and see our friends again. As a New Yorker, I can’t think of a much easier, more vital way to reconnect with acquaintances, and thread myself back into the rich, thickly woven tapestry of my neighborhood and community than to meet up for a with a friend at my local cafe. From there we might wander the neighborhood past colorful storefront windows and restaurants setting up for lunchtime service, taking in the sights and noises of the city as it awakens and unfurls from the long, slumbering winter. And maybe that coffee date might turn into another kind of gathering.

Do you love going on coffee dates? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Laura Neilson

Written by: Laura Neilson