Of the three places in our neighborhood where you can get coffee, Cafe Roma is my favorite. It’s a bit further than Semifreddi’s, which is a one minute stroll from our door. But at Semifreddi’s the coffee is indifferent, the tea is truly awful, and the workers are generally sullen and sometimes stupefied by even the simplest food order.
Peet’s, our other choice, is my husband’s favorite, based purely on the strength of the coffee. It is Hercules-strength coffee. I am not so crazy about Peet’s, though, because the seating is all wrong. For one thing, the only places to sit are benches outside. And the benches are shared by people with such disparate and clashing lounging goals that those who wish to sit and read cannot possibly do either. That’s because your neighbor on the bench is likely to be an impatient woman, waiting to get into Rick & Ann’s, the restaurant next door to Peet’s. People with dogs and toddlers mill about, unable to sit and read because they must keep their dogs from eating someone’s croissant and their children from dashing into the Bread Garden, next to Peet’s, and making trouble.
But the real deal killer is the regular appearance of groups of middle aged men who have just gone on group bike rides in the hills behind Peet’s. This is their post-ride gathering place, these few benches and the space around them. They loom over me, dressed in those lycra body gloves that may help them fly up and downhill but, in the pedestrian world, make them look disturbingly banana-like. I find myself eavesdropping (although one could hardly be accused of eavesdropping on conversations conducted in voices loud enough to reach Oakland) and my sitting and reading reverie is at an end.
At Cafe Roma, though, the latte I order is always a perfect balance of foam and hot milk and espresso. And the guy who serves me this perfect latte is something of an artist with his little squirt bottle of chocolate. When the boys are with me, it’s a wry little happy-ish face. When I’m alone, it’s a sweet sketch of a flower.
And when you have finished drinking your latte, in the large open space where no one chases after dogs or looks like a banana, you can look in the window of Tail of the Yak next door, or the bookstore that sells books about how to improve your life, or the world. But really there’s no need to do any improving on a Sunday morning when you’ve been handed the perfect latte, complete with flower or smile. Things are just quite good enough.
And one more thing: if you’d like to see a lovely cup of coffee, here’s one particularly luscious example.