Coffee, Conversation, and Community

By Rachel Fishman – 2014

Inside Bucks Coffee Cafe in Cashiers
Inside Bucks Coffee Cafe in Cashiers


There’s something in the aroma of fresh roasted coffee that calms the soul and opens up conversation. Sure, the caffeine helps too. But the atmosphere of coffee shops with the smell percolating through the air has an energy all of its own. As the barista expertly creates the perfect consistency of foam on top of a cappuccino and swirls a leaf or heart into the top, everything seems to move at the perfect pace. Frantic, calm, organized chaos. Along with the chatter and commotion, the serenity and the relaxation, comes an air of friendliness (most of the time, at least).

In coffee shops in the mountains of North Carolina, all of this positive energy and friendliness is heightened. When we entered coffee shops for our daily coffee fix and conversation opportunity, we were always greeted with a warm smile. From the ritzier atmosphere in Highlands to the more small-town, mountainous setting of Cashiers, we experienced a wealth of opportunity embedded within the local coffee shops.

Immediately after finding a parking spot along the two-lane, shop-lined main road in Highlands, we headed to Bucks Coffee Cafe. I was determined to get advice from the locals about what not to miss. The cozy rustic atmosphere, heightened with the white walls, comfy leather chairs, and faux taxonomy throughout, provided what I was sure to be the perfect place to get the “insider scoop”. We made our way up to order, apparently already giving off our “outsiderness.” The man behind the counter was in his early 30’s, born and raised in the mountains. Before we had a chance to order our drinks, paying our way into a position where we could pester the employees with questions, he asked us what we were doing in Highlands.

Our explanation of the project proved amusing to him, soliciting a response of Oh, and you expected to find a lot to do here? Well, I guess we should have realized that we would probably not be given the extent of advice we might have been hoping for. Using his sassy comment to segue into asking for things to do, we prodded him for a bit more information. He talked about the shops along the street and the bars in the area. And that was it. The woman who entered in behind us, donning worn combat boots, jeans, and a t-shirt from local bar “The Lost Hiker” reiterated the suggestion of where to go.

In many situations, this would have been enough. But, between the coffee and the mountains, the conversation kept going. The barista called over his friend, who gave almost the same answer, but went into more detail of what to expect drink-wise and clientele-wise in the various bars. Okay, I began to think, we seem to have an accurate picture of the area now. Their eagerness to actually help us find something we were excited to do, coupled with their amusement at our probably unsatisfied expressions, continued the conversation for a few minutes more.

When our cups were empty and our insides warmed, we thanked everyone for their advice and headed out in search of dinner. As we were leaving, the barista hollered towards the door, “We’ll see you all tonight at The Lost Hiker around 11:00!” With a smile and a wave, we all exited, sharing looks insinuating our agreement that we would not, in fact, see them at the bar. We knew that all of our travels would lead us to our beds before then, but we were grateful for the wealth of time and advice.

The next morning we woke up and drove to Cashiers, with even less of an idea of what to do in the three hours we had allotted ourselves. As we entered the town on our beloved Highway 64, we saw antique shop after antique shop lining the road. Unfortunately, they all seemed to be closed since it was a Sunday. Unsure of what to do, we arrived at an intersection in what seemed like the center of the town, and saw it—another Bucks Coffee Cafe.

Hoping we could get the same eagerness to provide information on activities in the town (and get a nice steaming cup of coffee), we decided to go in. This coffee shop boasted the same art from an artist local to North Carolina mountains and had the same white walls and the fake taxidermy, but it was even larger and cozier than the one in Highlands.

Immediately intrigued by both the commotion of people within and the eclectic mix of items scattered around, I paused and surveyed the place.  The rustic feel with the wooden tables and central blazing fireplace was enough to warm anyone’s heart and brighten their day. The taxonomy and art added to the cabin-esque atmosphere.

When it was my turn to order, I asked the barista, who seemed to be just a bit older than me, if she had any suggestions of things to do with only a couple hours. Similar to the experience in Highlands, she did not think we would be entertained as tourists, explaining that there’s really not that much going on. The man making my chai latte added in that it would be a shame if we missed the High Hampton Inn Apple Festival. I thanked him for his suggestion, and once again banked on the coffee atmosphere to allow for my continued badgering.

“We actually went to a Bucks Coffee Cafe in Highlands yesterday, I didn’t realize it was a chain,” I shared, hoping for clarification on how many exist. He informed me that these were the only two and that we just happened to get them both back to back, a happy accident. People pass through frequently, but the coffee shop is constantly populated with locals gathering with friends to chat or working on their laptops. Finally, we were directed to the flyer with the details of the apple festival just up the road, and we were off. Once again, we were grateful for the advice and satisfied that our experience in the town would not be lacking of anything that we absolutely needed to see.

So thank you, Bucks Coffee Cafe, for both being an activity and a piece of insight into these mountain towns and a hotbed for ideas of the best activities to do in the area.

A Delicious Chai Latte from the helpful barista
A Delicious Chai Latte from the helpful barista