In Antique Olive lettering, the name on the shop’s awning read simply “Coffee.” I thought it sparse as far as coffee shop names go, but I had to admit that the name possessed a refreshing simplicity to it. Entering the shop, I smelled the aroma and smiled, noticing a square of blackboard with the words “please sit and the waiter will be wth (sic) you shortly” written neatly across the center. There was a worn forest green register sitting atop a glass table to my left, and beyond that, a crimson curtain which ostensibly led to a waitstaff area.
The shop was about a fifth full, and all of the patrons sat at tables by themselves — except for a silver-haired lady and her young son. I took a seat at the table next to them, and waited. And waited. In the meantime, I got well acquainted with the many dings and scratches in the shiny silver table face. I also counted the number of sugar packets and jams inside the small basket at the center of the table. It felt like an abnormally long time to wait to order coffee, but when I looked down at my watch, I noticed that only 4 minutes had passed.
A man with a turban finally emerged from behind the curtains.
“Hello sir! My name is Tariq. I am so very sorry to have kept you waiting. Our coffee machine has been malfunctioning.”
As he said this, beads of sweat trickled down the left side of his face.
“It’s no problem. Are you still able to serve coffee?”
“Yes sir, will that be all?”
“That’s it. Thank you.”
“As you wish.”
He turned around and hurried back through the curtain.
He came back rather quickly, carrying a dark brown mug with steam escaping from the top and a miniature pitcher of half and half.
“Here you go, sir. Will you be needing anything else?”
I glanced over at the mountain of sugar packets.
“No, I think I’m okay.”
With that, he bowed, and side stepped away.
I picked up the mug handle and very gingerly took a sip. When nothing met my lips, I tilted it back some more. Still nothing.
Then I looked into the mug and saw the problem: there was not a drop of coffee in this coffee mug.
I looked up and as I did so, Tariq came shooting out of the kitchen with two plates in his hands.
“Excuse me,” I said, after he’d delivered them.
“This is terribly embarrassing, but it seems there isn’t any coffee in my coffee cup.”
“And is that not satisfactory?”
I furrowed my brow.
The man looked at me with kindness in his eyes.
“You haven’t been here before have you?”
“No, this is my first time.”
“Well we certainly want to make a good impression.”
“Oh, I think you have. It’s a very nice little place.”
The man beamed at this remark.
“Ah well thank you sir. It has been in my family for 65 years. My uncle almost lost it in a poker game, or so my father liked to tell me.”
“Wow, those are high stakes.”
“Sure were, sir. So will that be all, sir? Are you okay? Nothing’s bothering you with my service?”
“Well no, you’re great…”
“Oh lovely. Now I really must be getting back to the kitchenette. Much to do, you know.”
And before I could say anything more, he twirled around and disappeared.
When he finally came out again, he was backpedaling and holding a single scone on a blue and white plate, but then stopped and called to someone through the curtains.
“Jacques, you dog! You haven’t heard the last of me!”
I met his eyes, and made as if to speak.
“Ah, sir and how is everything?”
“it’s fine and well…”
“Oh fantastic I will bring you a second cup.”
He was gone. At least, I thought I’d finally get some coffee now for God sakes.
But when he returned that mug was empty also.
“Sir this cup is empty,” I said to him.
“it’s not that its empty its just that it hasnt been filled yet,” explained Tariq.
“Well, yes but either way, I’d like a cup of coffee.”
“hmm, well you see, our coffee is more metaphorical than real.”
My face contorts into a giant squint at this.
“What do you mean by ‘metaphorical?'”
“We provide everything that accompanies the coffee experience just not the actual coffee,” sad Tariq.
“so the aroma, the condiments, the table service, the heated mug, even the expecting that comes with the experience. It’s a fact that metaphorical coffee is far healthier than the real thing.”
When I said nothing, he looked at me with pity, as you would a cat with three legs.
“You really haven’t heard of this approach? It’s sort of a thing now in the city,” he exclaimed.
“Nope, so let me get this straight you have no coffee back there?” I asked.
“But I thought you said there was a malfunctioning coffee machine in the back.”
“There is but as I said, it’s malfunctioning. Has been for a few years now.”