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Brewing belonging and damn good coffee! - Community Conundrum #1

What is our community? My team & I were doing an exercise to define what is our community, what’s its identity, what makes us different, why do people choose to be a part of it, and so on, and so forth. Community is not a fact, but rather an opinion. It makes different people feel differently and how a community is shaped and behaves it attracts its tribe. It’s something that’s felt, and for me that feeling is belonging. 

A core focus in what we do is building and fostering communities of like-minded people in shared communal coworking space. Community and Collaboration are the essences of our business. We decided to look up other communities to see how they identify themselves & define themselves. Hence, Community Conundrum, where we talk to various intentional and non-intentional communities budding and thriving in our city. 

The first in the series was a no brainer for me, it’s a place where I feel I belong, is a part of my daily routine ( well till daily routine was a habit before COVID ) and is a part of many other people’s lives as well and brings joy to all of us with a damn good cup of coffee! — Our local Neighbourhood specialty coffee shop — Meraki, the coffee House. A classic case of Passion in Action, I’ve seen Brijesh ( The owner ) not only build up his cafe but create awareness and share knowledge about the beautiful coffee he serves at his cafe. It’s a place where strangers become familiar, apart from coffee, the music, and its playlist play an integral role in the kinship to its community, where it’s hardly disliked by anyone and enjoyed by many. How does a cafe with the simple mission of brewing and serving great coffee identify and define its community of coffee-lovers and enthusiasts?

Defining a community is difficult, so we dwell into questions related to its identity, its experience, and its structure, and try to imagine what that community feels like. With Meraki, we will specifically focus on questions related to identity and experience and try to get a perspective from Brijesh on his perspective & opinions regarding “specialty coffee communities.”

Strong communities have a clear and explicit sense of who they are, why they exist, and what they stand for. I spoke to Brijesh to understand why and how their community is. The following are a few questions I asked Brijesh to ponder upon and answer.

  • Why does your community exist or should exist? How will the world be different by having this community of coffee lovers?

We do not have a coffee community in Surat as such but being pioneers of specialty coffee we do have a niche group of patrons who take their coffees very seriously and care to know about the details of their cup, which in a way makes an informal community. Having a proper coffee community would be very beneficial for the cafes and customers as it can help in carrying out public cuppings and tasting sessions which can work out as a great form of education for customers and feedback for the coffee shops.

  • What does your ideal community look like? An ideal community for me would be a set of coffee connoisseurs who are not very snobbish with whom I can convey my ideas about coffee, carry out tasting sessions, and geek about coffee.

  • What are some traits that your patrons share? How would you describe the most active members of your community? Common traits found in our patrons would be their frequency of dropping by at the cafe would be daily, they’d have a particular favorite coffee that they would want to drink, socializing wouldn’t be their number one priority, they’d be the people who would come for a quick coffee and leave.

It's beautiful to see this community in action every day at the cafe, how a community-driven by an internal purpose often do not explicitly define and state them; they derive it implicitly from forming the community. Communities are always “for” someone - a group of previously disconnected people who share one or several commonalities: a shared identity -In this case, Love for freshly brewed Coffees!

  • How do you use or plan to use language visuals and objects to strengthen your identity? How do you plan on communicating with the world? For now, we haven’t done anything as such in creating an identity but the blue cups and impeccable coffees made in them each time pretty much is our identity.

And, Indeed these blue cups truly form an unsaid connect the cafe and the amazing coffees we drink out of it every day.

We also explore the community from the perspective of the members: what does actually happen in it and how does it translate its Identity into concrete activities that create a sense of belonging to its members? Continuing with few more questions to get a better understanding of this,

  • What are some rituals that happen in your community?

Rituals on the staff end would be dialing in the espresso each morning, everyone making themselves their favorite cup of coffee before they start their day. On the customer end, the patrons would have a specific time dedicated for a coffee and they would on most occasions have a particular coffee that they would want to drink.

  • How do patrons create content using your coffees, and what’s its value? Coffee is one of the most Instagram-able things for the Millenials we see many people posting about their daily coffees in posts, stories, etc. This helps us a lot in marketing and creating a sense of community.

  • What is considered “out of bounds” misbehavior when it comes to coffee?  The only permissible condiments in a coffee would be milk and sugar (not a lot of it). There can be a list of out of bound things: 1. Extra hot milk coffees. 2. Reheating coffees. 3. Putting excess sugar. 4. Pronouncing the names wrong, most common of all being EXPRESSO COFFEE. 5. Making faces while drinking coffee, mostly when ordering a coffee too strong for your palate. 6. Clicking pictures till your coffees get cold and lose all the flavors. 7. Using Starbucks lingo in our cafe, no we do not grande venti in our coffees and no we do not call them frappuccinos over here.

  • Considering the cafe is called Meraki, how do you and your entire staff inculcate a part of themselves in what they create?

Our core team which consists of the management and baristas take a lot of pride in their work and puts their heart and soul in it.  For e.g. if Yash is working on the manual brew bar he makes sure that he gets all the possible flavors in the cup, if Naitik is doing milk coffees he shall pour the most beautiful latte arts in his coffees, Rahul shall work with efficiency unlike anyone else, Shubham shall manage the cafe even in the busiest hours with a cool head(most times). Our team has a sense of family amongst themselves and they make sure to put their heart and soul in their work in each shift.

Rituals and traditions are recurring actions designed to strengthen a sense of belonging and, well, community. In contrast to shared experiences, rituals have primarily a symbolic value and can be very personal. My personal ritual as a part of this community is before starting my workday, I spend some time here at the cafe, have a refreshing cup of flat white and hold conversations with people who are there to do the same. I have met a few people through this place who I think otherwise wouldn't cross my path, and it's the next best thing to the great coffees.

And when this entire lockdown situation is over and we can resume back in our lives and visit our favorite local coffee shop, Brijesh has promised me ( not yet :P ) to host a tasting session to drink gazillion cups of coffees. who's joining in?

Also, Vocal for local! yeah.

Over the next few weeks, we will reach out to more such communities of the city and try and understand different aspects of their respective communities. Are there any communities you think would be an interesting feature of our blog series? Let us know.

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