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A CUP OF COFFEE, A SPOT OF TEA, AND
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

BY HEATHER SCHLEGEL
EXCERPTED FROM JACARÉ NO.9

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You see them on every corner in a thriving metropolis. Where did they come from? Why are they here? They are known as the local café and the coffee shop down the street.

There are many myths to explain the birth of the coffeehouse. Some claim the English had the first one. The Viennese also claim this first. And Constantinople-not Istanbul-claims having a coffeehouse in 1540. But before that several cafés were closed down in Mecca. The real birthplace of the coffeehouse is Arabia, where the coffee bean, the beverage, and a place to drink it have been around for at least 500 years.

There is an allure surrounding the café. It is a place where one can meet friends, study, read, or enjoy a beverage (caffeinated or not). Café ambiance varies from the most basic self-serve countertops to places catering to people on the go to salons with couches, tables, stuffed chairs, newspapers, books, games, and computers.

There is no set regimen at the café. One can sit for hours watching the people stroll by outside or have an intense conversation about man's place in the universe. Or one can stop by just long enough to pick up an espresso or cafezinho (very strong, sweet Brazilian coffee) for the long afternoon ahead.

Cafés have become more and more popular in the last few years, so popular that you might have a hard time not finding one. Regional and national chains have popped up and become very successful. Well-known café chain names roll off the tip of one's tongue like well-known international cities of allure-Starbucks, Pasqua, and Peet's. They are like international cities just around the corner you can enter for the price of a cup of coffee, and without a passport.

But cafés are not just the big chains that reside on every city corner. It is the local café that has one-of-a-kind charm and ambiance. The café may serve food, or specialize in French or Bavarian pastries. Cafés may have live music, poetry readings, or art showings. The chain café cannot compete with these special flavors.

Cafés started out as the place one went to find news. Newspapers were distributed in cafés and one went to the café for the same reason one might now turn on the TV or the radio, to get information and gossip.

The first English coffeehouses were much more political than our modern counterparts. Being a predecessor of men's clubs, they did not allow women to join in the consumption of coffee and all that went along with it in the café.

However, cafés were places people met. People would hold hours in certain cafés so their friends and associates would know where to find them. This is a practice still used by college professors. Wouldn't work be wonderful if one could spend half the day in a café?

There was much inspiration to be found in a café. Simone de Beauvoir and John Paul Sartre held offices in cafés and wrote much of their theories of existentialism in them. Certain academicians wrote their lectures and reports in cafés. And today, writers still find inspiration in cafés.

These days, the rush of the rat race contrasts the leisure of the café. Busy executives and businesspeople queue up in long lines to get their morning nonfat latte, cappuccino, or other coffee beverage. You can see them rushing off to consume their caffeine pleasure in the confines of their office or cubicle.

The image of the café evokes lazy weekends where the biggest problem is planning what not to do. By buying coffee from a café, one buys a little part of the café dream, where there is time to stay in the warmth of the café enjoying the beverage and the company of friends.

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