It’s a certifiable fact of life that a life without coffee is not worth living. But for me, the quotidian quest for caffeine goes beyond this. It intoduces a much needed ritual, something that has been dying a slow death in the digital age. It also gives one something to seek out. So with each new city or town visited comes the search for the perfect cup of Joe.
However, in my daily life in London, my little coffee treks (near and far) seem to have an added element: a sense of serendipity and grace found in simple transactions and connections with strangers — also a rarity in this increasingly ‘faux connected’ yet disconnected post-FB world.
Walking into an Italian restaurant for my morning fix and accompaniment and finding that the bill came to £3.01, a stranger in the queue handed me 1p so that I could avoid every Londoner’s nightmare: the clump of small but heavy change. His kind (but obviously not incredibly valuable) act made my day. For the rest of it, everything seemed to go — stemming from this minor coffee-related act.
Another time, I ordered a cappuccino and the server was about to get me my change when an elderly woman came up and paid for some baked goods with exact change (amounting to what I needed to get back in exact change, right down to ‘and 20 p’).
The other day, after I’d received my coffee at a neighborhood coffee spot, a man asked me if I collected loyalty card stamps and let me take two of his. It’s easy (for me) to assume that these funny little insignificant incidents amount to some kind of divine symetry when it comes to the purchasing of coffee. I have a Buddhist heart and so it’s the simple ‘little things’ that bring me joy. And I’m not even talking about that truly miraculous occurrence: the gratis cup of coffee.
But I’ve also befriended plenty of baristas (the good ones with integrity, who labour over the perfect single cup of coffee) and gotten the chance to hear their life stories and philosphies over a cuppa — from Lilly’s Coffee Cart in Laurel Canyon (LA) to Tania’s Coffee Cart in Hampstead (London).
Such conversations are not always so serious and heavy. One of my favourite baristas, an adorable hip fellow in Notting Hill took to loaning me DVDs of his favourite films so we’d have something to chat over when I came to coffee — a sort of cinematic coffee club à-deux.
Ultimately, I believe, that rich nutty aroma, the warm but perfectly bitter taste, the perk you get from that first cup of coffee in the morning, collectively amount to magic — a magic that finds a way of spreading into everyday mundane and profound transactions.