When you’re caught up in the grind, when you’re preoccupied with the nitty-gritty details of your finances, when you seem to be obsessing over an all-important presentation, a soft tug can bring you gently back to reality. And this tug can come from the most unexpected places: reminding you of the bigger picture – reminding you of your aspiration to be a better person, to travel, to explore, to know and not just survive. The same happened to me when my Editor said she wanted me to go to café-hopping in London.
Hidden in the quietness of Gloucester Road is Jacob’s café – a quaint little independent, family-run café that serves some of the best coffee I have ever tasted – and I take my coffee very seriously. Coffee is no joke, and good coffee is harder to come by than a four-leaf clover. So, once I had found this little gem of a café, I made sure to come back whenever I could. On a particularly chilly morning before class, I made my way to Jacob’s in Kensington. In the excruciatingly long hour [okay, minutes] I spent for my coffee to arrive, I stood around and happened to make awkward eye contact with the Barista.
As is typical of me, I decided to ask this coffee wizard how his day was going after pouring my heart out about my deep love for good coffee. Still at work, going from whizzing espresso machine to coffee sleeves, he told me about his day and the conversation began. He had come here from France and was getting by working at this coffee shop part-time. I asked him about his home and his experiences in London: As is custom, he said he loved London. After the rage and the confusion at how expensive everything is in this overcrowded city subsides, there is something so undeniably lovely about it, we both agreed.
Coffees consumed: 1
Barista that loved being a Barista: 1
Running on just a few hours of sleep and a bouquet-ful of deadlines hanging over my head like an anvil, I raced through Victoria Station – and that’s when I saw it: Krispy Kreme’s poster declaring they had Arabica coffee. Arabica coffee is my weakness and I may or may not have four industrial-sized jars of it at home [no judgements, please]. I darted to the little kiosk and ordered a regular cup of coffee. As is custom, the barista smilingly offered me a donut to go with my coffee:
“No thank you, I hate donuts. But thanks,” I said.
“What?!” All three baristas looked at me in surprise.
“Can I offer you some chocolate then?” he offered.
“I’m not that big on sweets either,” I chuckled.
“That’s alright, I manage.. ” I laughed.
“But then how do you stay so sweet?”
The awkwardness I felt at that moment was evident on my face as I laughed silently and looked at him in confusion, “I’m not.”
“What’s your secret?”
“Coffee,” I said as I paid for mine and left with a curt “thanks” that encapsulated all that awkwardness.
Coffees consumed: 2
Barista that loved being a Barista: 2
Awkward Encounters: 1
It was not long until I made my way to the next coffee shop [A Starbucks]: to get my latte and a sandwich for lunch. The smiling barista was talking to one of the other baristas in fluent Russian, and I knew that I had heard him speak Spanish and English before.
“Woah, how many languages can you speak?!” I bemused.
“Five, actually. I’ve lived in several different countries,” he replied.
Originally Guatemalan, he listed the various countries that he had lived in and told me about his love for different languages and cultures. You see, working at this coffee shop gave him the chance to use all his languages and helped him keep learning. It’s weird how inspiration can come from some of the most unexpected places.
Coffees consumed: 3
Barista that loved being a Barista: 3
Awkward Encounters: 1
After speaking to these baristas, these funny/awkward/surprising encounters made me realise that I wanted nothing more than to travel the world and gather interesting stories. At the end of the day, heading back home with a pleasant buzzing in my ears, I decided to do it more often – have more over-the-counter conversations [no matter how awkward]. It’s one way to step back from your everyday life and look at things from a different perspective [Coffee helps me think better too].
As one of my favourite zen koans goes,
“Nan-in, a Japanese master received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”