Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Coffee Break

(The next course homework. We were asked to go somewhere we hadn't been before and simply observe, then write about it. I'll post the story first, then tell you where I was :-) )

My mug isn't steaming. I glance quickly around the room, noting several columns of steam drifting lazily towards the ceiling. I cup my hand around the mug, feeling the warmth through the smooth china. I suppose if I'd had a plain coffee, I'd have steam as well, but I'm content with my white caffe mocha. With a pile of whipped cream.

I life the heavy mug to my lips and sip. The cream is cold and tickles my nose. I rub the back of my hand across my face and feel the wet streak left by the cream. I chuckle softly to myself.

I take another sip, the bitter coffee offset by the cloying sweetness of the chocolate and the cream. The warm liquid slides over my tongue and fills my mouth. I swallow, feeling the warmth coursing down inside my chest.

The wide, heavy door opens, a chill draft of wind preceding the woman walking in. The door closes behind her, the large Christmas wreath banging against the glass. Her nose is red and dripping, a thick wool scarf is wrapped tight around her neck and her long black coat is buttoned from top to bottom. Her high-heeled boots click on the stone tiled floor as she walks. I flash a smile at her and she smiles back, then heads to the glass-fronted counter. I watch idly, holding my mug.

She bends to peer into the counter, taking in the packs of sandwiches, the baked goodies and the fruit drinks. A line of smoothie bottles brings a brilliant dash of colour to the display, relieving the monotony of the various shades of brown in the counter.

She glances up at the bright red menu board, lettering picked out in bold white font. A, to be brutally honest, rather pathetic Christmas decoration is draped along the top edge of the board, a few Christmas tree shapes dangling from a string. She brings a gloved hand to her mouth, resting her bent index finger against her lips as she reads.

A red-shirted, green-aproned older lady greets her from behind the counter, smiling in a welcoming way. I can't hear their words over the hubbub of the room, multiple conversations being carried on around me. As always, one person doesn't seem to have any concept of a personal volume control. The noise is bolstered by the ambient music, almost drowned out by the noise. The coffee maker hisses and spits as one of the staff froths some milk. The incessant hum of the machine forms the background noise for everything else in the room. Empty mugs clatter as the staff members fill the orders.

The older lady shouts the customer's order, a cappuccino, Grande, and smiles at her. The lady hands over some money, coins clinking in her hand. She takes her change and moves to the next queue, joining the other people waiting for their drinks, everyone shuffling around to make sure they get enough personal space in the narrow aisle.

I leave her there and look around the room. On one side of the aisle, my side, beech effect cafe tables and chairs, hard, smooth and more comfortable than they look. On the other side of the aisle, a carpeted area is filled with comfy, armless padded chairs, grouped around low coffee tables. People cast jealous glances at the people sitting there, as they pass by in a hunt for a free chair. On the first set of chairs, a small group laughs and jokes with one another. On the other, two colleagues sit and read silently from small paperback books, dressed neatly in suits and ties, taking a well earned break from work. More business types sit around the room, chatting casually, putting the stress of the office to one side for a while.

I lean back in my chair, resting my back against the painted mural that runs the length of the shop. I lift the mug, draining it, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the chocolate-coated bottom of the mug. The taste of sweet, dark chocolate on my tongue, thick and sharp, but ohhh so rich. I drain the last of the chocolate sludge and set the mug down on the table. I take a last look around the room and gather my things. Wrapped up warm and refreshed, I go to join the crowds outside.

(And the answer is: Starbucks in Newbury! Damn, that was a fine cup of mocha :-) )