n my hunt for the best coffee, I always make it part of my trips to visit several coffee places. Last week, I went to a new café in Singapore which has been the talk of town recently. The decor was really impressive – minimalist and all in white. The branding was on point – even the coffee machine was decorated with their minimalist logo. I ordered my coffee at the counter and received a number. When I looked around, there was no space to sit. At first I thought it was because the place was very popular. But the main reason was that apart from a narrow bench and a few bar stools there simply was no place to sit down. I realised that I had not been asked if I wanted the coffee to go. But as soon as I received my coffee in a paper mug, I got the message: “Get out and drink your coffee somewhere else.”
When I started university, I was a big fan of coffee (and eating) on the go. Starbucks had just made its way to Austria and with it came the American lifestyle – always on the go, life is hectic, work hard. Holding a coffee-to-go showed you were part of a movement. There was just no time for breakfast, lunch or dinner – or at least, that was what I thought. Even in Vienna – the capital of the coffee culture – Starbucks branches popped up in every corner of the city. I remember a friend complaining about the price of a coffee when we sat down in a typical Viennese café one day. The next time I saw her, she held a “Frappuccino” for double the price in her hand.
For a while it seemed “cool”, but I never really understood why we would aspire a life which does not even allow us to sit down for ten minutes and enjoy a coffee. I frankly also find it gross to have my food next to someone on the train or the bus. Furthermore, even though coffee-to-go is served in paper cups, they are one of the worst things for the environment: What looks like paper from the outside is covered with a thin plastic layer on the inside. This is not even about the plastic lid. Both parts are very often not recycled. Moreover, I hate the taste of plastic and paper with my coffee…
After some time, the number of Starbucks outlets in Vienna decreased. I guess Starbucks’s success around the world was due to the fact that customers were not being pushed out of the café after buying a coffee. On my first trip to New York, I was really surprised to be pushed to get the bill and leave immediately. Starbucks seemed to be one of the few places where customers could stay if they wanted to and even spend a few hours at the café.
But this concept was nothing new in Austria. Over a century ago, artists, authors and other intellectuals met in Vienna’s cafés. The Café Central or Café Griendsteidl were bustling places where it was perfectly normal to spend an entire day reading the newspaper, have extensive discusssions and work. It was like a second home for poor artists (which are now some of the biggest names in art history), where the water was free too. Nobody will give you a weird look if you sit down and enjoy your coffee.
When I was a student and later when I started my business, the cafés of Vienna became my second home. It was actually one thing I enjoyed most about leaving the corporate life – my meetings were all held at cafés. I still work from cafés and I also made many friends at these places – the owners and other customers who work from there (maybe I should start calling them “coworkers”).
Even this Monday Postcard series was born at a café. I have made it a routine to leave for a café on Monday mornings. I sit down, wait for my coffee and think about a topic. It makes my week start with a positive and relaxed view on things. I find it sad when a hectic lifestyle is glorified. Is it really necessary that we gobble up our breakfast in the busy bus or train? Does coffee out of a paper cup really taste good? Do we really not have a few minutes to sit down?
No matter how busy my day is, I always try to take the time to sit down. It is just a few minutes. I use this time to centre myself and enjoy the moment. For me, it is a kind of morning meditation. It allows me to think about positive things, get the negative ones out of my head and start my day motivated. Furthermore, a coffee from a proper mug not only tastes much better but is also more environmentally friendly.
Start this week with an experiment: Take a few minutes for yourself – with a cup of coffee, tea or whatever you enjoy to drink. No matter how busy you think you may be, take the time to sit down, enjoy and to think about the day ahead. I am telling you, it will change your life!