Coffee & Conversation in Pittsburgh…REALLY???

A view of my table during my recent trip to Atlanta and the spectacular Café Intermezzo

A view of my table during my recent trip to Atlanta and the spectacular Café Intermezzo

By Kenneth Justice

I get it, I really do” she said, “At first I didn’t understand what the hell you were talking about. Coffee & community, it didn’t make any sense to me. But the more I started reading your articles the more it began to make sense

~ In just a few hours I depart to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the next part of my Drinking in the Culture Tour. In the United States. Yesterday at coffee an older woman came over to my table, she’d heard about my writing via mutual acquaintances and she stopped by to ask where I was headed this weekend,

Kenneth, at first I didn’t understand what you were getting at in your articles; ‘coffee, community, culture’ I thought you were something of an eccentric. But the more I read, the more I began to think about my own childhood and how different life was back then; every summer our neighborhood would have community block parties and I have so many fond memories from those times. There wasn’t person living within our entire community that I didn’t either know their name or their children’s name; everyone felt so interconnected with each other……but now, I’m embarrassed to say that I’m 64 years old and I don’t know the names of even one of my neighbors” she said

The world is changing; no, the world has changed. The Internet has become the new medium of connection in our fast paced world and my 2014 Drinking in the Culture Tour has been my opportunity to connect with readers, bloggers, and everyone else in-between to experience the depth of the relationships that exist as well as to observe coffee house culture in various cities throughout the Western World.

By the early 16th century coffee houses had become a magnet for encouraging community and conversation. Coffee houses were places that leveled the playing field; wealthy landowners would sit next to common peasants and farmers…. everyone was considered an equal in the coffee house.

In 1511 the Mahommedans began to discourage coffee drinking because the people who frequented coffee houses were found to become interested in “social, political and religious conversations that frequently led to social disturbances such as dissension among churchmen“  (Ukers, 1922). Unlike alcohol or drugs such as marijuana; caffeine and the coffee bean are stimulants that encourage the drinker to think. Coffee therefore has been the perfect drink to compliment deeper conversation, thought and philosophical reflection

And so this weekend I’ll be in Pittsburgh, a city I know practically nothing about, it’s one of those cities that people refer to as being a part of the Rust Belt. According to Wikipedia, ”The Rust Belt is the informal description for a postindustrial region straddling the Northeastern and the East North Central States, referring to economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the shrinking of its once powerful industrial sector. The term gained popularity in the United States in the 1980s

Initially when I came up with the plan for my Drinking in the Culture Tour I only wrote down popular destinations like Miami, London, San Francisco and Seattle. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that adding unorthodox stops to my tour in cities like Pittsburgh would help to add a more comprehensive flavor to my goal in understanding coffee house culture throughout the Western World; what are the communities like in cities that aren’t in the top 10 of tourist destinations?

A couple years ago I barely knew what a blog was; if you had asked me I would have given you an answer akin to, “isn’t it something like an Internet diary?” But now, nearly 14 months into my blogging career I’m becoming more aware of the true nature and impact that blogging is having within our world.

Through my blog I’ve met people that I consider to be some very dear friends. And thanks to my Drinking in the Culture Tour I’ve had the opportunity to sit across from them at coffee tables in in various cities throughout the country.

What will Pittsburgh be like? I honestly don’t have a clue; but as with so many other elements of life, I’m simply looking forward to the journey and am taking it one coffee cup at a time,


I will be at Commonplace Coffee tomorrow morning, email me for directions or more info, or simply stop by and join me!

Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

73 replies

  1. Yay for The Kenneth/Coffee/Communication/Community/Culture/Commonplace tour!

  2. Coffee Houses give us a break from the Bread and Circuses. Thanks to your blog and the Cafe Intermezzo leg of your trip,I’ve begun to see them for what they are. Thank you.

  3. Ah, Syracuse isn’t so far from there! Too bad you’re not coming here. You could even stay with us (assuming you like dogs–a lot!).

  4. Just enjoy the journey…and keep blogging about it. Even when I don’t comment, I enjoy the morning read. 🙂

  5. I know very little about Pittsburgh. But, I will go out on a limb to predict you will like the experience.

    Have fun.

  6. Making a note of how many conversations pre-destination (and post-destination) you have as well! 🙂

    BTW – that is a most cool café pictured – 37 page coffee menu! Less of a café and more of an “upmarket sensory experience”? 🙂

  7. That coffee house looked really upscale, like they would turn their nose up at me when I ask for cream or sugar! Travel safe! I’m excited to hear about your trip when you get back!

  8. Back to the Bang on the warm beverage. Caffeine has no effect on me at all. I drank my first cup in my 30’s after having two babies. I heard that it could wake me up. Unlike all the memes I read about the stuff, niltch. I drink it because it smells soothing and it warms me up from the inside. Which is most pleasurable.

  9. I think that fast paced world is just hat is wrong. We want things fast, now and yesterday.
    And like instant coffee it is a big NO NO.

    Unfortunately most do not even know any more what it is like to slow down. Even vacations turn in to constant party or having a hike. We can’t seem to stand still any more and connect.

    Have wonderful time and hurray for hot and slow drizzled coffee

  10. I love this post! YEARS ago, when visiting Europe, I was very intrigued by the fact that European students would hang out in coffee houses for hours and discuss politics, culture, etc. Now, I prefer coffee houses where there are less students (as they tend to be listening to music with earbuds and aren’t interested in surroundings 😦 ). My best experiences have been in coffee houses in the past year. I have found community. BTW, I’ll say it again: You will LOVE Pittsburgh!

    • Well I’ve been in Pittsburgh for 24 hours so far and its definitely a beautiful area for sure…. as far as less students because of their earbuds; so funny you say that cuz I’ve been working on an article about that very subject.

  11. You will like Pittsburgh. It is a down to earth city with heart.

    • The people have been very friendly so far. One of the coffee baristas invited me to the bar with him last night but I lost track of time and didn’t make it…. I’d only met the guy for 5 minutes and he was like, “hey I’d love to show you around south side so you get a feel for the city”

  12. Yes, meeting, getting, chatting. I don’t drink coffee but like the atmosphere in coffee houses or cafés. Coffee House is an expression the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk uses…he likes them a lot too

  13. Sorry for the typo, I meant greeting….

  14. I love what you’re doing. For many years I was a waitress in a café. A lot more went on there than just pouring coffee. The old guys, the elders and leaders of our community, would get together and plan their day. There was so much networking that took place, relationships, service, politics, community building. People would find jobs, homes to rent, make connections they needed. The women would usually come in later in the morning and network themselves. I enjoy the internet, but it has changed us and that face to face contact, that trust and on the ground support, is becoming a thing of the past.

  15. Dear Kenneth,

    It’s so cool to follow along with you. Dare I say that even as you drink in the culture, you are stirring it up a bit as well? Getting out there as you are and igniting these conversations both in person and online is a bit of a new blend of culture, no?

    One that combines the richness of intimate experiences with the vastness of the cyber community. I just think it’s so freaking groovy.

    Peace along the way ~


    • Thanks Allison, its funny….i’m always a bit hesitant when I arrive to each new city; yesterday after I got here (Pittsburgh) I wasn’t sure what the people were like but in less than an hour a coffee barista invited me to hang out with him at the bar later that night! People are very friendly here for sure.

    • That is so awesome! People are so lovely. Well, you go ahead and rock it out in Pittsburgh and I will hold my wild horses for you to finally get to Philly! 🙂

      Have a blast, do your thing. Be at peace.

    • 7 days till Philly!!! I am so excited I’ve never been there before either! If you have any suggestions on where to stay let me know…..i’m arriving Friday night and haven’t even had time to look up places yet cuz I’ve been so busy traveling, writing, and working

    • You are going to be in Newtown area and downtown, isn’t that correct? The coolest place downtown is the Hyatt Regency on the water or the Penn View Inn (best wine bar there, too). Forgive me I forget which coffee shops but if you let me know I’ll get you some recommendations nearby for hotels and restaurants, also. I’d say stay downtown – it will be a great time to be here. 🙂

    • Burlap and bean in the morning on Saturday 🙂 I might end up staying just outside the city, but even if I do I want to go downtown somewhere Friday night to hang out; is there like a bar/restaurant/night-life district in Philadelphia where I could check out the scene on Friday night and get a flavor for the area?

    • So there will be various cultures even within the city of Philadelphia where you hang out Friday night. It’s up to you what kind of scene you prefer. Here are a few areas and I can recommend restaurants and bars within each.

      Rittenhouse Square area is always a buzz with hip and trendy restaurants and bars and is a bit more upscale, but not in a stuffy way just in a “grown up” sort of way. My husband and I love this area and my father lives in that area and he loves it, too. It’s just damn cool.

      Old City is a very vibrant part of town with slightly more of a younger bustling partying crowd – a lot of bars (on any given Saturday you may catch some pub crawling parties!), clubs, martini bars. Less expensive to grab a meal in Old City than in Rittenhouse, but both are cool. In the springtime there are First Friday Art Gallery events in Old City but I’m not sure if they started yet – I can find out.

      South Street area is another culture. I’m personally not a fan as it’s too rowdy for my taste. Somehow I don’t see you there but if you like a sort of grungier scene, this is your jam.

      In any case, let me know what sounds most appealing to you and I’ll send you some recommendations. I’m 35 and fairly hip so I think you would like what I would like but I shall assume nothing. Ha 🙂

  16. This is the coolest concept ever! I so agree with the woman that you spoke with. I live in a huge suburban development and know only three of my neighbors and this isn’t for my lack of trying. People here seem suspicious if you’re friendly! Growing up, there wasn’t a person in my neighborhood that I didn’t know. We barbequed together,swam in each other’s pools and were there for each other. As a younger adult, I lived in a very friendly small town (Shepherdstown, WV–check out The Lost Dog there if you want to visit an amazing, community-filled coffee shop) for a good many years, and had much the same experience of community. Now living further away due to my husband’s job, there’s a higher population and more anonymity. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t long for the communities of my past. Wish I was closer to Pittsburgh.

  17. For the record, you are something of an eccentric, but in a good way. I’ve never known a sane writer, myself included. It comes with the territory. I’m also a little disappointed in the ‘coffee culture’ in the places close to me. I want to have deep discussions about religion and politics!

    The internet is sort of the same way, though. You’re certainly not meeting people in person, but you are engaging them in discussions about religion, politics and culture. Sure, there are some extremist who only communicate with other extremist on the web. Others, though, embrace the opportunity to speak with people from all over the world. All of a sudden, we’re not just discussing our politics and our culture. We’re discussing a sort of global culture. I still think we should strive to recreate the community off the internet, but the ability to see ourselves as a citizen of the world on the internet is surly a good thing.

  18. If we care enough, we can change the world. Often, we must look within ourselves, adjusting our thinking and our actions, in order to create external change. It’s funny that human created the internet , now internet has affected the worldwide communication & connection.
    Enjoy your weekend!

  19. “…caffeine and the coffee bean are stimulants that encourage the drinker to think. Coffee therefore has been the perfect drink to compliment deeper conversation, thought and philosophical reflection”


    I have been barking about the finer virtues of drinking coffee for years…to no avail. I’ve been told I’m full of beans, to which I gives thanks. Often my philosophical reflections escape the ordinary thought. One can only conclude the lack coffee as a steady diet and the sole culprit of a dull mind.

    So…drink deep my friend and philosophize! …..oh, pass the cream and sugar please.
    ~ dave

  20. We, in India, used to lead a gentle and very social life. While chains like Starbucks and Costa Coffee, and a few local ones, are spreading the coffee culture, we have become less social as a country. It’s about the baubles and the internet.

  21. I have a niece and a nephew in Pittsburgh. Not sure what their schedules are, but I let them know you’ll be there! 🙂 Not sure how long you’ll be in town after your coffee, but if you get a chance, I recommend the National Aviary and Fort Pitt.

  22. I’m not sure if New Orleans, LA is on your list, but there is a great spot called Cafe du Monde. It is known for its coffee and beignets, and is located in the French Quarter. If you are looking for coffee, community, and culture, you are in for a treat! Enjoy your tour, love your work. Happy and safe travels! 🙂

  23. “In 1511 the Mahommedans began to discourage coffee drinking because the people who frequented coffee houses were found to become interested in “social, political and religious conversations that frequently led to social disturbances such as dissension among churchmen“ (Ukers, 1922). Unlike alcohol or drugs such as marijuana; caffeine and the coffee bean are stimulants that encourage the drinker to think. Coffee therefore has been the perfect drink to compliment deeper conversation, thought and philosophical reflection”

    I knew that caffeine was relevant to philosophy. It explains so much about me. My time drinking diet coke at Burger King while typing on my laptop has led to all kinds of ideas.

  24. So I am sitting here thinking where should I go in my small town to check out a house, coffee, conversation, good times.

  25. Hope to see you tomorrow if I feel better, getting over a cold. Commonplace on Forbes?

  26. It’s interesting that you should say that about Pittsburgh. I’ve been blessed enough to find a fellow blogger, who refers to himself as the Captain of the Dimwits LOL, who would disagree with you. IN reading what he had to say, Pittsburgh has plenty to offer, it just doesn’t immediately come to mind. This young man, perhaps you’ve read his blog – The Dimwit Diary, is so very interesting and I love his photography! He’s captured some very beautiful things about Pittsburgh. I’m hoping you have a good time. So… you ever going to be anywhere that’s w/in driving distance of me? lol San Francisco would be nice but for a three-day weekend that’s a bit much. It would be good to go up and see my family who’s kinda close to there but it would be tough. Anyway – have fun!

  27. As so many have moved to the internet to communicate and relate, as you mentioned, I wonder if there will in the future be a movement AWAY from electronic means of communication. Maybe we’ll ultimately realize that personal connection is better, even if we can’t fully explain why, and there will be a movement back that direction. I don’t of course think the internet is ever going away, nor should it. It’s a medium, a tool, and a very powerful and amazing one. Enjoy your blogs, though I don’t catch them all.

  28. Wow! You are very inspirational. Enjoyed this post and I look forward to more readings!

  29. Can you fill out 10 questions to help with our market reasech for on-line dating
    Really love your blog and I will keep reading it 🙂

  30. Kenneth- I think you’ll find Pittsburgh has reinvented itself from Rust Belt to culture keeper. My daughter did her internship there and we found it to have a vibrant and totally dynamic downtown. We loved walking around, taking photos of all the cool old architecture that has been preserved, sitting amid the moden buildings by the waterside and tasting the new Pittsburgh cuisine culture at places like Six Penn Kitchen ( Suburbs are still suburbs, but the core is revitalized nicely.

    • Yea, my experience has been similar to yours; they’ve kept a lot of the old historic buildings and it has a different feel there compared to places like Chicago where so much of the ‘old city’ is gone. Although it was a small city, Pittsburgh has a lot of charm

  31. Stopped drinking coffee several years ago, but love travelling, meeting people and engaging in friendly conversation. I’m sure you’d love Saint Lucia (the entire Caribbean, for that matter), where we’re known for our friendly nature and and showing off our country. Love your blog. This is what the human experience is all about. Enjoy!



  1. Allentown | Bleached Bone Valley
%d bloggers like this: