In Europe, the café, tea room, or coffee shops have always been places where one meets up with friends for a chat or a discussion, areas that have become an extension of the home. Or it served as a place for reading the newspaper and watching the passerby on a crowded street. It gave a view of the world if only a microcosmic one. One could almost think of it as a club albeit, without a hefty membership fee.
In North America, to me, at least, coffee culture has deployed in altogether different ways. No doubt it is related to the differences in the way’s inhabitants live in our cities in the new world. What I miss most about the coffee experience in Europe, whether it is a quick expresso taken standing at an Italian bar or a more elaborate affaire in a Viennese coffee house, is the ambiance and real China feel or porcelain and solid silver spoons between my fingertips. To my mind, the introduction of paper and Styrofoam cups did not improve the enjoyment of coffee. Nor do I feel the need, as many young Americans do these days, to sample the ever-changing menu of soy latte, caramel macchiato, sprinkled with Ethiopian cinnamon, or some other exotic invention. What happened to Arabica and Robusto and Café Crème or expresso, sans exotic extensions?
My local café is a case in point. The menu is full of varieties and strange combinations of exotic brews, and all are offered in paper cups, or large, heavy mugs served to upscale professionals, and a scattering of graduate students glued to cell phone laptops. You can even bring your coffee cup, and they will willingly fill it! The growth of electronic devices that have become an extension of the human arm and brain makes it easy for the café patrons to feign being busy, avoid conversation, or prevent any human contact at all—at the same time, sipping low-fat soy sprinkled with organic cinnamon up-rooted yesterday somewhere in Zanzibar.
Just yesterday, I witnessed one woman sitting on the table next to me trying to manage some loose papers, a laptop, two phones, and a small IPad, holding a conversation on one of the phones while at the same time creating an SMS message. The sheer complexity of her one-person management operation made my head spin.
Happily, I have come to know a few patrons, and we have accepted each other’s foibles and idiosyncrasies and now feel free to discuss almost anything. Politics being the area where we most often agree to disagree. The little group is currently made up of a music professor, a retired businessman, a wholesale merchant, a young teacher of mathematics at a high school, two medical doctors, and myself, a former economist. Today’s insight was given by Allen, the surgeon, and his unlucky take on the current health care problems. He got rather excited, waving his arms about, nearly knocking over his paper cup of coffee. He was lamenting the disintegration of rural health care, explain things in great detail……until he had to take a deep breath!
“Have any of your patients ever seen you like this?” Janice, the attractive young school teacher, asked as she shifted her coffee cup further away from Allan to a more secure place.
“Are you kidding?” Abet, the young female surgeon coughed, nearly spitting out the coffee. “….if they did, they would never let him operate! At work, he has a cold as a cucumber façade, and only you guys see the real Allan.
“Hm, are you implying there is a real Jekyll and Hide slumbering in me?” Allan laughed.
And so, we spend most early mornings. We were chewing the fat, as they say here in the deep South. And who can blame us, having completed the nine miles of a walk along the newly developed green space path, getting to the café to have some lovely refreshment and getting a chin wag. Mainly if the alternative is staring at a student plugged into a laptop with earphones that look like mufflers texting simultaneously with her free hand, eyes glued to the screen, and a paper cup full of caramel macchiato in the other hand!
©2019 ajs – Bert Berger (704-2)
This story, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading and distribution of the story via the Internet or in any other means, including storage in any form of information or retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the author is illegal and punishable by law. The exception to this is if newspapers, magazines or other reviewers wish to quote brief passages in connection with a review.
If you want to contact the author, send an email to