Cafe Roma


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.

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16 thoughts on “Cafe Roma

  1. I loved your description of the hazards to pleasant latte life and reading–the bannana-like bicyclists–quite an image of unappealing blue and yellow striped suits and helmets that will probably soon be peeling off your Berkeley cafe sidewalk to a sharp climb in the Oakland hills with an image of the Chabot Science Center and its strawberry slurpie bar propelling their high potassium selves.

  2. Oh, if only there was someplace in this town where I could get a latte of any sort at all. If you were forced to live in the hinterlands where the possibility of getting a latte with or without a smile or flower meant you had to drive a minimum of 45 miles, you would probably not complain about a few banana-like cyclists or children milling about.

    Thanks for the link to the beautiful picture of the latte in the green cup. Maybe I could learn to foam milk: we do have an espresso maker.

  3. Oh HMH, You make me laugh! Indeed, were I to live in the hinterlands (a fantasy I often indulge in) I would never complain again. In fact, I do love the banana men and their happy post-Sunday morning ride excitement and all the milling about, at least in principle. But my own house is such a rowdy place, you see, that what I long for is the opposite of all that noise and bustle. Hence my fantasy about living where you do. Perhaps we should trade!

  4. Oh BL, I know just what you mean. You would think that in a city the size of Birmingham there would be dozens of placs where you could not only get a decent cup of tea, but also know that you could sit and enjoy a quiet read as well. Thinking quickly, I can come up with four and I have at least a twenty minute drive to get to any of them. And yet there is nothing more sublime. Maybe you’ve just pointed my way to a new career direction!

  5. I just adore that picture. Anyone who paints faces in my foam gets my vote every time. I did laugh at your banana men. When I first met my husband, as a skinny lightweight rower, he was the only person I had ever met on whom lycra bagged and wrinkled. Not nice!

  6. Here in my corner of Oakland, which is not too far from your corner of Oakland, I cannot pry my beloved out of Peets. (Is it a boy thing?) I quite like Cafe Roma, although my current favorite cafe is located on the mythical island of Alameda: Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden. Its best feature? Complete absence of cyclists (it’s an island, no hills!).

  7. Hello Tai — and welcome — that sounds like a great place. Alameda is so far outside any of my ordinary routes that it really does seem like a mythical place. (Except for the flea market, come to think of it! And soccer! So I could go check out Julie’s some Saturday after I drop people off for a game. It sounds lovely.)

    dear Litlove, not nice indeed. I’m glad you’ve bulked him up.

    SW — It is relaxing and although the smiley and the rose are silly, they are sweet too.

    Ruth, I’m trying to think of a couplet that has the words sleep and doze in them, but can’t becaues I haven’t had enough caffeine today.

    Dear Ann, If you build it, I’m sure all of Birmingham will come. xo

  8. On Saturday I went to a cafe on Dolores and 26th, 2 blocks away from our house, with Owen, who is 11. We sat on a couch there and read. Then Owen solved a Rubik’s cube (I taught him). They also have a bookshelf with used books for sale. I bought four books for $16. No smiley-face in my latt√©, though…

  9. That is a wickedly cool looking chocolate drawing. You seem to have excellent taste in coffee shops, judging by this picture and that funny post about the coffee shop in Bodega that could ….excrete…. a better president ;) . I just can’t get that line out of my mind!

  10. That is NOT FAIR! I’ve survived two days of my latest attempt to kick caffeine (well, in coffee, anyway. You part me from my green tea at the expense of some very crucial body parts) and you come along with this beautiful, rhapsodic post to the admitted perfection that is a properly made latte and NOW I WANT ONE!!!!

  11. I love coffee shops, but I am not a coffee drinker–as weird as that sounds. I love the way it smells, but it never seems to live up to my expectations (unless of course we are talking cappucino…now that is another story). Now that photo looks quite yummy!

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