The mounting cost of ritual in modern life

‘A habit I seem to have formed (and can’t afford):

Each morning at eleven, a latte at the same place,

At the same table, my own inviolable spot

Downwind of the non-smokers.


What a racket.

I must be nuts.

But I’m making an attempt to live, you see;

I’m conducting an experiment in living.’

An excerpt from the poem Equinoctial written by New Zealand poet and author, Geoff Cochrane.

When the credit card statement arrives in the mail it takes a while before I am brave enough to slide my thumb under the envelope seal.

I have come to expect that the numbers in the little box will be higher than they used to be.

With a sigh I scan the details, hoping that someone somewhere made a mistake and it’s not really what it seems.

Ritual — small actions repeated regularly.

This ritual uncovers another ritual — coffee. It’s not just mine, people the world over partake in this one every day and have done so for hundreds of years.

As I scan the list on the tri-folded pages, I see the pattern, the rhythm; this rhythm that links me to something ancient yet is most certainly alive and strong today.

Social media is evidence enough that coffee is a vital part of life.

Scroll through Instagram or Facebook mid-morning and someone, somewhere will have posted a photo of their morning latte — here they are, once again, at their favourite cafe.

Have you ever stopped and listened to people ordering their coffee?

I work in one of our local cafes, so I have the opportunity to be part of these conversations regularly.

I wonder if there is any other food item ordered that requires so much detail, has so many variables, and has its consumers so particular.

When we order food from a menu, we don’t usually tell the chef how to cook it, but when ordering a coffee, it seems we enter new ground, dictating strength, size and temperature as well as particular ingredients.

Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, lactose free milk, skim milk, full cream milk, (catch your breath here) sweetener, honey, sugar, coconut sugar, raw sugar, half strength, double strength, yes I know it’s two shots but can I have an extra one? did I mention temperature? 64 degrees please, and my friend would like hers extra hot, but not boiling.

And we wonder why the queue takes so long to move through.

Maybe they should put more staff on, don’t they know it’s going to be busy at this time of day?

As the customer we can be a picky bunch.

Will we ever trust the barista? and, more importantly, will we give him a second chance?

Surely he has one of the most difficult jobs.

We want to chat with him while he works, and still expect perfection and service with a smile.

I was a barista once, but everything has its season.

Driving into Warrandyte, I quickly count 10 cafes before I hit half way.

I wonder how many I’d find if I took my time and wandered the full length of Yarra Street.

Maths isn’t really my thing, but all those cafes and all those coffees — that’s a lot of micro conversations about espresso shots in a cup.

Melbournians are known for taking their coffee very seriously, research has us leading the country in coffee culture, with the highest cafe visitation rate than any other capital city. (Roy Morgan Research, 2015).

According to the contents of the envelope I just opened, I’m a contributor to those stats.

I’m not quite a Cochrane, for it’s not the same table for me every day, but it is the same time.

The call is loud and the pull is strong and we find ourselves adding the coffee run to our to-do list.

Part caffeine hit, part comfort call, the barista and his skill are part of the rhythm of our days.

Some of us are our own baristas, with our in-house coffee machines taking pride of place on the kitchen bench, all silver and shiny.

It’s easier to get the same seat at the same table that way.

Rituals, they connect us to the ebb and flow of life.

They can anchor us in between busyness, causing us to pause — even for just a moment.

There is comfort in ritual, and often it is with the most ordinary of moments that we create something extraordinary that, if lost, would be sorely missed.

Next month the same mail will come, I will take my time opening it and I will scan the folded pages in hope, as I have done countless times before, but to no avail.

“Coffee. What a racket. I must be nuts.”