Thursday, 7 March 2013

Thoughts Over a Cup of Coffee

There is a time... to sit under the sun. 
Hunters Bar in Sheffield is notorious for its traffic congestion issues during the weekdays when daily commuters from the outskirts of the city make their way to work. There had been a proposal once to bring back the tramlines but this was met with strong opposition by the middle class homeowners who pointed out that their properties will plummet in value if such monstrosity will ever come near their expensive homes. So instead the S10 residents opted for the endless procession of the CO2-puffing 4WDs making their regular hour-long journey from the south end of the city to the centre of town.

I have lived in this affluent part of Sheffield during my first few weeks in Britain and found the transport links tedious. After moving to a neighbourhood that is serviced by a very reliable tramline, I couldn’t imagine a different life. Occasionally though, we still find ourselves back in this trendy area that is home to the city's most fashionable independent shops and highly-rated restaurants situated by the long stretch of Ecclessall Road and in its back streets. 
Just like one Sunday after church in the middle of February when the winter spell took a short break to give us a reprieve and so we found ourselves sipping the most excellently brewed cup of coffee and a slice of Baklava from the Greedy Greek Deli just off the corner of the roundabout. It was one of those weekends filled with spontaneous surprises that my husband has a knack for not planning.

The sky was as clear as sapphire and the midday sun blazed torridly over the seven hills that only a few days ago was covered almost entirely by a thick layer of snow. We were on a perfect spot, basking on the warmth of the glorious sun directly above us and took our time watching the rest of the world go by.

We were not alone. Cafes all over the city have set up chairs outside to cater to the needs of the Vitamid D deprived customers who came alone with their Sunday papers or with families and friends for a chat.

I have only recently understood this European cafe culture. I have always wondered why I should be paying a couple of pounds for a cup of tea or coffee that I can capably make at home at tenth the price. But that wasn't the point.

Coffeehouses, from a cultural standpoint, largely serve as the centres of social interaction: a place for the community to meet up, talk, write, entertain one another or pass time, whether individually or in small groups. It is an informal club for its regular patrons [W]. Many of these coffeehouses in Europe have served as a breeding ground for political change, 'a meeting place for intellectuals, writers and artists to discuss their work and politics' [B].

My appreciation of this kind of coffee experience began one cold December evening in Paris when we entered an insconspicous cafe near the Eiffel Tower after a day of endless walking. It was supposed to be a short stop in a city where there is not enough time to see all the sights but we ended up doing what everyone else seems to be doing: enjoying the warm cup of coffee with no desire to do anything else.

It was different from the culture I have grown up with, handed down from our American colonisers, in which coffee is poured in a paper cup, ordered 'on the go' from Starbucks or a Nescafe vending machine and drank whilst striding along busy boulevards or trapped inside a commuter jeepney or train, no more than a fuel to kick off a working day.

Rediscovering coffee culture as a social experience and a lifestyle rather than a routine has definitely been an enlightening experience and one that I have learned to enjoy. The price of a cup of coffee in a proper ceramic cup and saucer is a cheap price to pay for an opportunity to slow down and enjoy life a little.

Cafedotnet, Middlewood Road, Hillsborough

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