You might find members of the hipster generation pouring coffee and serving from the counter, but you will also find many of their customers are one or two generations ahead of them. Today, the contemporary café is a welcoming space for one and all – there are simply no age limits.
All in all, the modern café has promoted a taste for gourmet coffee, while providing a social antidote to feelings of loneliness. Since, loneliness is considered a killer disease for many older people, our coffee establishments play an important role in contemporary social culture and its wellbeing.
The café is where there is the possibility of receiving a smile of recognition or engaging in a short conversation with another human being. These are the small things that can change the nature of your day.
Today’s coffee is a long shot from the 1960s cups of Nescafe or International Roast or the rather exotic, special 1970s treat, the chocolate topped cappuccino. More likely, you will find an assortment of short blacks, and flat whites, accompanied by an assortment of milks including oat, almond, soy or lactose-free milk. The only thing perhaps not mentioned on the menu – is the key ingredient – community. Without doubt, the best café’s offer an informal, friendly place to gather, chat and form connections.
During COVID, due to restrictions, the role of cafes as social venues, developed even further.
“I live by myself,” 64-year-old Gillian said.
“During COVID, I would don a mask, go the local café and order a take-away coffee – the staff there would be the only people I would talk to all day,” she recalls.
For instance, one of the first things 68-year-old former teacher and world traveller Jen Maclean does upon arrival in a new area, is to look around for a comfortable café. Her idea of a good café is somewhere you can quietly spend a few hours out of the house,enjoying a fine cup of coffee and watching the character of a new area reveal itself to her.
In 2020, Jen’s husband went to work in New Guinea. Due to COVID, they decided to leave their Perth unit and relocate to Queensland. Earlier this year, Jen’s husband made it back home and found his gregarious, native-born Scottish wife, had become part of a local café community. She had formed friendships to exchange political views, talk about family affairs and importantly, she found understanding and solace talking about a recent illness with another friend going through a similar experience.
In fact, when the café relocated down the road, the owner nominated a comfortable green velvet chair situated in a prime position as “Jen’s Corner’. On any day, you may find Jen chatting with another regular, the sprightly, well-dressed 80-year-old Barbara. Barb says after a walk, coffee and chat at her local café, she is more than happy to while away the hours back at home. Over the years when Barb’s sister Julie visits from Sydney, she’s also brought along to the café, now when she arrives the regulars greet her on a first-name basis.
Jen says that no matter where she has travelled, café’s have given her a sense of home.. But perhaps her connection is most keenly understood when she explains how in the 1980s she married in a café on the Gold Coast’s Isle of Capri. She describes sailing up the waterways to meet her husband and guests on the steps of a café (which, though renovated, is still there today).
“Cafés have always been my favourite places for community and community events,” she says.
Sixty-three-year-old Graham Wilson lives in Queensland but is pleased to say his 87-year-old New Zealand based Dad, after a long illness, is slowly but surely returning to life and coffee culture.
“Back in December, Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and three months to live, Graham said.
“Now he’s gone through that and after being bed-bound has found the will to live. Part of that is getting back to things he loved to do daily – like going back to the coffee-shop where he was a regular and having a chat with staff and enjoying a coffee and muffin.”
“Though this time around, it’s half a cup of coffee and half a muffin,” Graham said with a gentle smile.
Long-time café owner Britt Ayling says serving a range of excellent coffee, creating comfortable places for people to meet and engaging with customers is what it’s all about
She says the positioning of the coffee machine, the layout of table, chairs and service areas are all designed for community connection and importantly, a relaxed space to imbibe the absolute best of coffees.
It’s proved a powerful concept – just have a look around at most cafes and you will find a diverse and colourful community of people – of all generations – gathering outside their homes to savour the style and taste of coffee and friends.