Did you know that coffee is the most popular beverage worldwide with more than 400 billion cups consumed each year?

Did you know that more than 50 percent of Americans over 18 years of age drink coffee every day, representing more than 150 million daily drinkers?

Did you know that 65 percent of all coffee is consumed during breakfast hours?

Did you know that the first coffeehouse in Europe opened in Venice in 1683, though coffee had been available since 1608, mostly for the upper class?

And did you know that every weekend morning at the Starbucks located at 2740 Fletcher Parkway, in the Fletcher Hills area of El Cajon, there is a small group of folks who come together to discuss everything you ever wanted to know, to solve the world’s great problems, to philosophize about meaningful issues of the day, to review the week’s personal triumphs and frustrations, and to discuss just about any matter that is of personal interest to those who attend?

This Starbucks weekend gathering is a veritable greenhouse for creative thinking, friendship and everyday problem-solving. Caffeine isn't a drug for this collection of free-thinkers, it's a vitamin!

It seems that nearly every imaginable topic from relationships, to orthopedic issues, to politics, to NASCAR, working-out, the latest books and movies, family matters, fashion, sex and customer service in hospitals are all covered by this animated, bright, passionate, funny and genuinely nice group of men and women.

It’s like a posse of ethnically and geographically diverse friends that come together, take over the comfy lounge area at Starbucks, and pontificate on far-reaching subjects that rival any think-tank in the world. And the "entry fee" is a simple cup of coffee.

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, March 4, carried an interesting story about people being able to carry a gun into stores such as Starbucks — the "open carry" issue as it’s being called. Starbucks, unlike other stores, does not opt to ban legally obtained and licensed guns when they are carried "openly" according to the law. The company’s quote is interesting in light of the coffee-culture the chain promotes — "The political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislature and courts, not in our stores."

Sorry, Mr. Schultz. Come this weekend, my little group will be debating the political, policy and legal issues of "open carry" and a dozen other issues for at least a couple of hours. It’s just what Starbucks really wants: a place where people come together and solve the problems of the world while buying millions and millions of cups of coffee—and maybe a donut or two, er, million.

I’ve written about the culture of coffee before here. What is it about the Starbucks’ environment that draws these sorts of gatherings — not just in Fletcher Hills, but all over the world? And what is it about coffeehouses in general that have historically led them to be a popular meeting place for revolutionaries and political debate?

Coffeehouses largely serve as centers of social interaction. The coffeehouse provides social members with a place to congregate, talk, write, read, entertain one another, or pass the time, whether individually or in small groups.

Starbucks marketed itself as the "third place" – the place to gather and relax, between home and work. This marketing concept led to the creation of those who refer to themselves as "Starbucks addicts," and formed the subculture of the company’s devoted consumers.

Imagine having a cup of coffee every weekend morning with a group consisting of a brilliant, retired yet very active orthopedic surgeon and his creative, highly intelligent athletic wife; a Drew Barrymore look-and-lisp-alike who can sell dead cats and ice to the Eskimos and is forever running off to yoga; a metal factory owner who can manufacture nearly anything metal; a NASCAR race aficionado; a plumber whose wisdom in beyond enviable; an owner of one of the more successful and upscale day spas in the county; an entertainment company executive/party planner who leaves her stamp of creativity and talent on this area’s most impressive parties; a lawyer turned teacher and his teacher wife; and occasional visitors who bring their own brand of stimulating perspective to the discussion.

It’s not the quality of the coffee that makes this Starbucks as good as it is. It’s the quality of the people that make this coffeehouse the gathering spot it has become.

Much like the European and American intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who spent the better part of their days in cafés or coffeehouses, the group I have come to cherish so much is there for a couple of hours every weekend morning for each other’s intellectual and emotional benefit.

It is always easier to enjoy the rest of the weekend day after this weekly brain-stimulating experience. Starbucks and other coffee houses fill some kind of deep desire for connection with other people. Certainly, every coffee shop has its own set of regulars who seem to think of it as their second home. I prefer to think of "my Starbucks" as the "adult student center," where if you don’t show inevitably someone will call you to make sure you are ok.

I find the analytical, at times mind-bending but always respectful, discussions of this group requires an intellectual prowess similar to that found in the recorded discussions covering centuries in the Talmud. And then again, there are the down and dirty jokes. Whew. What a mixture.

"Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. [Coffee] is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit, a foiler of sleep if you want it so. From roadside mugs to the classic demi-tasse, it is the perfect democrat." Author of this is unknown, although it just as well could have been said by a member of the coffee club at Fletcher Hills Starbucks.

Join us, or start your own coffee culture friendship group. Remember that good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, but it’s the blend of people, not the blend of coffee that is ultimately stimulating.

Now, pass my tall cup of whatever was most recently brewed.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Mantell has successfully been bringing upbeat, friendly and helpful psychological insights to individuals, families and businesses in San Diego as a clinical and corporate psychologist in private practice. He's been a regular on Good Morning America, KFMB-TV News 8, has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, the Today show, authored two best-selling books and speaks regularly for audiences throughout the country. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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