Originally known as the "Barista AU", this form of fanwork began life on Livejournal but has since become popular across the board in fandoms. It is especially popular on fanwork-heavy sites such as Archive of Our Own, Tumblr, and Wattpad.
The origin of this AU is uncertain but it seems to have first popped up within the *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys Real-Person Fic communities in 2001. It later spread amongst Stargate Atlantis fans, and then ultimately other fandoms took note. The AU became especially prevalent starting in the early 2010s.
Coffee shops are known for a comfortable, casual and urban feel that lend themselves well to all sorts of shenanigans. The default in this AU is that it's a shipping fic where one half of the pairing is a barista and the other half is a customer; this type of AU is popular due to it being a form of Meet Cute. Another popular form is for the coffee shop to be a Local Hangout where most of the cast either visit or work at. The third most common form is where both characters are baristas who work together.
If a character loves coffee, then expect a lot of coffee shop AUs involving them.
The "Coffee Shop AU" is often seen as a counterpart to the High School AU. Due to writers drawing from life, teenagers will favor high school stories while young adults like coffee shop works. As a similar result, this AU often overlaps with the College AU fanwork: The characters either work at the coffee shop to help get through college or coffee shops act as the Local Hangout for college students.
Examples (by medium of source material):
- The Bolt Chronicles: Played with in "The Coffee Shop," which is not a typical example of this trope. It is not an Alternate Universe Fic, for one thing, and baristas do not appear as characters. Bolt spends his time hanging out in a coffee shop, begging for treats while trying to find a possible boyfriend for Penny. He does so in Joe, but has to make himself sick drinking coffee to get Joe to rush him to Penny's veterinary clinic and have the two of them meet.
- Café Liégeois is a Frozen fanfic where Anna meets her girlfriend Elsa while working at Starbucks. It doesn't actually focus on the coffee shop though, with it instead working as the backdrop for the start.
- The Homestuck Epilogues: In Candy, which is something of a parody of a Fix Fic, John and Roxy find themselves falling in love at a coffee shop, even though John finds the scene incongruous and sort of awkward.
- Happens in-universe in Harrow the Ninth. When Harrow throws up new Elseworlds as her original Fake Memories collapse, her last attempt begins as what is, accounting for cultural differences, clearly some version of a High School AU before it introduces Gideon as a hot new barista (or "BARI star"). It terminates just as the Meet Cute begins when Abigail Pent's ghost, having had enough of this silliness, drags her back to reality.
- Amongst the bandom, Panic! at the Disco and My Chemical Romance fans are especially prone to this sort of AU. Panic! At The Disco's Jon Walker once worked as a barista prior to joining the band. My Chemical Romance fans know of Gerard Way's love of coffee, and thus he frequents coffee shops a lot in fanfics.
- Hamilton: This is a Hamilton animatic with a coffee shop AU premise. It's specifically an Alex/Lafayette ship one.
- And in this one, the guys of Broadway Backwards took the number "A History of Wrong Guys" from Kinky Boots and transplanted it into a Starbucks, in which Lauren is a barista (and also a guy) and Charlie is a regular customer.
- Kirby's Dream Cafe is a Kirby take on this. In it, Kirby's Dream Cafe is due to be demolished by Haltmann Works Company, who wish to turn it into a mall. Kirby and his friends have to stop them.
- Widowmaker writes about herself and Tracer in one of these in this installment of the Overwatch AWNN series.
- Two canon examples in Bungo to Alchemist in the form of Café Royale and Café Noir events, in which writers basically go to explore and purify Coffee Shop AU Fics and the player gets to unlock waiter costumes for the writers.
- In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the Normal-type villagers will sometimes mention that they enjoy reading coffee shop AU fanfics, and then explain the premise of such fics to the player.
- High Fantasy webcomic Exiern had an Overly Long April Fools Gag in 2010 when it was suddenly re-tooled as a group of trendy twenty-somethings hanging out at a coffee shop.
- RWBY Doodleverse: "Always Bean You" follows Blake as a barista for Pumpkin Pete Cafe and her relationship with recurring customer Yang.
- Service with a Smile is a RWBY fanfic where Jaune Arc opens a coffee shop in Vale after his forged transcripts are rejected by Beacon Academy.
- Steven Universe: The show itself pokes fun of this. In "Same Old World", while flying over Empire City (their world's version of New York City) with Lapis, Steven mentions that she could move there and work at a coffee shop:
Lapis: So what does happen in Empire City?
Steven: Well, if you moved here you could get a cool apartment and be a single Gem taking on the big city. You'd have a fun job at a local coffee shop and come home to a wacky roommate...
Lapis: I have no idea what you're talking about.
- Just a Normal Coffee Shop starts out as a coffee shop AU of Steven Universe. Then the following chapters repeat the day of July 19th with slight differences and deja vu. Then comes The Reveal that the characters are trapped in Rose's Room, which is a Lotus-Eater Machine in the form of a college coffee shop.