Caffe Nero

It felt like New Year’s Day.

It wasn’t, of course. It was Valentine’s Day, as proclaimed by garish cerise balloons dancing in the breeze around Leamington. But the rejuvenating sense of new dawns that typically occupied the first day of the year mysteriously crept into this February morning. Something about the way the pale blue sky inched its way, hazily, across the tops of the regency buildings tentatively suggested that times were changing. Maybe, just maybe, the grizzly charcoal days of the year so far might soon relent. Life may be able to relax its clenched muscles, no longer needing to power through the icy rain, instead slowing down to a gentle stroll, lifting its head to the sights and sounds.

Despite her love of all things wintery and her dull dread of hot, frustratingly endless summer days, Emmy had to admit that the spring-like hint of this morning was a welcomed change.

Trudging up the Parade, arms saddled with handbag and satchel, Emmy watched her feet pad the pavement. Trainers! For the first time in months her fleece-lined boots had been replaced by spongy, lightweight soles that carried her with speed and bounce to her destination.

As she reached Caffe Nero on the Parade – one of her favourite establishments in which to write – she took a moment to admire the architecture. Smooth white walls, tall windows lined with swirly white grills and wrought iron Juliette balconies never failed to catapult her into a dream-world, where one of these grand townhouses was her home.

As luck would have it, the second floor of Nero proffered the graceful air of a living room and Emmy was happy to share her ‘second home’ with the other regulars. She enjoyed feeling part of the community of work-from-homers, book-lovers and window-gazers whom she saw day after day, enjoying the peaceful position as much as she did.

Emmy lent herself hard against the (unnaturally heavy) door and stumbled in, the comforting clinking and whooshing of the machines pumping chunky scents into the air and waking her up. The friendly warmth encircled her and she smiled, involuntarily, at nothing in particular.

The three baristas lunged and danced around each other, expertly crafting drinks to brighten up mornings and boost moods. A kind, wide smile emanated from one barista’s face when she saw Emmy.

“Regular one-shot to stay?”

Emmy, who was tangled up in a steamy fluster removing layers of clothing and dropping bags on the floor, sighed gratefully.

“Yes, please!” Remembering the fussy particulars of Leamington residents, always delivering them with a side helping of joy, was a talent that this Nero team had by the enthusiastic gallon. It wasn’t something Emmy suspected she would be capable of. Never once had she observed any of the staff here flagging under negativity or harass.

Her mind wandered back to a few weeks ago when, from her second-floor ‘living room’, Emmy had jumped at the stomach-turning clatter of what sounded like every piece of porcelain in the shop being thrown against steel. She had begun to dash, naturally compelled to help, but on turning the corner to the staircase had veered out of the way of a barista who was galloping up them three at a time. He had a reassuring grin on his face as he bounded to the store cupboard to collect mops and dustpans, cheerfully calling over his shoulder that everything was under control.

No, Emmy decided, she certainly couldn’t maintain such affable energy when faced with unpredicted challenges at a time when the café was as demandingly bustling as it had been on that day.

She was coaxed back to the present by the sight of steam whisping from an inviting cup, its glossy contents the intense colour of wet tree bark. The barista then popped a small, candy-striped parcel next to the saucer.

“A little treat”, she said with a wink.

Emmy was touched and suspected the team had packaged up sweet little Valentine’s gifts for all their regulars.

Carrying her tray up the winding stairs into the quieter space, Emmy set up her office on a table. The room was cleverly divided so that on the side boasting most windows, the tables were low and the seating cosy, whereas across the room high-backed chairs and elevated tables provided space more conducive to typing. Emmy liked to save the relaxed zone for the times when she brought a book rather than a laptop, times dedicated to lounging and watching local life blur by on the streets below.

She unwrapped the cute pink parcel and discovered that raisin-infused, chocolate-topped, daintily-decorated biscuit cake was a delightful accompaniment to the signature rusty richness of Italian coffee. Once again, this Caffe had delivered so much more than refreshment, with its casual comfort, stylish surroundings and – above all – genuinely lovely staff.