Coffee, wine, and whisky talk, to me, are akin to sitting through a church service. While everyone else is believing, internalising every word of the sermon, nodding, uhm-ing, and fervently raising their hands at each new or old internalised truth, I am busy trying to figure out how to pass a frustratingly difficult level of the first-person shooter I happen to be currently playing.
Everyone around me sits and tries to accurately capture and describe whatever oaky, smokey, chocolatey, fruity, and nutty flavours their discerning palettes are smelling and tasting. They weave eloquent sentences about hints, traces, bodies, and bouquets while I drift away, calculating the odds of me reaching an end-level boss with the right amount of ammunition and health.
To me, coffee tastes like coffee, wine tastes like a waste of time, and, whisky tastes even worse. Spades are spades. I have been told I have an ignorant palette. I just think I am not rich enough.¹
Coffee is a religion, and I remain pleasantly and tolerably atheist. Somebody, somewhere, likes it. That person is not me. But to some it is a reverent experience, a daily confession and communion which sets their daily compass straight. It awakens, cleanses, refreshes, focuses, relaxes, and allows its newest converts and longtime followers to face the day without committing a capital crime against children, spouses, and colleagues.
Coffee is one of those forces whose power, even if not directly believed in, has to be acknowledged because the ruinous consequences of its absence are self evident. While I may not be an ardent believer or drinker even I tread carefully in spaces and places where coffee is worshiped.
When I walk into the new Slowtown Coffee Shop in Windhoek I try to blend in like a polite and culture-conscious tourist in Saudi Arabia trying not to be a byline on the news. Slowtown’s coffee can ignite passions in my social circle and I do not want to be the victim of misinformed Jihadism.
Aesthetically clean, and surgically manicured of any stray crumbs or serviettes on its table tops, the shop has a surprisingly warm ambience. Shiny copper piping on the shelves, a liberal usage of wooden elements, and the pervading aroma of coffee beans prevent the shop from being ascetically cold. Sitting in the inner sanctum of the shop, at the mirrored bar counter or the high-backed sofa inspires real and faux productiveness while the outside seating is a choice place to be seen reading a book or musing the universe’s deep mysteries.
Despite being the second Slowtown shop in the city it does not have the sickening franchise atmosphere of all the other eateries and cafés that line Independence Avenue.² The lighting is Tumblr-perfect; the service is responsive and welcoming without being too familiar; the coffee has a taste. Even my heathen tongue is tempted to utter words like “good”, “smooth”, “strong”, “well-rounded”, and “complex”³ to impress Joonas, Slowtown’s keen-eyed manager and coffee concierge. I resist the urge, though. We are friends, you see, and non-coffee-drinking friends do not acknowledge that they may have been wrong about coffee to their coffee-drinking friends lest the fabric of reality be irretrievably torn.
The nibbles are generously portioned and do not get in the way of mortgage payments like most eats at coffee shops. They will not approximate a full meal but, then again, they are not supposed to. They are quick get-up-and-go affairs curated for the city slicker about to face the morning blitz of emails or a long afternoon pretending to be an alert coworker.
Despite being squeezed in between Cramer’s Ice Cream and Coffee Bar and the First National Bank’s corner ATMs on Independence Avenue it manages to feel spacious and airy. An Elke Le Roux artwork sprawls across the shop’s inner wall, distracting a waiting patron’s eye with small and sly details of the Swakopmund skyline, a fitting homage to Slowtown’s coastal roots.
The new Slowtown Coffee Shop—with its CBD location—is poised to pull in a large congregation of coffee connoisseurs, recreational drinkers, office inhabitants, and assorted army of Macbook-toting hipsters. Mostly, though, with its opening, it is in the vanguard of the city’s rising coffee culture.
And while I may not be a believer just yet, I can say I am willing to sit in Slowtown for a couple of hours in the weekday playing hard to get with the coffee gospel.
Location: Slowtown Coffee Shop, Windhoek, Namibia
Photographer: Rémy Ngamije
¹ Discerning palettes are found only in the rich who should, according to a universal truth, be eaten.
² There is a joke and a scary truth in there. Holler at me when you figure it out.
³ I firmly believe that complex should only be used when describing a particle physics lecture, the inner workings of Russian and postmodern literature, and the Predestination plot. Used anywhere outside these three realms it is being wasted and causes unnecessary linguistic inflation in descriptions.