I was thinking these thoughts on a brisk Nelson morning at the Red Gallery Cafe as I sat at a little Formica-topped table tucked into a corner next to a gently simmering oil-heater. On my table was my laptop, a celadon-blue plate bearing a perfect cheese scone and a coffee mug of the same delicate blue-green, sitting on a bright red saucer. There was a glazed turquoise jug of flowers on a neighbouring table, a patch of urban sky just visible through the window beside me. On the window ledge there was a pile of magazines and a clutch of colouring pencils jammed into a jar. Colour me happy - in my little cafe with still life.
A day or two later, a sunny outdoor table at the River Kitchen Cafe gave me a different locale to enjoy the simple pleasures of the coffee shop. I watched the Matai river flow by and the passing human parade too: parents with baby buggies, dog-walkers, cyclists, joggers, dawdlers. The waitperson was young, beautiful and personable. There was a basket full of blankets if I grew chilly, and a water bowl for my four-legged companion. All this for the modest price of an excellent coffee and a date scone.
If you’re a connoisseur of the non-sequitur and the enigmatic sound-bite and you can’t beat a coffee shop. If you tune out individual voices, you have the curiously soothing amalgam of many different voices merging into a single murmurous conversation. Then for a moment the talk might halt altogether. There's just the sound of chairs scraping on wooden floors, the clink of cutlery, the bustle from the kitchen. It’s the soundtrack that’s always running inaudibly beneath coffee shop chatter - the hard work that goes into creating a place that’s inviting and hospitable.
Saturday found me at yet another Nelson coffee shop. Lambretta’s has a Saturday market kind of vibe, it’s bigger, there are more tables. Larger groups of people tuck into more substantial breakfasts. On the sunny pavement outside there are tables with umbrellas but I sequestered myself in the little glassed atrium at the back. It’s designed to be a comfy space for families to gather: big wooden tables that forgive spills, high-chairs and colourful plastic bins full of toys. The waitress who brought me my coffee and Morning Glory muffin delivered a Denheath custard square with two spoons to a woman and her blonde son at a neighbouring table. She kindly turned on the heater before she left. At another table, a Mum and Dad with two young daughters in matching floral parkas conversed quietly over their food.
French food writer Pierre Andrieu described a cafe as a “world in miniature, that eats and drinks, reads and talks, dreams … just as it wants.” It does the heart good to enter these hospitable places where kindness, courtesy and conviviality still abide.