Understanding your brand: what would you look like as a coffee shop?

Understanding your brand: what would you look like as a coffee shop?


One of the tremendous gifts we have inherited from Jung is a better appreciation of the power of imagination. The imaginative (image making) faculty grants us access to areas of psyche that are not accessible in any other way. Images from the unconscious (which is where our images come from in any imaginative exercise) have a holographic-type nature, in that they contain a depth of information that goes far deeper than the surface of the image and affords access to otherwise inaccessible areas of the psyche.

The particular imaginative exercise I will take you through in this post I call simply “The Coffee Shop”.

It is a deceptively simple exercise that provides a very useful tool for self reflection, a better understanding of your unconscious ideology, your social values, and, perhaps most significantly, what your personal brand  either is, or aspires to be, in the world[1].

The coffee shop exercise

Imagine a scenario where you are given a brief to establish and run a coffee shop. The parameters are fairly generous:

You have unlimited budget, time and resources.

You can open this shop anywhere in the world.

Whilst making the shop profitable can be a priority it needn’t be; that is to say profitability is a permissible but not necessary (essential) concern.


In constructing your coffee shop these are the parameters, amongst any others that occur to you, that you should focus on:


Operating hours.

The look and feel of the shop, exterior and interior, shop fittings, layout, colours etc.

The ambiance and atmosphere you would create.

Your menu

Particular area/s of focus.

Your clientele

Where and what you would be doing in your shop.

Any other areas or parameters that occur to you.


Assuming you are doing this exercise on your own I suggest you take the time to write out the answers to these questions; if with a companion you can simply verbalise them, either way the act of concretising the answer through some medium is important and increases the value you will get from engaging in the exercise. Simply imagining without some form of expression seems less valuable for some reason.

Please do the exercise before reading any further.


Once you have done the exercise let me unpack for you what you have done and what is symbolised in the exercise.


A hermeneutic analysis of the image (understanding the significance of your coffee shop)

The coffee shop is a symbol of your persona. It expresses in an imaginal form a metaphor of who you are in the world, what face or mask you show the world, what your social/public values are, who it is you wish to attract to yourself and what you are putting out there to attract those people and, more broadly, your value proposition – what you offer the world.

Consider the various symbols (images and ideas) in your coffee shop and how they comment on who you are and what you are putting out into the world. It is also helpful to try and invert your vision – see your coffee shop form a customer’s perspective, what are they encountering and how do they feel upon entering your coffee shop. Alternatively if you have a friend to do this exercise with, let them comment on how they react and feel about your coffee shop. 


An example (my own coffee shop)

My coffee shop is located is 7th Street, Parkhurst, Johannesburg, South Africa. It trades from 4.30pm in the afternoon until 8.30am in the morning, it is, in other words, a location for nightowls, who frequently arrive in the early hours of the morning and stay for breakfast which is served from 6.30am.

It is located in a converted double story house. The shop is located downstairs. The main area consists of four long benches which can be shared by different groups or individuals offering a communal seating arrangement. This space is dominated by a long, bar with a heavy wood counter. Beyond the main communal section of the coffee shop, in the back, are four private booths, for those  in search of a more solitary or private space. 

Behind the bar is Georgas, the mid forties, heavy set, slightly balding, always jovial, but with a vaguely menacing undertone, Spaniard, who manages the shop.The shop is staffed by a few young Spanish exchange students, young men in their early twenties. On occasion the shop is graced by the presence of Bella Donna, a classic beauty of indiscernible age, who, when the spirit moves her, acts as a hostess welcoming customers on their arrival, chatting to the regulars and flirting scandalously with the younger patrons.  

The patrons are fairly heterogeneous but in the main consist of Greeks, a few complimentary Lebs and a few Jews , mainly middle aged men, inveterate gamblers for the most part, who make up the “regulars”. The regulars wonder in anytime but generally pretty late, and for most of the evening the shop vacillates between various stages of quiet. There is a spike of activity, and sometimes even a little drama when the youngsters, returning from “the jol” at various night spots around Johannesburg, more often than not tripping on some or other narcotic, in that luminal state when the main jol is over but home seems too far away and in too great a contrast to their prior ecstasy, and they are not quite ready to depart from their nocturnal companions. 

The fare is simple, good coffee, some alcohol is served although the range is limited and really good sandwiches, some say the best in Johannesburg. The denouement is definitely breakfast when the place comes to life with a buzz amongst the patrons and much ado in the kitchen as Georgia’s prepares his by-now-pretty-famous ham and eggs. Everyone crowds around the long communal benches to eat and chat and generally commune together as the sun comes up and everyone basks in the warm promise of a new day.

Although the shop has no explicit mission statement it seems to me that it provides a place of sanctuary for nocturnal travellers who feel they may have lost their way for a time and are not quite sure where to go or what to do next; for those who find themselves in fear of being swallowed by the night beast, or simply rest uneasy under the moons eerie glow –a place for them to come, to be amongst like minded souls, a home away from home, a place to get a decent sandwich and a hot coffee amongst those who share their love-hate relationship with the night .


Understanding the image (applied hermeneutics)

I will refrain from too detailed an analysis of my own image, that didn’t end too well for Narcissus. However I trust that some aspects of who I am, what I love, what I care about, what my values are and what I may be able to offer, are hiding in plain sight in the image of my coffee shop. 

Beyond my example, these are the types of questions you might ask, and aspects to reflect on, in analysing your own coffee shop:

Location is significant – this says a lot about where your soul longs to be, where your real home is. In doing this exercise with around three dozen people during the course of last year, I noticed how frequently their location is frequently either literally or metaphorically where they spent their childhood or very early adult hood.

What values are represented in your coffee shop? What dominates: aesthetics, quality, profit, the fare, the standard of the coffee, the type of customers, the atmosphere, is it about connectedness, communication, elegance, etc.

Are you in an introverted or extroverted role: are you behind the scenes or front of shop – are you even present in your coffee shop?

The customers are very revealing, presumably this is the type of person you want to socialise with, I think that is a reasonably intuitive inference to draw. Who are these people? How selective are you in your customer type – how is this reflected in your actual life? If there is a real contrast between the customers in your coffee shop and the people you are mixing with in the real world then this bears further reflection – why the contrast?

Trading hours: when are you at your best?

What do you offer? Why would customers frequent your shop, and what would keep them coming back?


The image of your coffee shop is obviously an idealisation, that is to say it is aspirational, not necessarily indicative of the status quo. So what it brings to light are your ideal rather than lived values, but once again any contrast here is worth noting and reflecting on.

One last thought, if you are reasonably accustomed to, or even just acquainted with, the analysis of personal symbols, such as most typically found in dreams, then this exercise should be a piece of cake 🙂 . My sense is that even if you are new to this type of reflective work this exercise is pretty intuitive, and  that you should be able to map the majority of images/symbols in your coffee shop onto your life – you can figure out what they represent. That being said, the question I want to leave you with is what exactly do you think the coffee (in the coffee shop) symbolises?


Until next time,



PS. Please feel free to share your own coffee shop in the comments section.


[1] The persona is the expression of your personality “in the (outer) world”, in contrast to say the anima which is an expression of your personality in the inner world. Much of Jungian work focuses on the inner world, in this sense the persona is an important contrast with many other concepts we work with in Jungian psychology. When referring to the outer world I typically refer to this as simply “in the world” and contrast this with work in the “inner world”, which I signpost accordingly.


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Comments (18)

  • Ilse Reply

    Great exercise! Thanks for sharing

    January 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm
    • Raesun Nash Reply

      Terrific exercise. My coffee shop turned out not to be a coffee shop at all! Is there hope?

      October 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm
  • Byron Reply

    Yes, thank you for posting this splendid exercise. It works. I won’t go into the all the details of my cafe here, but my ‘particular area of focus’ was “a cafe where you can grow as a person. Relax, listen to good music and literature, soak in the art. Waiters who are obviously educated but polite, discreet, and also trained as masseurs / therapists (the back of the cafe will offer these options). No arrogance in the cafe, we genuinely want to help real people”.

    January 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm
  • Michael Reply

    What a delightful exercise!

    Of particular interest to me is the context or
    ‘who are the clients?’
    Your take ‘it provides a place of sanctuary for nocturnal travellers who feel they may have lost their way for a time and are not quite sure where to go or what to do next;’ resonates powerfully with the one I expressed, which is ‘An oasis for the distressed.’
    (The Well-Heeled Distressed, that is.)
    … maybe a franchise developing ?

    January 9, 2014 at 9:11 am
  • Magriet Engelbrecht Reply

    Hi, very interesting. What does it mean if I am not in/at my coffee shop?

    January 9, 2014 at 7:55 pm
    • Anja Reply

      Magriet it could have one of two meanings ,as I read it:

      1) either you are a more behind the scenes management type personality, and not front-of-shop meet and greet;
      2) or it may suggest you are less than fully present to your own (public) life.

      The key here is to reflect on how this is mirrored in your actual life.

      January 10, 2014 at 9:48 am
  • Hilary Reply

    I have already had been in my best ever coffeeshop in another city in my youth. It was a group project and I was peripheral to the group not so much involved in the making of it as in the hanging out in it. So it is difficult to envisage making anything but a replica perhaps not perfectly in layout and shape but definitely in ambiance and zeitgeist. Does this mean that I am living in the past or don’t want to grow up or that I need to return to that city and place if it has such a hold on me … or that I am living in someone else’s imagination and not in mine?

    January 10, 2014 at 11:02 am
    • Anja Reply

      Hi Hilary

      something we noticed when doing this exercise with various groups last year is how frequently the coffee shop reflects a much earlier version of oneself. So your experience is not unusual in that regard.

      The question to ask is: is the value system, persona (public personality) and life style appropriate to who I am now. Assuming the answer is no this would be cause for further reflection:

      Where do I go now? Do I update my persona or alternatively do I return to an earlier way of being in the world that was closer to my authentic self.

      Now whilst the truth is “we can never return” because what was once can never be again, but a return to an essential way of being could be negotiated.

      In terms of your other question: i don’t see it as a problem that your soul is captured in the image of a shop you once were part of. It is kind of solipsistic to imagine that imagination is only born from and carried in the inner world, the world out there contributes as much to our own imaginative life and creativity.

      It sounds like it must have been a very special place!

      January 10, 2014 at 3:28 pm
  • Biljana Reply

    Thank you, very revealing indeed….My shop…
    Location: Somewhere in the Universe ie different Planet
    Operating hours. 24/7
    The look and feel of the shop, exterior and interior, shop fittings, layout, colours etc: Very arty and old fashioned in total contrast with a possible space visitors
    The ambiance and atmosphere you would create: Warmth, book worm, music art…aroma of coffee the key
    Your menu: Finger food, Cakes and coffee in all varieties
    Particular area/s of focus: Music
    Your clientele: Passionate about coffee curious about all aspects of life
    Where and what you would be doing in your shop: Mainly sitting in the background reading and sampling coffee and people
    Any other areas or parameters that occur to you: Comfortable seats, like you never want to leave the place…

    January 13, 2014 at 6:03 pm
    • Stephen Reply

      Hi Biljana wonderful! Great to hear about your coffee shop, thanks for sharing. I must say it is the first to have your unique extra terrestrial location 🙂

      January 15, 2014 at 10:37 am
  • Estelle Hudson Reply

    Confirmed for me the need to gather round a table , on the intimacy of a couch for deep and meaningful conversation. Books and art surround us.
    The ritual of making coffee, serving coffee in pretty cups, also speaks of how important ritual
    Has become to me as I get older, it has the sense of intentionality about it.
    A great exercise and one to be repeated …thank you.

    April 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm
  • Inky Reply

    My clp coffee shop

    There are two franchises for this coffee shop:
    Jozi and Amsterdam:
    The Jozi one in a transformed Victorian house in the Parks in joburg: thick planked wooden floors, Burmese teak, oiled not sealed, with different areas: the fireplace is working again and there is cosy space for laptops, coffee and warmth for winter. Then for the summer, tables outside are around a huge oak tree, in the shade, long reclaimed wood tables where people sit and share their iced coffee and chat, work and socialize, but mainly relax in the dappled shade of the awesome tree, hear the wind through the leaves and a wind-chime .

    The menu of this coffee shop will be small portions of home made snacks – fruit and yoghurt bowls ( like eat in London) warm porridge and berries; you get your individual mug with your chosen name and preferred coffee: there is a kiln in the shop where you can make your own bowls and mugs and glaze and raku fire these in a bonfire in winter.
    Library and eclectic magazines on a rack:

    Potters, writers and artists would come and share and laugh and get inspired in the shop; the music will range from Shawn Phillips and jj Cale to ambient cafe du sol and even sia and dance
    Doef doef music in the early evening, with all getting down and dancing if the feeling takes them:

    There would be a top level balcony area where those wanting a quieter time could observe and people watch, or plug in laptops and get on with work.

    Immaculate bathrooms, non-gendered, with white rectangular brick tiled, showers and foot runs included: smelling of fresh jasmine growing in the room: barber chairs in black leather, and
    It is the ultimate in choice, difference and authentic

    The Amsterdam one is ultra modern in the basement of a street facing building: glass; wood again, and this one has a global multilingual group of swedes, Amsterdam locals, discussion afternoons trays of fresh herbs, books on architecture and biographies of the odd and interesting people of the area. Coffee is exceptional, but water jugs everywhere. Pomegranate in water, Dutch bitterballen and warm Indonesian and South Africa snacks.

    Love them both and you can get space anytime.

    October 22, 2014 at 11:13 am
  • Manuela Reply

    I am still curious to know what the coffee symbolizes. The way one treats people? They way one provides one’s service to the world?

    November 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm
    • Stephen Reply

      Great question! I’m afraid the answer to both your suggested answers is no. I could tell you but that would spoil the fun wouldn’t it 🙂

      November 9, 2014 at 8:13 am
  • Trix Reply

    I really enjoyed this exercise as well as the blogs, on the symbols and their meanings in the coffee shop. And already I can visualize more or less what the personalities of the diffrent bloggers tend towards. My most intruiging mind tickler is of course the main product: the coffee.

    I did give more attention to the other detail at first, till the question on the coffee started annoyingly turning and churning in my id and ego… so here is my take on the subject of coffee.

    We all want it,
    we all know it,
    the smell intrigues and activates us, jumbling our thoughts when we are not fully awake yet,
    Soothing us after a hard day or meeting,
    giving us that spark when we need to get going…

    So I would indulge myself to say that the coffee symbolizes love of life…

    We come to the coffe house to experience life. To taste it, to smell it, to enjoy it with others. Or to just sit and revel in the good warmth of it. Some days it’s milky, warm and sweet, some days bitter, black and scalding, sometimes weak sometimes strong…. but never can you smell or taste and say you did not experience the fullness of it.

    Enjoying life in a great location, with good friends is the goal most of us strive towards. Getting to that place with your inner self expanded and harmonized is the ultimate prize.

    January 18, 2015 at 10:54 pm
  • Nan Reply

    Is the coffee the Self?

    July 8, 2018 at 5:41 pm
  • Andrew Henry Reply

    A well constructed exercise! Thank you for sharing it.

    July 14, 2020 at 9:02 pm

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