January 19, 2010

Hail to the Coffee Shop - My Home away from Home

My alter ego, let's call her Stella, owns a coffee shop. She rises in the dark pre-dawn, goes downstairs from her cozy apartment above the shop and mixes up muffins and scones in the small, gleaming kitchen. She brews herself a single shot Americano (espresso and hot water)and sits down to read the paper while she waits for the baking to be done; Stella likes to be up on the topics of the day, and several of her regular customers have come to expect some kind of opinion from her. At 5:45 she grinds the coffee beans and presses the start button for the strong, medium-roasted brews preferred by her 6:00 a.m. regulars. She sets out the thermal urns of cream and milk on the glass-topped antique dresser, refills the sugar boxes and makes sure the counters and tabletops are spotless. At exactly 6:00 she unlocks the door and turns on the front lights to invite the early risers in, greeting each one by name - if she knows it.

Artwork and photographs - no mass produced commercial coffee kitsch here - hang on the walls of Stella's. Instead of local radio, she plays CD's carefully chosen for their background quality, so they are mainly collections of quiet jazz and folk, and some classical guitar and piano. Stella's has a small raised area surrounded by windows with a view of the street, usually set with two small tables for two, and where, once a week she stays open late and invites a musician to give a concert. Stella's is not a big shop. The tables are close together and there is only one area with deep armchairs gathered around a small table set out with newspapers, magazines, and a few large books with titles like Great Russian Architecture - interesting to look at but too heavy and big to 'borrow' - but it is a cozy place and the locals seem to like it.

Two employees, Savannah and Kerry come in at 9 a.m. to help Stella prepare for the lunch rush - her soups and grilled sandwiches are legend. In the afternoons Stella offers a selection of homemade cakes - banana, carrot, deep chocolate, and besides coffee there is a selection of teas, including African Honeybush, a favourite of hers and of several of her female customers. At 4:00 p.m. Stella bids farewell to the last of her clientele, flips the open sign to closed, and locks the door while she and her employees debrief in a friendly way about the day's customers. With Savannah and Kerry's help she cleans the coffee machines, the counters, floors and the kitchen surfaces. Finally, Stella lets her employees out and closes the shop, climbs the stairs to her apartment, lets out a sigh of satisfaction and puts her feet up.


Stella's is sort of a distilled version of all the coffee shops I have frequented over the last 40 years, from the lunch counter at Woolworth's with it's chrome and vinyl stools where I sat drinking juice with my mother, to the Snowdrift Cafe in Kimberley where I took my little boys for hot chocolate and the huge, delicious, soft oatmeal cookies (made by the cafe owners' Italian mother) with the Grappa soaked raisin pressed into the middle.

I have always loved coffee shops. When I was 20 I had a job at Stanley Baker's cafe in my hometown. When I met my husband while attending UBC in Vancouver, we frequented several: The Bread Garden and Benny's Bagels in the Kitsilano area where he lived at the time, Cheesecake etc. downtown, and various authentic Italian places in the East side where I lived with my sister and her husband. When my husband and I moved to Eastern British Columbia I looked for and soon found a place in Cranbrook with good coffee, company and conversation.

When my husband was transferred to Courtenay on Vancouver Island I frequented a place no longer in business called Edible Island, with organic everything and salads paid for by weight.

Where I live now I generally gather once a week to sort out the problems of the world (and to laugh at ourselves in our attempt) with a group of local characters at a converted century old house with a garden and a fish pond by the outdoor patio. The coffee here is not very good, but the selection of teas is excellent and served in large, thin white cups and saucers, and the lemon scones are good...but not quite as good as Stella's.


  1. And thank God no poetry readings. Once while at Uni' in Galway I was invited to such a torture at a newfangled coffee place called Apostasy which in itself should have been a hint.
    Anyhow this blackclad woman reached into a Gladstone, pulled out a ream of tight-typed pages. I ran.
    But why are you closing at 4pm, you are missing all of those that play Jenga, a excellent game for a Coffee Shop.

  2. Sorry, Rebecca. I came to comment on your post, but I have to stop and giggle at a coffee shop named Apostasy.

    Okay, I have regained my composure, and I wanted to tell you that it is almost 3pm here, the children are still asleep, and I wish I were sitting at Stella's because I could really use a good cup of tea and any baked edible would be great too.

    (I couldn't really leave my children asleep at home to go to a coffee shop, but you get the idea.)

  3. I have never gravitated towards coffee shops, probably because I do not drink coffee, however the Honeybush tea and homemade scones would definitely pull me in this door.

  4. Stella's sounds like such a nice place. I'm not a coffee drinker...does she have hot chocolate?

  5. First of all, thanks everyone for commenting!

    Vince: Stella is pretty tired by 4 o'clock, perhaps your alter ego, Seamus, can come and take over from there? I'll have to tell you a funny story about a poetry reading some time...

    Tracey: Apostasy is a rather hilarious name for a coffee place! And you would be most welcome to come and have a cup of tea any afternoon. Btw, Stella's also has colouring books and a bin of toys for children. :)

    Diane and Jen: Stella wants everyone to feel welcome, so she has a great selection of teas and hot chocolate, of course!

  6. Where the heck did you pull Seamus from. FYI, it's James in Irish. But it's almost unheard here now. A bit like Earnest in English. Or Stella. So they should fit together rather well. Do you see Shea' as a bit gay -ala Gunter in friends- or someone with a past because of the flashes of the Striking Falcon tattoo. The type of person that makes a Mountie feel safe and women the opposite but in a good way. Someone that could quell fractious Coffee drinkers that over did it with a look.

  7. Any chance Stella could set up shop in France? It certainly sounds like somewhere I'd like to pop into!

    Thanks for popping over to my blog and leaving your comments. My little Singer has no zigzag foot, which I think is probably a good thing as I am very bad with technology, even from the 1950s! I'll tell my boys about your Swallows and Amazons experiences - they are absolutely enraptured by the stories, and Son 1 does remember visiting the Lake District before we moved to France.

  8. Vince: Anyone who can quell fractious coffee drinkers that overdid it with a look is okay in my book! A tattoo would fit that kind of character well - sort of a dashing bodyguard type (and referee) for the evening Jenga playing crowd - but he must be kind overall. I know of quite a few Seamus' over here so I suppose the name travelled over and stayed in Canada? There is also a Seamus in Harry Potter(but then there is also a Hermione in H.P. so that proves nothing).

    Welcome Floss! I love vintage stuff (and the idea of France)so when I found your blog I jumped on the bandwagon! I'm so glad you liked Stella's, but I'm not sure she's into franchising...

  9. i would love so much to have a shop like this close by, most of my time is spent drinking coffee - the rest i just waste.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!