Story by Joanne Xu
Photos by Marybeth Schmidt
Keep Austin Weird. Oh, what power three little words can have on an entire community.
Since the establishment of Austin’s infamous motto, its natives have ferociously worked to protect the eccentric personality that comes along with it. Quite honestly, Austin’s reputation for diversity is one of the city’s most beloved treasures. Its residents recount times where “Keep Austin Weird” impacted them with nothing but fond, endearing tones.
Weirdness, however, is not defined by how odd one is or how much they can separate themselves from mainstream culture. In Austin, to be weird simply means to be different - and to embrace those whose story is unlike your own. Here, people-watching is a pastime but people-knowing is a lifestyle. Us Austinites pride ourselves in the community’s closeness.
Over the years, the idea of coffee shop culture has become an integral element in preserving this lively, intimate personality of Austin. Our coffee -- the way we take it, who we choose to sip it with, and how we leave feeling -- holds more cultural significance than superficial function.
There is no better place to observe this mindset than within the walls of one of Austin’s plethora of coffee houses. Amongst the murmurs of business talk, writers reading words back to themselves and friends bonding over chai, there is not a single walk of life that goes unrepresented. Corporate lunch-breakers sit within the inner circle of tables, spitting logistics back and forth between coworkers. Creatives scatter amongst the outskirts, so deep in thought that even the occasional howl of laughter between old friends cannot break their trance. Still, there are those who are simply passing by, indulging in their caffeine cravings before carrying on with their day.
The baristas bustle around, seamlessly intermixing casual small talk and coffee orders into every customer interaction. In Austin, curating coffee and pastry creations is a passion -- not merely an occupation. Every conversation is intentional, genuine and appreciated. They learn your name, ask you about your day and eventually, some will even learn your life story.
All because of a simple cup of coffee.
It’s this feeling of quaintness, of familiarity, that I so dearly adore about Austin’s coffee. As a creative, there is nothing more comforting than finding the perfect environment to imagine in. For me, that is within the walls of Cenote coffee shop on E. Cesar Chavez. A residential property turned hip coffee spot, its brilliant blue walls and warm, welcoming staff somehow still capture the essence of a cozy home.
It’s actually incredibly endearing when you think about it. Within the walls of one of Austin’s infamous coffee shops, you are free to escape whatever has been weighing you down that day. You can choose to think through the troubles that plague your mind, or simply tuck them away for a drink’s worth of time. There is no room for discourse; no political affiliation, social attitude, or religious belief that can distinguish one from the next. We are all just Austinites being Austinites.
Even simpler: it is a collection of persons enjoying their individual days together.
Especially in more recent years, Austin coffee shops have provided a haven for tolerant and open conversation within the community. In such a politically heated time, many of the city’s local hotspots, such as Houndstooth Coffee and Cafe Medici, have banded together in support for the ACLU and their civil rights work. As Austin is known for being a rather liberal environment, standing in solidarity with a cause so dear to many residents’ hearts again shows just how culturally influential coffee shops can be.
Since Red Wassenich branded the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan into Austin’s personality, it has become imprinted into not only the hearts and minds of its residents, but the very soul of the city itself. It’s no wonder that in a community with such powerful pride of its individuality that its food and drink scene would be so rich and impactful too.
So next time you’re on a caffeine run, slow down for a second, look around you and sit for a minute. Disconnect from your device and just watch.
Watch as the people of Austin live their individual lives, together.