Monday, July 30, 2007


I had heard about Extracto before I had been inside Extracto. The name made me think of an industrial space with metal-art on the walls and stainless steel coffee cups. It's not like that.

It's a toddler-happy place in the Alberta neighborhood and the only coffeehouse within easy walking distance of my new home. With a long low counter that shows off their Tiffany-teal espresso machine, the space reminds me more of what a montessori school cafeteria would look like. Lots of toys in the corner, happy art, large pastry and bottled soda selection, and school-house tables and chairs.

Last weekend I had walked there with the family to pick up breakfast. It being a Sunday and late in the morning, there was, of course, a line. Almost to the door but not quite. The person in front of me hung in there for about 2-3 minutes before she went ahead and walked out the door. (She must have been from out of town.)

The guy in front of her was hugging his laptop and a few magazines glancing often at the dwindling number of free tables. I envied him. That looked to me like the recipe for a perfect morning: some reading, web surfing and a chocolate croissant with coffee that he would eventually order.

Even though the line was long and the place full of people, I half resented and half admired the counter-person's personal attention to each customer. She offered suggestions, asked for clarifications, inquired if they had a stamp card and smiled often.

This would annoy almost anyone in a long line who are probably waiting for their first nourishment of the day. But in a small neighborhood place like Extracto, you have to come in with that expectation. The house is on its own clock, they've got the urgency to get you your drink fast, but not at the expense of a smile and comment on how the Garden Bread is tasting that day (moist and fruity).

So it was with great confliction that when I got to the front of the line I offerred up my complicated drink order (sure, please mix the non-fat and whole to make a 2%-ish drink) and pastry selections and also asked for a stamp card...and then paid with a debit card.

Long lines like these at serious coffee places always remind me of standing in line at Vivace in Seattle and hearing a certain flabbergasted customer exclaim, "why would anyone wait in a line for coffee?!"

I guess it is because it is not just coffee that we're getting. We wake up with not just a coffeedrink and donut in mind before starting our day. The drink is just the least we expect from our daily coffeerun. We really wake up with a hunger for a certain place, certain smells, and certain smiling faces. We wake up wanting to spend a good amount of time sitting and reading or catching up on work.

If we just wanted to get some caffiene and sugar we would've gone to a fast-food restaurant or one of those coffeeshacks holding down empty parking lots.

The coffeehouse is an entirely different place and the premium you pay for your coffee also covers the rent of your seat and table. You are allowed to sit and loiter as long as is reasonable.

My college English teacher explained that this concept went back at least as far as those expatriated American writers and artists living in Paris during the early 20th century. They may have only been able to afford a cafe au lait and bread, but it would let them occupy a "clean well-lit place" to sit and daydream, sketch and write, for as long as they wanted.

So to be awarded the chance to sit, relax, read and generally enjoy a lazy Sunday morning with good quality coffee, waiting in a line is the least we can do to pay for that coffee experience.

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