Cafe

This is one of my favorite things.

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It looks like a regular cup of coffee but it is not. It’s part of a ritual.

The ritual starts with an Americano – Valrhona chocolate to the tired drip coffee in the plastic pot at work – served in a heavy cup with a weighty saucer that is as thick and strong as Illy brew. There are no flashy logos just a small, in-obtrusive stamp that draws attention to the coffee rather than the company that produces it.

In this cafe, a rare practice in rural North America, there is a small piece of chocolate (Valrhona actually!) on the side today. Tomorrow it might be an almond cookie or a miniature lady finger. Like the cup, the amuse bouche is an accessory designed to make that expensive few ounces of coffee into an objet d’art.

I’ve come to love this ritual.

I would like to say that I rise early on Saturdays, go for a run, and arrive at the cafe just as the crispness of the dawn is burning off. In reality, I sleep in on the weekend because I’m a consummate night owl that doesn’t like to switch gears. I catch up on life-affirming rest, get up, clean the bathroom, and at some point during the day, the earlier the better, I find myself here.

But it’s not just about the coffee.

I’ve grown to truly appreciate the dark, bitter, heat of a good shot of espresso, but it just wouldn’t be the same without the care and attention that a great cafe pays to every sensory detail. This eclectic collage includes the coffee, the tableware and the miniscule cookie-on-the-side but that is only the beginning. Here there are wrought iron tables and chairs, beautiful and slightly uncomfortable, that remind me of Paris. The walls are adorned with mirrors set too high to distract but large enough to bounce sunlight along the narrow room. On each table is a tiny vase of fresh cut flowers – delicate, fresh and bright.

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The water dispenser is full of ice cubes and citrus slices, the music is always surprising without being jarring, there are baskets of treasures from faraway places for sale – lavender, sea salt, and exotic olive oil. From the scented, organic hand soap to the selection of tiny Alice in Wonderland tea cakes there is beauty and pleasure here. And to top it all off, there is always a tidy stack of newspapers and magazines gathered between the Electra espresso maker and the spotless subway tiles on the wall.

I adore my home. It is a place firmly rooted in the body. Hiking, biking, cycling, climbing, fresh air, sweat, cardio, running shoes, hiking boots, yoga, quick dry, sunglasses that don’t fall off your face when you bend down to tie your shoe for the umpteenth time or lean over to hoist a 60lb backpack in preparation for a weekend in the backcountry. These things keep me in the present, firmly rooted in the now, and aware of my self, my feelings, my body and all of the things that the modern world is so very good at divorcing us from. But truthfully, this isn’t my native habitat. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable in it and just as long to understand that it is actually a vital counterpoint to my cerebral appetites. The world of ideas is my natural home and I love being there.

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So after the coffee is served and my feet are settled under the table I find myself somewhere between the Globe and Mail and a slow food panini, soaking up nourishment for the mind, body and soul. Bouncing between Jane Fonda’s “Third Act”, to the latest government debacle, to book reviews, conservation news, and articles about urban redevelopment I seed the garden of my mind, water it with an Americano, and lay down the fruit in handwritten notes in a little journal with a pen that is my garden implement of choice.

This makes me feel alive.

Of course, the caffeine doesn’t hurt either.

Top Ten Most Important Elements for a Great Cafe

  1. Great coffee
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Fresh food
  4. Cool music
  5. Slow pace
  6. Free reading
  7. Tables for one
  8. Changing menu
  9. Good people watching
  10. Free water

What’s on your list?

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10 thoughts on “Cafe

  1. Beautifully written, LT. It was like I was entering that cafe with you, eyes blinking to readjust to the light as I walk in the door, the smell of coffee seducing me from the moment I step inside. (By the way, I read once that the smell of fresh coffee is at the tippy top of the most potent mood enhancers for women, more than white linen or freshly cut grass or the sea or even chocolate!).

    A friend of mine opened a cafe in NYC, purely because she and her husband were frustrated that they couldn’t find any good coffee anywhere in the city. That was the first conversation they ever had, apparently. (And yes, for the most part, coffee here is like dishwater). So this newly married husband and wife team liquidated all their assets, went to Africa and South America and Indonesia and so on to buy free-trade, organic beans and roast them in the back of their first store in Brooklyn. That cafe, brilliantly named, “Cafe Grumpy”, has since won award after award. They host, “cuppings”, (like wine tastings really), and have helped create a coffee culture that this city was lacking.

    So I know I’m biased, but if you’re ever in NYC, drop in to any one of the three Cafe Grumpy cafes. Every cup is made with care and love, and attention to detail – just like the beautiful writing above.

  2. Aside from virtually taking part in your ritual, which I enjoyed, I am most intrigued by your criteria list. I’ve met a cafe or two in my life time, and for me, it’s hard to settle on some absolutes. My cafe of choice so often depends on my mood, my circumstances. There was a time when a bustling, sparse, get out fast and quick was what really energized me, made me feel like powerwalking all over the world I was going to conquer. That little tarpot of espresso and the muffin in the bag was like some kind of gladiator statement after a very very hard long night of work. And then there are the cafes of the old world, which I am not sure are clean enough to satisfy your criteria, whose eighties music denotes something more than bad choice, whose rude waiters, you learn to put up with and even adore, even if they refuse to give you tap water. I like those places because I can be someone else for a while. In Belgium, it’s the quirky places furnished in second furniture and which list drinks more creative than coffee alone that I gravitate towards, where the people in funky haircuts go to show off. And in Bahrain, where I am as I write this, it’s the sparkling clean bright suburban chains who call my name, where I can find a little bit of suburban north american home in the middle of the desert.

  3. How lovely that you have a good cafe to call home! There are a few times in my life that I’ve had a “regular” cafe to go to – and I have always treasured them. What is it about a good cafe that can make one feel cosmopolitan, even if it’s in a small town? I had a regular cafe in Stratford, Ontario – a small town by any standard – and in that cafe, I always felt like I was in a bigger city, somehow. They too served delicious coffee and always with a little treat on the side – and designs in the foam.

    What a delicious post!

  4. loving this post 🙂 Americano’s have a special place in my heart! our fave little caffe is The French Press here in SB, its the best!

  5. How lovely. After reading your list of things you really appreciated in a cafe, I immediately thought how I would appreciate many of those same things in my home – (the free water being a given :)) How wonderful to have a home away from home to go to that is so near to you. You get all the pleasure of an outing, and all the comforts of familiarity — with a little chocolate on the side. Bliss.

  6. Would it wreck the experiance to have some company? Can I join you one morning – this sounds heavenly? Oh and LT, once again – I love your photos!

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