Cafes are the lifeblood of a neighborhood, or at least they supply a caffeinated stream to enliven our days. Communities need gathering places and individual people sometimes need somewhere just to pass time. Some folks gather in churches or pubs with fellow worshippers or tippling pals, but the cafe scene is a bit different. The coffeehouse (aka café) is a common space woven into the fabric of our social and public lives. While cafes supply simple food and beverage from a proprietor, they also provide a place to chat, read, write, play games, entertain and be entertained or even to debate politics. In the Internet age wifi cafes provide a virtual coworking space with patrons elbow to elbow clicking away on projects all over the world.
When you walk into a Longfellow Cafe, you’re also taking a walk into a world that is centuries old from a faraway place:
Coffee in late Safavid Iran [17th-18th Century Persia] was considered what it has universally become: a tasty beverage consumed in a social setting. Drunk hot and without sugar from little china cups, it was often accompanied by sweets and pistachio nuts, both of which enhanced its flavor. Coffee consumption in Safavid Iran involved a wide range of the social spectrum, beginning with the royal court…but was also enjoyed in the public sphere….the most common locale for the enjoyment of the beverage was no doubt the coffeehouse.
The social function of coffeehouses, places where people gathered to exchange news and gossip, is brought out in the following description of activities by [the French traveler Jean] Chardin:
People engage in conversation, for it is there that news is communicated and where those interested in politics criticize the government in all freedom and without being fearful, since the government does not heed what the people say. Innocent games… resembling checkers, hopscotch, and chess, are played. In addition, mollas, dervishes, and poets take turns telling stories in verse or in prose….It often happens that two or three people talk at the same time, one on one side, the other on the opposite, and sometimes one will be a preacher and the other a storyteller.
—Rudi Matthee, “Coffee in Safavid Iran: Commerce and Consumption”
Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 37, No. 1 (1994).
Longfellow has no shortage of neighborhood cafes that serve excellent coffee and espresso drinks, along with teas, sodas, sweets, and snacks. More importantly, they are public gathering spots for conversation, gossip, games, art, folk singers, storytellers, and poets. There’s a wide range of organic, fair trade, and freshly prepared coffee beverages available, and there are varying styles of baristas attending to your needs at the counter. But one thing they all have in common: You won’t feel as a stranger walking into any local cafe—whether the brew is weak or strong or to your liking or not—you enter a familiar collective world, a sort of neighborhood kitchen table with a seat waiting for you.
There are no franchise cafes in Longfellow with drive-through service for a Triple Venti Half-Sweet Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato as part of our burgeoning quick-service culture. There are plenty of bicycle racks, outdoor benches and patio seating, cozy chairs, couches, meeting rooms, children’s play areas, community bulletin boards, paintings, newspapers, magazines, coffee cup cards, music mixes, and local characters. There are even bike-powered goals to help sustain our love of coffee and our planet that produces it: “Peace Coffee’s mission is to make exceptional-tasting, organic fair-trade coffee that sustains the livelihoods of the people who grow, roast, and sell it; preserves and protects the environment that produces it; and delights the taste buds of those who drink it.”
You could brew a cup of coffee at home lounging with your laptop browsing the web and reading about culture, art, politics, and news. Then again, you could stroll a few blocks, see if your local cafe is brewing Mocha-Java, pick up a newspaper section or some local flyers, check your email, ponder the artwork on the walls, hear some songs you’ve never heard and ask the barista about the mix, and you just might enter a conversation with a neighbor who like you enjoys camaraderie in our real world of Greater Longfellow.