Expectation vs. Reality – Costa Coffee

Chain coffee shops can offer a sense of familiarity in an unknown location. However, there are apparent differences that can be unsettling if you were expecting an exact replica of your hometown coffee shop. I brought my American expectations and was met by a British reality.

At first glance, this looked like your typical coffee shop. A refrigerated display offered enticing pastries and convenient prepackaged meals. The screeching of the espresso machine and display of varying cup sizes confirmed our location. The recognizable scent of this sweet nectar of life floated through the air, tempting me to give in to my caffeine addiction.

Upon further inspection I began to notice how different this British coffee shop was from the ones I frequented in the United States. I had expected the typical coffee house jazz music that pairs well with the notes of coffee, but my ears picked up on Ed Sheeran instead. Pop music seemed out of place for the location, especially when it isn’t featured on any coffee shop playlists on Spotify. Although nearby conversations were held in my native tongue it was difficult to make out what people were saying. The trademark white noise of the coffee shop translated the British accent into an unrecognizable foreign language.

There were not many tables available which I found surprising for a Wednesday morning around 10:30. It seemed that it was more culturally accepted and expected for tea to be consumed during the middle of the workday. American coffee chains experience rush hours during the early morning as a checkpoint along the working person’s daily commute. Here, a group of students laughed around a table with their backpacks close by. Many businessmen worked on laptops, fueled by caffeine. The chairs didn’t have time to cool down before a new customer would claim it. There was a busyness at Costa Coffee that provided a constant stream of tasks for the employees.

It is imperative you specify whether you will enjoy your beverage in the store or take it away. At home, baristas assume you want the convenience of a waste producing container but don’t mind if you occupy space in their storefront. A local elderly woman ordered her drink and shuffled to her seat, balancing an overfilled mug on a small plate, dangerously close to spilling.

In many ways, this British coffee shop met my surface level expectations as a place where you can sit down with a warm drink and a pastry and perhaps feel motivated to work. A deeper look may provide more insight into the culture and lifestyle of Oxford residents.

One thought on “Expectation vs. Reality – Costa Coffee

  1. Elizabeth, I like your writing style. I laughed at this line: “I brought my American expectations and was met by a British reality.” Your paragraph about the music and accents also gives readers both a sensory experience, as well as offers them an understanding of your experience as the narrator of the piece. I further liked your thoughts about rush hours and waste. You chose a great theme for the piece–the comparing and contrasting of the two cultures. This is an important lesson in the nature of travel writing: when we travel, we experience it as ‘other,’ but for many, we are the ‘other.’ Great work on a relatively difficult assignment: sitting in Costa!


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