The Lady and Her Espresso

I was enjoying my V60-ed Rwandan coffee and a copy of Penguin Classic book when a sixty-something lady stepped into the coffee shop carrying her beaten iPad. I had frequented this specialty coffee shop for the last year and had never seen this lady before. She looked kind of lost. She picked a comfortable seat, and a quick moment later realised that there would be no waiter to approach her. In this small coffee shop every customer simply had to approach the bar and place their order directly to the barista.

So she took two steps to the bar, bewildered with the chalk scribblings coffee drinks menu displayed at the back wall. She asked for a menu book instead and studied it behind a pair of thick glasses. After a long while trying to understand what had been written there in small letters she decided to go for the espresso.

A lone, sixty-something lady ordering a shot of espresso is not a common sight in Jakarta – a city where the previous generation is still wondering what in the world is “third wave coffee”. The unlikeliness of the scenes unfolding before me triggered my curiosity, and I started observing it closer from my quiet and comfortable corner.

As the barista handed her the demitasse cup of espresso, a sense of amusement came to her eyes; the sense of wondering was palpable as she tried to figure out what was in that very small volume of coffee beverage. Yet, she was polite enough to not say anything.

She sat and tried to sip the coffee. Predictably, she quickly asked for sugar. The barista did not hesitate to help her adding sugar to the supposedly already sweet – by the standard of a coffee snob, of course! – cup of coffee. She tried taking another sip, and immediately asked, “More sugar, please!”

I am pretty sure that most specialty coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs would frown and mentally judge the old lady for being “uncivilized” and “uncool” with her repeated requests of sugar. Obviously, I was guilty of delivering that judgment myself too.

The old lady smiled as the coffee became as sweet as she liked it. She was happy. I was relieved that the coffee blasphemy scene was finally over though my disapproval on how she treated her espresso was still intact. It was her next statement to the barista that gave me the hardest nudge.

“I wonder why my son always drinks espresso with no sugar.”

It was then I realised what that old lady was actually doing in that coffee shop.

No, she wasn’t there for the free wifi. No, she wasn’t there to take pictures to parade on her Instagram account. And, no, she definitely wasn’t there for the espresso.

There she was, a lady from the previous, analog generation, trying to keep up in the digital era with her old iPad. Her son was probably already in his early thirties; someone who had built a career somewhere, and probably was quite successful. Someone who went from one coffee shop to another. Someone who might be thinking to quit his job to open his own coffee shop. Or, at least, someone who had been taking this new trend of third-wave coffee rather too enthusiastically. Someone whom this old lady is trying to understand and to connect.

So there she was, stranded in a small coffee shop that to her might as well be another planet, trying to understand her son as much as she tried to understand the iPad she was holding for no further purpose than chatting on WhatsApp in bigger screen with bigger font size.

There she was, an old lady trying to reconnect with his son, trying to stay relevant in his son’s life. It did not matter what the espresso tasted like. What mattered to her is to relate to her son and his lifestyle.

The old lady’s voice woke me from my thoughts. She handed her iPad to the barista, and said, “Please take a picture of me and my espresso. I want to send it to my son.”

Dear specialty coffee shops,

Every customer who walks into your place has a story. Let them pour sugar on the precious espresso that you have geeked yourself out for. Let them order iced lychee tea and ignore your urge to sell them Panama gesha. Let them use your wifi and isolate themselves from your enthusiastic coffee stories. You never actually know where they came from, what they have been through, and why they are there.

Editor: Dianthus Saputra

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