The café-writing affair
There is prose in a cup of coffee. There is coffee in any piece of my prose.
I love spending time in nice cafes. So much so, that I have arrived at a romanticised philosophy of the café-writing culture. I think coffee and literature (whether producing or consuming it) complement each other beautifully. There is a fine and noble tradition of writers working in cafes, from TS Elliott, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein and F Scott Fitzgerald to many modern writers, such as J.K. Rowling and Malcolm Gladwell.
I’m not a coffee connoisseur and I actually enjoy my coffee with milk (which I know a die-hard coffee lover would frown upon). However, I started to associate cafes with blissful places of work, reading and reflection from my teenage years when I wasn’t even drinking coffee. It all happened one evening, when I came across a radio station called Rock Café on Yahoo. I started listening to it whilst doing my maths homework and instantly my imagination led me to enter a state of day-dreamy bliss. I had never been in a coffee shop before, but my mind took me to a bohemian, purple-blue café with round chairs and tables, where the coffee fragrance and the indie music invigorated my mind from the tedious mental work in which I was sinking. All of a sudden, due to the serene mindscape of the imaginary café, I was able to concentrate on my work.
Finding a nice café where to escape from routine is not only comforting and refreshing, but can also stimulate your creativity and thought processes. A nice ambiance with interesting decor, soothing background music to create a calm and peaceful environment, the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans, the taste of good coffee, the enticing view of stacked cakes and the people around me who secretly keep me company (writing is a solitary occupation, after all) are all I need to immerse into my thoughts and reconnect with myself.
I enter into a state of inner peace when I write or do mental work in coffee shops. To me, a nice cup of hot drink is the perfect companion to a productive writing or reading session. It keeps me going throughout the entire process and each sip gives me a sense of instant comfort and quick break. Unlike in a restaurant where they expect you to leave after you’ve finished your meal, in a café, you can stay a bit longer after you’ve finished.
So, there you can carve out time to do solid work, keeping focused and away from the lure of distractions and household chores.
My favourite cafes are the quirky ones, whose personality appeal to what I value as being beautiful, creative and cosy.
For example, Fred and Ginger coffee shop in Kings Langley gives me that sense of belonging to my village’s community. Even though it is quite small and mostly crowded, there is something idyllic about it. The selection of healthy, delicious juices which complement the coffee menu, as well as their innovative cakes (think Chocolate and Beetroot cake or Banana and Chocolate muffin) entice me each time I run past it. I actually devised my regular running route to include a quick run past this café on my way home, simply to … ‘take the pulse of my village’. Even though I don’t interrupt my run to go in, I enjoy taking in the celebratory atmosphere inside the café by taking a sneak peak through the window. It fills my heart with joy seeing people happily enjoying eachother’s company, working on the breakfast bar by the window or simply taking refuge in a blissful cup of coffee. The friendly folks who run the café make the atmosphere even merrier. It also has a great selection of chilled music, vintage cushions and a retro décor which altogether poetically accompany the heavenly coffee.
When, I’m in London, I enjoy looking through the windows of Café Concerto to admire their sumptuous cakes. I haven’t yet dared to go in, as it feels like a lavish environment, suitable for a special occasion. But, whenever I pass by one of their shops, I aspire to have a reason to go in.
An interesting blend of cycling and coffee culture has arisen lately, which has given rise to the cycle-cafes. So far, I’ve only visited two: Look Mum No Hands and Rapha Cycle Club. Even though I am not a cyclist (I’ve only learnt to ride a bike recently and still don’t trust myself fully), this new concept for me is a testament to coffee’s ability to bring people together and get them to share stories.
A hot cup of milky coffee for me is the ultimate treat – it comforts me and warms me up when I’m travelling in cold weather, it stimulates my mental awareness when things get dull, it provides a temporary sense of satiety when I get hungry and, finally, it doesn’t make me feel guilty when I indulge in it. In fact, one of coffee’s benefits, that I am sure will appeal to writers, is the stimulation of cognitive functions, the firing of neurons which improves memory and enhances mood and vitality. Perhaps this is another reason why people get so productive when working in coffee shops (apart from the change of environment).
To end this post, I would like to praise Waitrose’s initiative of offering complimentary coffee to their customers and John Lewis’ generous offer of coffee and cake on the house. This is a very savvy marketing strategy, as it entices customers to come in for their treat and, once they’re in, they become a captive audience of the displayed products and promotions. Thus, it’s a great way to build and maintain a loyal customer base, as well as win shoppers’ hearts and minds during the fierce price war that’s taking place in the retail landscape. Unsurprisingly, my knitting club has its weekly meetings in a John Lewis café. While I resist the temptation of buying cakes and re-stocking my supply of yarn and knitting materials, the other ladies frequently succumb to the temptation.
There’s an element of inner content and calm in writing in coffee shops. It transforms the arduous act of taking a far-reaching mental incursion and immortalising thoughts on paper into a pleasurable activity. For this reason, this article wanted to pay tribute to the gloriously good cafes.
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