This is one of my favorite things.
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.
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.
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
- Great coffee
- Fresh food
- Cool music
- Slow pace
- Free reading
- Tables for one
- Changing menu
- Good people watching
- Free water
What’s on your list?