It’s only a cup of coffee, but over the years this restorative brew has almost evolved into a religious order. Café culture has always been ‘de rigueur’ across Spain, and nobody does it any better than they do here in Mallorca. Everyone seems to find some time during their busy day to stop off at a local bar or café. Even through all the Covid regulations, meeting up for a coffee with friends has been one of the driving forces which has truly kept people going.
Historically, cafés in Mallorca have always been an important social gathering point. But somehow, even though there are trending coffee bars throughout the UK, café culture as we know it in Spain, doesn’t translate quite as well back in good old Blighty. Some people say it’s the weather, but I think it’s a bit more than that!
Here in Mallorca, even a few crooked tables placed outside on a dusty roadside somehow manages to create an instant atmosphere. It’s a continental thing that needs a Latin spirit behind the concept to make it work. The coffee also has a lot to do with it. Here (unless you are really unlucky) the coffee is always good and usually served by a ‘character’ or a very efficient waiter/waitress/waiting person!
Spanish and continental waiters are probably regarded as the best in the business, taking their job very seriously with dexterous aplomb as they pass tables, collecting crockery and balancing sky high trays of cups and glasses like performers from Cirque de Soleil. And I think that’s the real difference. Café culture demands atmosphere and some kind of colourful performance.
Whether it’s the juggling prowess of the waiter, the coquettish delivery of the waitress, or the lively conversation that ignites around you with each new face that appears – it’s always entertaining. Even grumpy old bar owners have an entertainment value, and it’s a worthy challenge to dig deeply into your resolve by trying to raise an enigmatic or toothless smile during service.
By contrast, I remember once experiencing a distinctly lacking episode of ‘café culture’ on a wet terrace back in the UK. The café in question was a new venture showcasing a very watered down version of continental chic. The establishment specialised in stuffed croissant – very ‘Parisienne’, yet perhaps a tad over-ambitious for Minehead!
The café was staffed by two, bored, teenage girls wearing more make up than clothes, with no waitressing skills between them whatsoever. One girl was obviously living on another planet. The other was just about capable of conversation. We were the only two customers, and sat outside on a faux Mediterannean terrace for twenty minutes with no service, before we finally ventured inside to see if ‘Le Joli Croissant’ was actually open.
“Sorrrrrrry! Didn’t realise we ‘ad any customers.” I suppose it would have helped if Squidley and Didley had glanced outside through the plastic palms from time to time to check! The two girls were heavily into chatting (to each other). One was concentrating on polishing her new ring with a piece of burnt toast. It was the one and only time I have ever seen anyone both engaged and vacant at the same time!
The speciality pastries were pre-stuffed, pre-packed and pre-frozen, merely requiring the art of being able to shove one into a special pre-heated oven with a pre-set-timer. Low and behold, between the two of them, ‘the girls’ managed to burn our order to smithereens.
“Sorrrrrry, We’re in training!” I thought she said she was in trainers, and couldn’t understand why she was blaming the poor service on her footwear!
“Would you like to place another order?” Seeing that we hadn’t received the first one yet, and had already been waiting for over an hour, we decided to call it a day and leave. I can honestly say I have never received service of that calibre here in Mallorca, although I am sure there are a few stories out there!
The Mallorcans like good coffee. They also like good service, and even on occasion, if it happens to be a little on the slow side, the coffee when it appears, will usually be delivered with flair.
With the lifting of restrictions, the café bars in my local village of Mancor de la Vall are coming alive again, and most mornings are packed to the appropriate gills, as the locals gather before their day truly begins. It’s a noisy hub, but that’s what café culture is all about - meeting and greeting with a bit of raucous revelry thrown in.
The ladies of the village perch at tables like hens around a corn-feeder, clutching their wicker baskets as they chatter and gossip with friends.
The men roost apart, and remain at their perches long after the girls have left for home to get that lunchtime ‘sofrito’ simmering on the stove.
The village elders sit for hours, putting the world to rights, watching the day go by. No-one ever asks them to vacate the tables or buy a second cup. Can you imagine that happening in Costa Coffee in the UK? Ten minutes into your ‘double chocha mocha skinny latte with caramel croutons’ the waiter usually arrives, and starts clearing the table whether you’ve finished or not!
Here in Mallorca, you can sit at a table for as long as you fancy, and no one will ever ask you to move on. Traditionally, the older generation sit for the entire morning outside the café bars, cradling a ‘carajillo’ which involves a splash of brandy, whisky or strong anis liqueur whilst hogging the best spots in the shade.
The owners leave them in complete peace, even if there are other customers seeking a roost. The mantra in Mallorca is that the ‘oldies’ have earned their place in the village and deserve their morning coffee at their favourite tables. The bottle of chosen liqueur for a ‘carajillo’ is always left on the table for the age old ‘help yourself tradition’, yet usually returns to the shelf with more than just a ‘splash’ missing!
One coffee culture consortium that reins supreme in Mallorca is Cappuccino Grand Café, whose up-market empire seems to know no bounds. Renowned for their resplendent atmosphere and slick locations, each and every one of their exquisitely styled restaurant/lounge cafés is a testament to stylish modern Mediterranean Café Culture at its best.
A cup of coffee at ‘Cappuccino’ is not the cheapest on the island. But then it’s certainly not the most expensive in the world either. That trending title goes to Kopi Luwak, or Civet Coffee, which is produced from coffee cherries which have been selected, eaten and part digested by the palm civet - a native wild cat from Indonesia.
As remarkable as it sounds, something quite magical happens within the civet’s digestion tract, and the emerging coffee beans are priceless, with a single brewed cup selling between 35€ - 100€. Ouch!
Kopi Luwak may be the trendiest espresso ever, but I think most Mallorcans I know would simply prefer their coffee to be passed through a simple percolator! Happy Horlicks!