Sometimes, I walk into a cafe and it feels like home. Home can be defined as you want it to be. It could be the spot to decompress, the spot to be alone, the spot to meet others, to have a good meal – whatever it is, there’s a feeling and it’s one of belonging.
In the UAE, this I find quite rare. Plentiful are those with great food, beautiful aesthetics, amazing coffee and instagrammable desserts. But how many have that soul factor? Aesthetics definitely play a big role, and while many are aesthetically pleasing, they tend to evoke a pristine, cold vibe – that, or they become a cookie-cutter rendition of the then-trend, an almost scripted approach to their look. I’m not sure how to word it, but in short they’re missing soul, maybe the touch of a ‘human-behind-the-scenes’?
As the world obsesses over specialty coffee, I’m still stuck on the café experience, not where and how the beans are treated. The cup of coffee I’m served can be the best-tasting one I’ve ever had, but if the café experience itself doesn’t resonate with me, I won’t go back. And vice versa. So not to say I’d go back if the coffee was absolutely terrible (I might, but I’d make it an afternoon spot and just have tea), but if it were just okay and everything else was up to par, I’d let it go.
I find great joy in seeing the same people at my morning coffee spot – I immediately feel connected to them. Clearly, there’s something we have in common that’s pulling us to the same place at the same time, particularly when it’s not a trending café in town. Of course, it could just be convenience and proximity, but when we’re spoilt for choice, there must be more.
With every one of my ‘favorite’ spots, there’s commonality and that’s story, people and detail.
An empire of a chain with an owner still makes sure to furnish her chain stores with decorative items from her travels across the globe.
A hole in the wall with a personal book collection.
A mother and daughter duo who bring a family feel to their store, from a menu inspired by family meals to their staff interaction, who seem to be much more than just employees.
A ‘box’ opposite a bus station, which unfolds into a coffee cart at peak corporate in-and-out hours (and then folds right back up at 6pm), where the barista knows the passers-by name.
These are the kind of things that really make a place unique. It’s everything that transforms a space into a place and in turn, provides a feeling you can’t get just from aesthetics, or the type of coffee served. It’s a full package.
To less coffee spaces, and more coffee places.
Great article, Hala. I knew what to expect the moment I read the title. Seems like these “cafes” are mass manufactured, they are opened for the sake of being opened, there’s a familiar feeling of unfamiliarity like you are not welcome, almost feeling like a chore. Even if a 90+ scoring cup of coffee is served, it often lacks a main ingredient that you have rightly pointed out — soul. I plant my roots in some of my “favorite” places, and whenever I visit back I find myself sitting in the same place, same table, same chair, same coffee, and lastly the same routine. This is the familiarity I look for, like home — a safe place, a place you can call your home.