Coffee shop romances demonstrate how fiction and fan fiction have been blurring the lines since forever. What are Shakespeare’s histories if not real person fiction? What is Paradise Lost if not the absolute pinnacle of Bible fan fiction? Nowadays, the kinds of tropes and plot devices previously seen mostly in fan fiction can be found in original fiction. And that includes the beloved coffee shop setting.
Coffee shop alternate universes have been around in fan fiction for about 20 years. In these stories, characters from other properties or real people are ported into a coffee shop setting. Typically, one of the main characters works at the coffee shop and their love interest is a regular customer, though there are many variations on that theme. For a more thorough history, check out SyFy’s exploration of the genre.
What Are Coffee Shop Romances?
Coffee shop romances are stories that don’t use previously established characters or real people. After all, the most talented romance writers can develop original characters so deftly that readers root for the romance to bloom just as readily as they would for fan fiction characters they already know and love.
But what is it about coffee shops? For one, a coffee shop romance is the actual dream for many. Bumping into that special someone in a genuine meet cute is preferable to the endless swiping on apps that more often than not only leads to lackluster chats. Furthermore, coffee shops are havens of coziness. They invite everyone to slow down, savor a beverage, and take a moment to relax. Coffee shops also represent a “third place,” someplace that doesn’t have the responsibilities of home and work. Third places are where communities can flourish. And romance too, naturally.
So I’ve brewed up a collection of coffee shop romances for you. I hope they can transport you to your own alternate universe, where the crisp air tempts you to pop into a snug little café to order a warm drink from that cutie at the counter.
Café de l’Amour by J.M. Snyder
I had to include Café de l’Amour because it’s the blueprint! Originally published as *NSYNC fan fiction, it’s now only available as original fiction with all the serial numbers filed off, so to speak. Fan fiction scholars count this as the first Coffee Shop AU, the ship that launched a thousand ships. The story follows shy barista Austin who falls for regular customer Seth. It’s a sweet and flirtatious story that captures the giddiness of the early days of a relationship.
Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert
The first entry in Talia Hibbert’s Monsters and Mates series flips the tropes of paranormal romance around, which is why I love it. Werewolf Luke is hot on the trail of his mate. Turns out she’s a werewolf hunter named Chastity, whose family owns the coffee shop Luke walks into. What should be a meet disaster turns out to be a very unusual meet cute. Luke is smitten with Chastity, even as she’d love to have his head as a trophy. In turn, Chastity finds not an overly protective fated mate, but a soft, supportive werewolf who encourages her blood lust. Truly a perfect match made in hell, and a perfect Halloween read.
Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six de los Reyes
This is my list, so I’m extending coffee shops to include bubble tea shops. In this charming and nerdy romance, Kaya Rubio develops a scientific approach to dating. Her negative control, the person she’s least likely to click with, is artsy, laid-back Nero Sison. He’s the owner of the café she frequents. Going on a date with him should establish what having zero chemistry will feel like, right? But then sparks fly. With a rich cast of supporting characters and a romance that lets quirky characters be themselves, this book is sweet as bubble tea.
Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle
Twice Shy is a forced proximity romance between Maybell Parish, a woman who inherits a rambling old house, and Wesley, the property’s groundskeeper. However, it has the most unusual element of coffee shop romance I’ve yet come across. Maybell is a dreamer who often retreats to a coffee shop AU in her mind. It’s appointed with the most charming decor and is haunted by a handsome imaginary customer named Jack. Eventually, Jack loses his appeal as Maybell trusts Wesley enough to let him into her coffee shop. It’s honestly the cutest.
Bittersweet by Christina C. Jones
Fans of Christina C. Jones’s Equilibrium series have longed to patronize the Black-owned business of her fictional neighborhood of Mahogany Heights. I know I’d love to enjoy a meal at Pot Liquor and follow it with a coffee at Urban Grind. Bittersweet is a novella exploring the life of Urban Grind’s manager Anika. She’s forced to train Royal, who’s hoping to manage a franchise of his own. He gets under Anika’s skin, until his charm wins her over. With a holiday setting, this one’s perfect for reading under some twinkle lights.
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian
Are there historical coffee shop romances? You bet! Cat Sebastian often dabbles in fan fiction tropes and loose retellings, so it’s no surprise she dished up a coffee shop for us. Grumpy Kit Webb has packed in his life of crime for an upright second act running a coffee shop. Dandyish Percy, Lord Holland, requires help stealing a book from his own father that could get him out of his current predicament. He shows up at Kit’s coffee shop hoping to pull Kit out of retirement for one last job. More thrilling than the heist itself is the genuine and healing relationship that blossoms between Kit and Percy.
Moments Like This by Anna Gomez and Kristoffer Polaha
Coffee shop romances create a particular kind of mood, of coziness and relaxation. What’s better than a coffee shop romance? A coffee shop romance set in an idyllic location like Hawaii. In Moments Like This, Andie Matthews needs a fresh start. When her friend offers her a job at her friend’s coffee shop in Hawaii, she jumps at the chance. She shares a moment on Christmas Eve with customer Warren. When she learns who Warren really is, however, she worries that moment may have passed. Can Warren can set things right? This is the book if you want to feel like you’re not only at a coffee shop, but on vacation too.
Cinnamon Roll by Anna Zabo
Lovers of coffee shop romances definitely need to check out the Bold Brew series: ten books by ten authors with a shared universe revolving around Bold Brew, an inclusive coffee shop in a fictional Pennsylvania city. Cinnamon Roll follows the relationship between linguistics professor Max and lawyer Tom, both coffee shop regulars. The book is called Cinnamon Roll for a reason, as Max embodies that titular role. He takes incredible care of Tom in their D/s relationship, all depicted with copious consent. And yes, there are also literal cinnamon rolls.
Small Town Secrets by Katrina Jackson
One of the huge appeals of a coffee shop is the opportunity to do a little harmless eavesdropping. Reading small town romances can have that same thrill, of dropping in on many interconnected lives and getting all the good dirt. Small Town Secrets, the third book in the Welcome to Sea Port series, lets readers know Lisa Sullivan, the coffee shop proprietor, has a crush on Bria Stone, the baker’s apprentice. And the feeling is mutual. If you like the idea of a sweet and sexy sapphic romance in a small town with lots of secrets, including a ladies’ speakeasy, then you’re in for a treat.
If your fannish proclivities have brought you to romance, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got hockey romances and romances about podcasters and radio hosts. We’ve even got romances taking place at fan conventions. There’s never been a better time to be a romance reader, so pour yourself a nice cup of coffee and get to reading.