What’s It Called? Cafe, Coffee Bar, Coffee Shop, Coffee House

A question piqued our interest on Twitter regarding the proper usage of four otherwise interchangeable coffee establishment nouns – “cafe”, “coffee bar”, “coffee shop”, and “coffee house”. And so, an unofficial lexiconic primer with recommended usage:

Coffee Shop: Similar to a diner, in the USA and elsewhere. See: the coffee shop from “Seinfeld”, the coffee shop from the opening of “Natural Born Killers”, the coffee shop from the opening of “Reservoir Dogs”, the coffee shop where Silent Bob drops the titular monologue in “Chasing Amy”. (Note: in Amsterdam, the “coffee shop” is a place where marijuana and reggae music are sold and consumed.)

Coffee House: Open mic nights, Poetry Slams, sloppy couches, ironic enormous 90s latte bowls. See: the coffee house from “So I Married An Axe Murderer”, Central Perk in “Friends”, that random coffee house where Cory cruelly reads Shawn’s poems in “Boy Meets World” episode 609, “Poetic License“.

Coffee Bar: Boutique, espresso focused, quality oriented. Very little food (if any). See: where you likely hang out / work, Cafe Nervosa from “Frasier”, the use of Park Slope Grumpy as a workplace for that awful what’s-his-name from “Girls”.

Cafe: Purveyors of admittedly delicious sugary concoctions, some containing coffee. Can usually find a selection of paninis, breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, granitas, and “grab & go” juice floating in an ice bucket there. See: the drive-through Starbucks on La Cienega and Jefferson, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Hollywood and Orange, our upcoming Ice Queen Frappe pop-up in Downtown Portland.

Are we way out of line? Is this Pacific Northwest-centric blogger fodder? Were you born before most of those pop culture references? And can you cite ample examples of us breaking these rules throughout the archives of Sprudge? Sound off in the comments below!


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  3. says

    Thanks for this. I’m a Northeasterner and these seem pretty accurate. “Coffee bar” or “espresso bar” is my preferred term, but then that shortens to “bar” and that can be confusing to some. (When using these phrases to talk to people who are not so into coffee.)

    Nevertheless, I’ll stick with it. Anyone who doesn’t get it clearly hasn’t watched enough 90’s sitcoms.

  4. says

    umm. spot on. I’m waiting for the rise in dive-espresso bars.

    side note: Did you really make a reference to a specific Boy Meets World episode? Topanga was a babe.

    • says

      I don’t know that I’d actually thought about this before as the terms are indeed used pretty interchangeably by the general public.

      Your definitions, however, are spot-on, and I’ll be using them going forward. Common language!

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