How do you start drinking beer in a coffee shop?
My friend Robert is a tall, lanky Italian New Yorker with a crinkly smile, twinkling eyes, high forehead and a tanned, friendly face. He likes to talk to every body. Not just his fellow teachers, Americans, students or expats but also the little boy on the beach who sells oranges, the family who sell him his fruit and the girls in the coffee shop. Robert is a man who, during his four years in Trinidad swam gently in Trini culture. He loved the beach and was once caught saying that he reckoned he spent way more time in salt water than regular folk. He would leave school, peddle his bike through the sticky heat to the beach and luxuriate in the water until the sun set or he ran out of beer. He loved this country deeply because he talked to the people and being a guy on a bike it was far easier to chat to the locals than an English teacher in a dress. He could spend hours at the local Rum Shop, or Roti shop listening to the tunes, chatting to the guys. He even started talking like a Trini, dropping all insignificant danglers and instead telling us that the beach was “lookin’ real nice today” or perhaps texting me to inform that he was “walking down de road”.
So one day after school he was doing a little grocery shopping and decided to stop for a coffee at Rituals on the way home. Rituals is the Caribbean Starbucks, albeit slightly different. For a start there is no dairy industry here so the milk is boxed. This greatly affects the taste of a latte but you get used to it, sort of, if you have no choice. Rituals is also different because the concept of a quick coffee to go has not quite sunk in. I have checked and for the record the longest wait for a cappuccino so far is 12 minutes. Patience is not just a virtue, it is a necessity. No one seems to be complaining so I have trained myself to breathe, just breathe. The girls making the coffee have plenty to talk about so often we need to wait until a particular anecdote is told. Robert was a big fan of Rituals, spending hours nursing a coffee, reading a book, fidgeting with his nails. He got chatting to the girls so that when he would go in they would know immediately what he wanted and he would pass the time with them, saying his hellos.
His groceries always fit in his familiar orange back pack but the 6 pack of Carib beer had to go by hand. When he walked in with his beer and ordered a coffee one of the girls offered to keep his beer cool saying “ I can put that in the chiller for you.” Sure, he thought handing the beer over. He walked over to his usual table and put his backpack down, pulled out his book and unfolded the corner of the page he was on. After a few minutes he looked up to check if his coffee was ready and noticed that the girls were giggling. Finally with his coffee in hand, he always took a real cup, every the conscientious environmentalist, he settled back to his reading with some intermittent people watching. Robert always remarked that Trinidad was the best place in the world for people watching and the beach, closely followed by Rituals was a fine place for the sport.
As his coffee was nearly sipped dry and he was thinking about leaving the girls came over to his table, three coffee cups in hand. “We’re taking a break!” They told him, smiling. Looking into his cup he noticed the familiar amber of Carib beer. He smiled as he took a sip. There he was with three girls sipping beers out of coffee cups! Only in Trinidad, only in Rituals.
You can imagine the process. He’s walking in, beer in hand, their eyes flicking open, their minds quickly working, a lime brewing in their midst.
That’s how you end up drinking beer in a coffee shop.