The Joy Of Cafes, Or: Why You Should Sit And Enjoy Your Coffee
Enter the cafe, feel the warmth and the smell of freshly ground coffee hit you like a wave. It’s dark and cold outside, the chill of a February morning still tingling on your cheeks. It’s early, you’re early—the barista nods at you, smiles at you as she goes about her duties. The connection is small but important: it says, “We’re both here far earlier than we probably want.”
You look around the room, scanning the space carefully while you choose your seat. Seat choice is important, especially at this time of the morning. Especially because you plan on being here awhile. A corner, somewhere out of the way, a place to quietly observe and quietly think. You pick your spot—a two-top against a window, giving a clear view of the whole room—and un-layer yourself. Coat and hat, gloves and scarf: they make a neat pile on the window sill.
Music hums quietly from hidden speakers—it’s sad and melodic, a perfect soundtrack to a cold, dark morning. Music choice is integral, and it’s the sign of a good barista when the music matches the mood of the cafe. Coffee shops are living things—their mood shifts and oscillates throughout the day, calm to hectic, happy to sad. Music choice affects the overall atmosphere, can drive it one way or another. A good barista will adjust the music throughout the day, allowing for busy periods and steering the space through downtime.
You approach the counter and order a drink—black coffee, something Central American—and watch the barista work. It’s too early for conversation, you both accept this. A good barista knows when to talk, and when to stay silent. An aware customer—or one who has previously worked in coffee—knows when to leave it be, let the professional do their job. This is one of those moments. The ritual of the coffee brewing is enough for both of you: beans ground, timer started, water poured.
Taking your coffee back to your table, you notice other people begin to arrive. The sun is peeking over the skeletal trees outside, the day close to an official beginning. The other customers—students with laptops, office workers with stainless steel to-go mugs—bring the ambience up a notch. There’s more movement, and a second barista, and the whole space feels more awake.
People, living their individual lives, intersect in coffee shops. Since the Enlightenment and through the French Revolution, cafes have been neutral meeting grounds, idea factories, and places for assembly. It doesn’t cost much to participate—a couple of bucks for a cup of coffee—and they’re open to the public. This is why they’re so important, and why we shouldn’t take them for granted.
Back at your table, you look around. You watch customers enter, order, wait, leave. All cafes eventually attract their own, distinct crowd of regulars. Some are in the daily large-drip-coffee-I’m-perpetually-late-for-work crew; some are there to enjoy the ritual; some are just lonely and looking for somewhere to be. There’s the father who brings his son in for breakfast before school. There’s the couple who order two skim cappuccinos and then silently read their own newspaper—she the New York Times, he the Washington Post—before swapping and reading the other’s. Dozens of little moments, little stories, every day.
You lift your cup and take a sip, savour that hot, sweet liquid. These moments are important. Take the time, carve out a few minutes, sit and enjoy your coffee. Life is constantly moving at breakneck speed, one thing chasing the other, into oblivion. It’s worth it to put your phone down, raise your head and look around. These interludes are fleeting, but important. Look at your fellow human beings, see them. Gaze out the window, watch the cars go by and the birds peck at the ground. Lose yourself in your thoughts, or daydream about that trip you have coming up. Enjoy this time.
Drinking coffee from a ceramic mug is infinitely more satisfying than drinking coffee from a paper cup. The radiant heat, for one thing, is less harsh and somehow more warming. It doesn’t burn, it soothes. Holding a mug full of coffee between your two hands is somehow calming, as you inhale the faint smell of cinnamon, or grapefruit, or just letting the steam waft past your nose. You can contemplate your day, or remember the night before, or simply people-watch.
You finish your drink, and place the empty cup in the nearest bus tub. As you gather your things, you notice that the music has changed—it’s more upbeat now, a pop song. The sun is up, yellow light filtering through the trees outside. It’s been an hour, maybe less, maybe more. The cafe is filling up, the tables overflowing with laptops and water glasses and pens scrawling across notebooks. It’s still early, you are fueled for the day, and ready to take on the world.