by Amy Galea
The café opened the year I began university. I’d moved away from the western suburbs of Sydney, away from where café atmosphere only existed in franchise coffee clubs in the centre of a Westfield mall. This café was complete with a long wooden community table that had antlers resting along its middle. There was a clothing boutique up a steep set of stairs, and the lighting: swinging light bulbs. It played as an introduction to the world of specialty coffee houses for me and my new city.
It was here that I saw him. Four years after I first walked through the doors of the café, I was now insatiably hooked. My bait? Dark waves of hair that framed a kind face. Brown eyes of Van Morrison croon-worthy status. He had facial hair (my kingdom for a man with a beard). He had a well- placed tattoo and besides the fact that he was kind and seemed genuine with everyone who walked through the café doors: I knew nothing about him.
Over the next few months I frequented the community table right in front of my coffee man. Surely people must do this all the time, I would console myself if I felt that I was possibly being too obvious about my affections. I tried to refrain from looking up at him every few minutes. Did he ever wonder what I was studying? Did he consider the addition of my reading glasses as intelligent?
I also wondered why I felt no shame in my obsession—ney—interest in this guy. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why I’m so very okay with this story of unrequited interest, is because it is a story being played out in thousands of cafes throughout Australia. I am in very good (frustrated and hopeful) company.
I believe this to be A Likely Story for three reasons:
1. Australians are obsessed with good coffee and trendy cafes.
Starbucks barely staked their claim on our sunburnt country, closing 61 stores in the first eight years of their arrival, and NYC and LA are swearing in coffee beans and branding from our shores in a bid to resurrect the American latte experience. I once visited a café in Prague that flew their baristas to Melbourne for barista training. The world is recognising Australia as being at the fore of coffee know-how.
It’s difficult to know when Australia’s keenness on beans began. Apparently the coffee that arrived on the First Fleet was of poor quality, so it could have been the immigration of the Italians, Greeks, Turkish and Austrians post WW11. Whatever the origins, Australians now annually consume 2.9kg of coffee per capita, up from the 0.6kg consumed 50 years ago.
We drink a lot of coffee and we have a lot of cafés, but more than that, we relish in a caffeinated culture that sweeps us off our feet.
Which leads us to the next point:
2. Baristas have become the new local celebrity.
In the 1950’s, esteemed members of society included principals, teachers, religious leaders, doctors and those who ran the local sports clubs. People who worked in customer service (including farmers) might have been respected for their work ethic and produce, but the wow factor was reserved for tertiary educated positions.
This isn’t surprising, however what is interesting, is that the café industry has now been aligned with the world of hipsters— giving a well- read, philosophical twang to it. Even if we aren’t conscious of it- there are clues everywhere, on the back of toilet doors, on menus, on chalk signs and even printed on takeaway coffee cups, that someone wants these places to be like The Eagle and Child and for us to be like Clive Staples and Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings chatting and arguing away about Narnia and Frodo (or maybe politics and religion, we can’t be sure).
The reason why there are still very few of these cafes in the area of Sydney that I grew up in is because it is a (mostly) working class region- people simply don’t buy into the culture, for them sitting in Gloria Jeans is just as fine as an independent cafe. But for the rest of us who stand passionately against any establishment that doesn’t produce our designer coffee, we have the opportunity to feel a part of something—without even needing to join a sports team or go to church.
We like the fact that we can be part of a culture, whilst still being able to be ourselves (i.e. we can wear what we want, think how we want, but join in on the mutual appreciation of a well brewed cup of coffee, the invention of Cronuts and plants that have been strategically placed on stools).
And at the heart of this culture is: the barista. They make this world go round. They are reliable, they are wearing clothes you would be wearing today if you didn’t have to go to work and they seem to somehow be ahead of the trends, as if a barista god was whispering how to change their decor ahead of a colour scheme shift in what is instagram cool.
3. You are made to think you have an intimate connection with said barista, because they make you a warm cup of legal addictive substance every other morning before work.
For the unattached, this can play out in two ways: either the barista in question is way- out- of- your- league in a way that is just embarrassing and yet you still think they might be interested because, hey, they remembered what name to write on your coffee cup.
Or the other option, equally as probable, is that the barista is someone you would never usually think twice about. They aren’t into Swedish pop and they never call their grandma. In any other gathering this barista is not the one you would go for.
But it’s not any other gathering, is it? And they are smiling at you, aren’t they? They are serving you. But it serves our heart- strings well to note that they are doing so without a hidden agenda: their agenda is to get paid. And they will.
Of course you will fall for someone who always asks you how your day has been, who will remember your order and who will be thoughtful enough to pop a rosetta with hearts on top. With every cappuccino there is the constant battle not to read into the heart in the foam. To remember the age- old rule of customer service: they are being paid to serve you.
Amy worked in copywriting and company branding until she saw the light and began teaching high school students the joys of grammar and essay writing. She currently resides on the South Coast of NSW and enjoys running away from home on a semi regular basis. She believes story telling and caramel popcorn continually make the world a grander place. In days gone by she blogged for literatico and she loves all the pretty things on Instagram.