Even my favorite coffee shop isn’t a safe place anymore

The pandemic changed the way we drink our coffee―and about those who make our coffee, too

My college life is built on a tall, rigid tower of to-do lists. When everything seems on the verge of collapse, I run like a prisoner on the loose to the nearest coffee shop for temporary escape and shelter. My favorite place is Bo’s Coffee España. In my running list, it’s got the best hot chocolate drink so far—and heck, a cute barista, too. 

My routine from school to coffee shop went on like this until the lockdown from COVID-19, and since then I have had nowhere to run. The life in the city, including mine, has come to a halt. So many plans, from birthdays to graduation ceremonies, instantly went poof. My trips to coffee shops are gone, like a used venti cup thrown into the bin. 

Perfect place 

It’s not hard to romanticize coffee shops.

The regal air that brushes my face once I open the door, the lovely mix of wood and concrete, the peace and quiet. It’s the perfect place to plant myself with a laptop and a good book, to cram for midterm papers, and to sleep. 

I miss the smell of brewed coffee, the sounds of chatter, and the endless swinging of doors. I miss the side-eye glances from strangers and other traces of human interaction from the outside world.

A stranger approached me once and asked if he could share my table, and I said yes. He approached me again and bought me coffee and a New York Cheesecake. For a brief spell, I thought he was my soulmate, until it was time for him to leave the coffee shop. 

Even though I’m close to being broke, I still shell out a portion of my allowance to buy my favorite: a signature hot chocolate. The moment I enter the cafe, the barista already knows what I want. It’s hard to pour something into an empty cup. So let me have my fill. I’d like a steaming cup of hot chocolate, please. 

The warmth of the chocolate melts down every lump of stress inside my body. Time slows down when I take a sip of my precious hot chocolate. Sitting on a wooden stool, I savor the feeling that reminds me of cold mornings in my childhood.

‘Smile naman diyan’

I find the hustle and bustle of urban life too draining, but simple written notes from the coffee shop staff lighten up my mood. “Smile naman diyan,” a barista wrote on my cup. “Good luck on your exams,” wrote another. And so it breaks my heart to read news about a coffee chain closing its shops around the metro. Thousands of service crew members will lose their jobs. They have always been there for me when I’m at the bottom of the pit of emotional insecurity. These days, I feel helpless, I can’t do anything for them, to cheer them up or at least serve them a cup of coffee. I can only wish them well.

The pandemic has surely changed the way we live, how we eat, and how we drink our coffee. At some point, it made us think about those who make our coffee, too.

Find a place in this world, I was told, and I found mine in a coffee shop. But my safe place is not as safe as it was before. For now, the smell of brewed coffee, the sounds of chatter, the endless swinging of doors, and a stranger buying me a New York Cheesecake remain distant memories. 

Artwork by Marx Reinhart Fidel

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