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OP-ED: Tea leaves and coffee beans

  • Published at 07:34 pm December 20th, 2020
Happy international coffee day

Cafes in Dhaka are increasingly carving out spaces for a quick getaway from the city’s hustle and bustle

Adib Reza Rongon, a young cartoonist, recently hit a rough patch while trying to finish his new project. He would say it was artist’s block. Soon after he finished his comic book, he shared his insights on overcoming the block.

“You know, sleepless, weary nights, grooming the idea, tearing off sketches, slightly changing up the story line, and yes, don’t forget to add the long hours spent in the opaque ambience of Nerdy Beans,” he uttered, nodding his head and blushing.

Nowadays, spending long, relaxing, and recreational hours in a cafe is common among Dhakaite teens, youths, and start-up wizes. If you take a long walk through the lanes of Dhaka, you'll find dozens of such coffee joints.

There is an old saying, once quoted by eminent litterateur Annadashankar Ray, which goes: “French civilization was cultivated in cafes, and English civilization in museums.”

Certainly, Bengali civilization has no earlier links with cafes. Instead, it’s the roadside tea stall, or “tong” in the local dialect, which has had a profound impact on our socio-political culture. Yet, a new cafe culture is on the rise among the upper-middle class citizens of Bangladesh, mostly among the residents of Dhaka.

The cafes located in urban areas offer engaging environments, sophisticated ambience, pleasing interiors, and the sweet, roasted aroma of mouth-watering confectioneries and beverages. 

The surroundings are decorated to attract both the appetite and spirit with their aesthetically pleasing interior. It's a place for the youth who have disposable and fluid incomes to have sophisticated "hangouts." College or university-going students as well as corporate employees can also be found in these cafes. 

It's not surprising that these cafes open at breakfast time, serve throughout the day, and if you tend to have a cuppa or a hot brownie at nine o’clock at night, you may find them still serving. 

Whether it’s tea leaves or coffee beans, both stand as traits of long-gone colonial remnants. Tea as a beverage has made its ground as be the constant local and family favourite of the Bangladeshi masses. Household coffee consumption is not a popular practice. 

However, you can always find one of those Nescafe containers for instant coffee in almost every middle or upper middle-class family’s kitchen. But this trending cafe culture is different from that of household coffee consumption.

In a nutshell, having a large espresso in a cafe works more as a social stimulant than an ardent caffeine need. It’s a metropolitan culture for urban inhabitants. 

A consequence of increasing globalization, cafe culture has largely attracted the attention of a population preferring continental and western culture. A number of ambitious and uprising youths who adore music, literature, art, pop culture, start-ups, and entrepreneurship have embraced it with good grace and open arms.

While visiting these cafes, you will inevitably find fresh and enthusiastic faces sitting comfortably on plush couches. During and after sipping their hot drinks and baked snacks, people talk, discuss ideas, and put their heads together to create the most shivering tune, or the most thrilling script, or a unique business idea. 

Nivedita, the vocal artist of the band Alice and Drunkard, says, “North End is my favourite recreational place. It’s anxiety relieving. I do a lot of thinking there. Sometimes I practise Spanish there by myself or think about the lyrics of our new song or a random tune. Believe me, I’ve written some lyrics sitting there.”

It’s a place where you go to finish your half-read novel, work on your presentation, write unfinished poetry, celebrate a friend’s birthday party, or go on your first date. It’s a delightful quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

The average Dhaka dweller his constantly pushed by the mechanism of the metropolitan system, and they may end up losing their stimulus for recreational work.

So, whenever you find a little break, just go to your favorite coffee house, embrace the surroundings, order a drink, sip it gently, and give yourself a moment of relaxation. 

The culture is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and the patrons of this global culture will be those who want a moment of peace while sitting on the couch of a coffee house and feeling too lazy to leave the ambience.

Mohammad Sifat is a student of International Relations at University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]

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