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July 8, 2019 | by  | in Features |
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Wanna do Coffee?

 

I pay double rent. First, the $200 auto-payment for an uninsulated room. The second, incremental payments to sit at a table with a cup of pick-me-up. Coffee is a luxury. You’ve seen the friendly reminder: Have you thought about your finances? $4 a day on coffee, five times a week makes $20 a week; approximately $1040 a year. I’m dogged with the guilt of poor financial decision-making. If I had 10c for every time I said “I can’t afford it,” and then said yes to a long black and a scone…

 

Food is a social currency because it is a way of exploring our identities. If you had been a wealthy Roman, you would’ve served platters of exotic fruits to show how rich you were. Now, you can post a photo of maple bacon so your online community knows that you know how to treat yourself. Social media complicates our experiences; our identities exist in two places at once—one curated, one breathing. The time it takes to find the right angle is time in which your meal deteriorates. I am aware of the disdain cascading from older generations—young people photographing their food before eating it, performing enjoyment rather than enjoying it. They’re not wrong. I hate watching food go cold. I get frustrated when I pick up my phone before my cutlery. I’m working on it. 

 

Do not underestimate the impact of social media on the dining landscape. Sketch, in London (designed by India Mahdavi), is reputedly the most instagrammed restaurant in the world. The interior is entirely pink, the seats upholstered in velvet; a Wes Anderson wet dream. Restaurant and café design has greater value now, because people will post about it on social media—and voilà, status attaches to your brand. Advertising is free: Clean white plates, filtered light, lashes of reduced balsamic, and edible flowers are tools to set the average diner up as a professional photographer. On the flipside, people will share dingy, dry-looking dishes to make a point of how bad they are. In that case, bad press is bad press. I am not cynical enough to believe that successful cafés and restaurants develop their brand based on how it will appear through a camera lens. However, it is something that a successful business now has to be aware of, that their service has multiple consumptions: the tangible sensory dance, as well as the digital degustation by X number of followers.

 

Food can also mean self-discovery on a plate. I went free reign into food as a 20-something, having graduated from boarding school to a hall of residence. I had exceeded my limit of institutionalised meals; other people dictating your diet gets exhausting. It’s not bad at first, and I’m not ungrateful, but eventually the lasagne becomes indistinguishable from the curry. It’s empowering to get to know your own palette, push your parents away by ordering and cooking things they never did. Are you adventurous, or do you like what you like? Are you mild, medium, or hot? Will you conquer your childhood fear of cooked carrot? Are you profound enough to drink long blacks? 

 

But let’s be honest, I’m not going out for dinner as much as the statistics about millennial dining habits suggest. Food is a social currency but it is harder to access than coffee—we can’t be lazing around with exotic Roman fruits and maple bacon every day. I say yes to a coffee-and-scone combo because it is more enticing than yesterday’s soup and cheaper than house-made crumpets with ricotta and berry compote. Sometimes it’s all that gets me out of bed. Saving money is astute, but trapping yourself in your room is isolating and you deserve a break. Unfortunately, there is a lack of public spaces to socialise in that don’t cost money. Even when the city library was open, it didn’t feel like a leisure space. And so, hanging out in cafés is now part and parcel of the university experience.

 

Besides, trying to get a group of friends to agree on a restaurant is as bad as getting four people to agree on a movie—we have strong feelings about what we want to put in our mouths. I also said no to dinner outings before because I couldn’t afford an $18 pad thai, and it’s embarrassing to be the friend who only orders a starter. Like you’re being cheap, or not fully participating. Coffee, meanwhile, is a leveller; more accommodating of varying bank balances. There are options to match your personality: hemp milk for the vegan, decaf for the anxious, cold brew for the cool kid, and so it goes. When the silence of the blue zone makes your mind noisy, when your lounge is strewn with beer cans, when it’s raining outside, you can turn to cafés and coffee (or hot chocolate, if coffee still tastes like dishwater to you).

 

After all, Wellington is reputedly blessed with more cafés per capita than NYC. The earliest establishments in the capital were colonial tea rooms in the 1920s, usually adjourning hotels and boarding houses. They provided cheap refreshments for sailors and people shuffling through department stores. Then, American soldiers posted here in the 50’s made milk bars the best place to be seen. They were fantastic because if you were a woman, you could wait for your husband to finish up at the pub. You could take someone there for a Hollywood dream-date-milkshake. The milk bar also became synonymous with youth culture—you could smoke cigarettes and talk about sex and stuff (what’s new?). Post-war immigrants also established coffee houses in the 50’s. Before this, coffee meant chicory syrup—derived from the root of a blue flowering plant. Tea rooms and milk bars closed at three o’clock, the pubs at six. But coffee houses stayed open, filling a social gap. The hospitality industry suffered a decline in the 60’s, attributed to the invention of the television. Say what you want about Netflix, they’ve Netfixed the problem of living your life around the TV Guide.  

 

Whether you’re taking care of your breathing or curated self, “wanna do cofffee” is code for let’s fuck off and not think about word cunts—whoops, counts—and renders. Supplementing our lives with a little daily luxury in a city backed by a proud and diverse history of hospitality is not silly. We can find strength in shared pick-me-ups to cope with the feeling of not keeping up. We’re young adults, with responsibilities that can usually be put off for a while if we happen to wake up on the wrong side of productivity.

 

So… Wanna do coffee? 

 

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