Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Love and Lattes

How the Coffee Shop AU feeds romance.

Herb’s Electronics is a coffee shop. It is, specifically, a coffee shop in Nashville, which kept the name of the previous business because its new owners don’t want to pay for a new sign. It’s confusing, I know. Plenty of patrons have complained to its staff of reliably snarky (and buff) baristas, but Herb’s Electronics is not a real place. It’s a Coffee Shop AU, or alternative universe, in fanfiction parlance. AUs are stories in which people or characters famous for something else—being superheroes, singing in a boyband, solving mysteries, turning into werewolves—are transported into another world. They may live as high school students, run from zombies, dance in a Regency ballroom, or, in the case of Herb’s Electronics, fall in love at a coffee shop.

In this particular Coffee Shop AU, written by Archive of Our Own (shortened as AO3) user McSpot, fictional versions of real hockey players are baristas, bakers, stockbrokers, and sometimes even hockey players. Over the course of four works, written in 2018 and 2019, Herb’s Electronics’ owners, employees and customers find love, both romantic and platonic, and turn the coffee shop into both a successful business and an alternative family. It’s like a giant latte with a heart of foam—just what the readers, and writers, of the 34,812 works tagged “alternative universe—coffee shops & cafes” on AO3 are looking for. I count myself as one of them.