When having a coffee is more than just having a coffee

Coffee

Lovely cuppa - Credit: Archant

One of my very favourite pastimes is going out for coffee. The experience of sipping from a steaming, frothy, fragrant cup in a café is always gratifying, no matter what the day or date. It seems I am not alone in this proclivity, as the ever-increasing crop of chain and independent coffee shops decisively demonstrates.
Perhaps the seeds were sown in my early, formative years; I vividly remember the tantalising aroma of coffee shops when walking through town centres as a child: that bitter, burnt, beguiling fragrance which bore only a passing similarity to mugs of coffee produced at home; it epitomised a lifestyle that floated out of reach like an exotic and forbidden fruit.

My parents, I suspect, would never have countenanced the idea of visits to a café being a regular occurrence in the way that they are for many families now - any example of this sort of behaviour would have been a rare and highly-valued indulgence.

Raised with such modest observations, I still experience an occasional disquiet that my own children are agreeably accustomed to café visits - such is the way the world has moved on, I suppose, although perhaps my husband and I are guilty of a little too much laxity in this area, as a drink in a town centre establishment seems woven into their expectations of a standard trip to the shops. During my teenage years, leaving the house specifically for the purpose of being served with a hot beverage that could be made (admittedly on a less grandiose scale) at home - and paying over the odds for the privilege, I ruefully venture - was a rare luxury, certainly for my circle of friends; it wasn't a pastime that we habitually accommodated.

Even as a student, I would not have considered a coffee shop to be a recipient worthy of seeing the colour of my meagre money (student bars, though, were a different matter...); nowadays, it seems every young person regularly has their hand wrapped around a recognisably-branded takeaway cup. Indeed, youngsters barely into secondary school may be seen huddled in cosy café corners in their little groups, sophisticated beverages jostling for place at their elbows. Perhaps coffee is the new pop.
When scanning the shelves for bargains at the supermarkets (an ingrained habit), and exclaiming over the scandalous prices of instant coffee, I am frequently forced wryly to acknowledge how blithely I part company with greater funds for a single café cappuccino than I am willing to hand over for an entire jar; there is some irony there, surely - a dash of inconsistency at least.
During Lockdown 1: The Original Lockdown, my husband and I, when permitted, cultivated an enjoyable habit of purchasing takeaway coffees and sitting in our car on the Downs,  gazing in awe at the cruise ships that so magnificently dominated our local waters.

Whilst venues were not yet admitting customers inside, it furnished us with the opportunity to locate some semblance of normality in a fractured world. It's still one of our preferred pastimes, but we will occasionally eschew the environs of our vehicle for commercial sites. One recent weekend, we found ourselves seated in a popular establishment, engaged in idle chatter and savouring the delicious drinks we had chosen.

Glancing around, I remarked to my husband how pleasant it was to see so many others engaged in the same pursuit: gathered in their twos, threes and fours were adults, children, multi-generational parties; families, friends, couples; all partaking of the chance to natter over a cuppa, or brunch, or a slice of cake.

It was heartwarming to notice new parents cooing over their infants as they took five minutes for themselves; to watch good friends exchange gossip and laughter; and catch young couples join company with parents and in-laws.

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These cheerful scenes reminded me that it's not always the drink of choice, but rather the company in which it is supped, that represents the significant factor in the equation.

Having raised an eyebrow at the newly-increased and somewhat extortionate menu prices, and defiantly (but politely) thrust free drinks coupons towards the cashier, I was persuaded to reflect, as I sat across the table from my favourite partner in coffee crime, that you can't put a price on good company. I'll raise my latte glass to that.