“You step out into a Saturday morning, rising late you slip between slivers of time with the gentle imprecision that only the most genial of mornings affords; only rejoining the living- as if obliquely- when you plant your elbows on the bar of a cafe to order a coffee which you will drink as, with half-an-eye, you watch the hazy backwash of the street outside. To then let yourself venture out to meet yourself, propelled by the scalding liquid, unexpectedly real, which moves over your tongue and slips down your throat with a residue of night, is, despite your offhand manner, to put in an honourable appearance at the very heart of the vague.” – Petr Král, Working Knowledge
Cafe moments and cappuccino conversations. A sip of espresso and morning light in the piazza, a seaside macchiato, cafe con leche with a breakfast tostada, spiced coffee and terrace-top views over the medina…. I savor these moments of coffee culture around the world. A brew that fuels, that is woven into the fabric of our mornings, becomes a study in ritual, society, artistry of the commonplace when wandering abroad. I seek out cafes, sit and reflect on place or share the ceremony with friends.
Tomar un cafe in Spain becomes a social event, a meeting at the cafe’s bar or at a table in the cobbled square, an active engagement- even linguistically- to take a coffee as opposed to passively having it. I have always found the phrase endearing, tomar un cafe like we tomar el sol. In Tangier, in Marrakech, in Fez, sitting outside the gates of the medina, streetside and people watching, I am the only woman in the cafe. In Italy I have cappuccino breakfasts overlooking Roman ruins and sparkling fountains or I sip espresso standing at the bar, watching the barista pull shots and gesticulate. Italians have elevated coffee to religious rank; it is a rite and ritual infused into the very core of culture. I take a bus ride from east coast to west and am surprised to see the bus driver stalk down the aisle mid journey with a tray of plastic cups and sugar packets held aloft. A shot of inky elixir, even in transit. In Lisbon, I trace the footsteps of Pessoa and imbibe in coffee at his regular haunts. Poetry and a bica at a marble-topped table, the Portuguese version of espresso an acronym for “Beba Isso Com Açúcar”– drink this with sugar. Or a cafe com leite with a custard tart in Belem, legendary pasteis de nata recipe handed down by monks, served warm and flaky and perfect. In Copenhagen I cultivate hygge, the essence of Danish culture, with expertly made kaffes crafted by award-winning baristas and sweet danishes from bakeries that inspire fairytales. At home I brew a Moka pot and break cinnamon sticks into the grind, infuse my own bit of hygge into the morning.
How do you take your coffee? It is more than a question of preference, it is culture. This is my ongoing catalog of cafe moments, a study in coffee customs.