Comparing café dynamics in Brazil and Morocco

2024-01-12 @Travel

Though scarcely to the same extent as before, I still seek a café table from time to time. A cup of Joe, or some similar nonsense I think they called it in the States? Or had that slowly phased out after the 90s?

Happily, in Brazil they come a bit cheaper, especially in avoiding the posh, boutique, commercial holes in walls. 100ml, no funny stuff in it, does the trick; the cup ideally close to that size; all, presupposing the local or similar tradition: small, strong, concentrated, and nearly always satisfactory.

Oddly enough, this hasn’t been a problem but in Mexico: come not the coffee from an espresso machine and it breaks my heart.

The ritual has much served me for creative writing or even pure meditation. By I no longer subscribe to the Twin-Peaks fascination vaunted by the protagonist agent. Too compulsory.

But at least in Brazil we’ve the bakeries and the luncheons where coffee runs but a small fraction of the fare. Though a bit more rustic and familiar, I could care less, provided a table and an hour’s time unconstrained. If too close to the street, the configuration invites an occasional accosting figure, though not frequent enough to be a detriment.

In any case, I’d long found alternatives in Yerba Mate, most of my writing sessions remaining at home anyway. Out and about and, privileged as I am to be in the tropics, coconuts have (strangely) also served the role. Their ubiquity in combination with a table (this element less universal) making for an adequate creative station.

I’m getting to the comparative analysis portion, bear with me …

So thus stands the Brazilian tradition: the coffee dynamic simple and a-priori: cafés, bakeries, kiosks, bus stations, terminals, you name it. It’s everywhere, and more often than not, to be found on the cheap. Whereas in Morocco (and possibly the entire north African contingency for all I can imagine), I discovered something different.

The Bourgeois expensive chains, naturally, are also to be found. But the highlight makes for the ultra ubiquitous cafés which in my last visit seemed to outnumber restaurants on no rare occasion.

Peculiarlier yet, the cafés cater virtually 100% to locals; specifically, to local men, exceptions observed perhaps in the most tourist portion of Marrakesh. Otherwise, the said dynamic appeared to hold in all the towns I visited, which were no few.

The first particular for the unaccustomed is the geometrical unity: tables arranged in row patterns, chairs and nearly all patrons facing the street. Will never spot a back; a lateral position at best at an over-occupied table. But all the solitary figures as well as the duos respect the linear, street-facing formation. And these tend to make the majority.

These places are not bakeries, but mere cafés, making an exception at perhaps the breakfast time frame. Otherwise, tea and coffee (usually served with water) comprise the menu.

One of the above beverages long emptied (the coffee being a small, concentrated portion), the patron, that is, the street spectator remains meditative (or within smartphone) and silent, often for a considerable while, at that table, spectating the street calm, or the street abandon, whatever make the street’s humour.

An introvert’s dream, the cafés also felt an encumbrance from the exclusivity imposed. Thus I frequented them on far rarer occasions. And, prices usually not posted, expected to be 20% overcharged.

But I identify a charming, tribal aspect in seeing those throngs seated under the austere, yet somehow elegant cafe roofs late afternoon/early evening. An occasional Neo-Classical decorum might evince. Once there, it becomes your hospice, your asylum from the humours of the alley.

Love the aesthetic, but not the exclusivity, nor that ever present nuisance of swindling. And yet, how fascinating for one unschooled in the said ways?

Around Brazil, I can’t think of an ‘introvert haven’ (nor extrovert) but over 600ml pitchers. Alas. But this makes for an altogether different dynamic.

Questions, comments? Connect.