I sit here in a coffee shop called the “Vape lab” sipping at a flat white made from an exquisitely roasted blend of fresh beans, the milk lathered gently into a slightly creamy perfection, tiny bubbles sweetening it naturally. The cushioned bench makes for a cross-legged approach to sitting down, due to its width and depth.
I’m originally drawn in by coffee beans alongside beakers, digital weighing scales and other scientific equipment. The place is a nice mix of modern and natural. Beakers, white walls, tile surfaces against a wooden floor (or a faux wood so good as to be undistinguishable when scratched by my thumbnail). The chairs are a hodgepdge, as are the tables, none of them mae of the same materials, none of them the same sizes. As society rebels against the feeling of overly corporate-owned cofee chain stores, where familiarity was part of the brand, offering home to those away from home, no matter where you are.
Cafés brought non french-press coffee to the masses. Cappucino, latte and espresso became a part of our lexicon as Starbucks, Nero and Pret brought equipment that people wouldn’t own in their houses onto the high street. What was once an unfamiliar and novel alternative became the norm, with everyone having a preference. Short, dry cappucino, warm, not hot. Tall soy caramel latte, dusted with nutmeg. Macciato with cappucino style milk. Three shot half-caf cappucino, in a to go cup to drink in. People make individuality out of confirmity. Like your own pictures in a hotel room.
Vape Lab seems to want to bring eCigarettes to the world in a similar way. eCigarettes are being marketed to the world as a a way to help you quit smoking. The water vapour simulating smoke and the chemical mixture inside giving it the taste of a cigarette. It’s marketed as an easy way to quit, giving you the high of the nicotine without the cancer of the cigarette, without the yellow teeth and fingernails, without the tar in your lungs. No less addictive, but much healthier. Or rather, simply much less unhealthy, if you can stand the double negative.
They call it ‘vaping’. It has a cyberpunk feel to it, the small chemical segments visible from these almost lightsaber like tubes, matte bezeled steel with diamond-cut lattices for your fingers to grip, and a small button that lights up blue when you press it, to activate the vapourising mechanism. Vapour pours from peoples mouths as they are served by people in lab coat, a staff member clomping about in brass-buckled and studded high heels.
It’s a pro-active approach to the ecigarettes. They don’t approach or discuss the health benefits. Health doesn’t come into it. The tagline is coffee and vapour. The café style front draws people in (and the admittedly excellent coffee convinced me to stay) but what they push is the vaping devices. It takes up more than 2/3rds of the store. Different ‘juices’ span the counter, offered from 0 mg nicotine to 24 mg nicotine, flavours including tobacco, bubblegum and blends like “Pixie Fury” (kiwi, lime, lemongrass and mint).
“The no nicotine version is even better as you get the full flavour of the juice.”
It’s more like a shisha bar, except they will also sell you the shisha equipment. in fact, the emphasis is on selling the devices, not on renting them.
It’s a shift in thinking. The culture has shifted, cigarettes aren’t the same cool-factor they were in the 50s through the 90s. During my stay, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are willing to give it a go, especially non-smokers. “No nicotine” is commonly uttered by people asking to try the machines, something I imagine most smokers wouldn’t be too concerned about. They aren’t going after the smoker market. They don’t push the benefits. It feels oddly safe, but at the same time slightly taboo. A lot of the people seem to carefuly state that they aren’t smokers, as though they find the thought slightly distasteful and embarassing. But they are curious.
I decided to try them out. I asked for no nicotine and carefully reminded them that I’m not a smoker. I’ve always been drawn to the image of smoking. Breathing smoke is the closest I will ever come to breathing fire. I also think I look cool holding a small stick with a glowing ember. But I don’t like smoking. I don’t like cigarettes. I don’t particularly like the taste. I certainly don’t like the health risks and I particularly dislike the way it leaves your mouth. Like an ashtray. When I was 15 years old I kissed a long time smoker (who was significantly older than I was). The kiss was utterly ruined by the taste of their mouth.
The entire experience is much more similar to shisha. Flavoued smoke and a lighter taste. The tastes are almost subte, you more smell them than taste them (which makes sense, I suppose). The vapourizers are heavy. You can’t sit and hold one between two fingers like you would a cigarette. You have to put them down periodically. It’s pleasant and I enjoy playing about with make the vapour curl out of my mouth.
I’m not interested in buying one of the devices. I don’t care enough to drop the money and I am not interested in forming it as a hobby. But the entire experience makes for an interesting curiosity.
All in all, the experience works as a one off, but I have a feeling that a lot of non-smokers just won’t be interested. It’s not easy enough, not habit forming enough. Now that I have had the experience, I don’t feel there’s anything for me to experience again that would be novel enough. It was a pleasant experience, but there’s little urge for me to do it again. But I might come back for the coffee.