As I enter the bustling neighborhood café on a corner of Passieg de Gracia in Barcelona, the five Spanish wait staff look up from their tasks and give a warm welcoming smile, with a wave, and an exuberant “Hola, Que Tal?!”. Its 11 am and the café is busy with Spaniards of all ages taking their first coffee break between breakfast and lunch called ‘almuerzo’. The volume and energy is high with most customers engaging in excited conversation.
I order a café con leche, muy caliente (very hot latte) and am observing the scene when it strikes me not one person has a to-go cup of coffee. Everyone is involved in conversation and actually ‘breaking’ from the day’s work.
In fact, when I asked for my coffee to-go, as I was still in my American mode of whipping my coffee up and running out the door, they look at me in utter confusion. It’s unthinkable in the Spanish culture to suck down coffee while rushing around doing twenty other things.
The coffee break is honored by taking time to actually sit down and enjoy the luscious beverage while catching up on local news from the neighbors, sharing a good laugh or just being present and involved with the lively atmosphere. In the twelve days I explored Barcelona, I never saw one person eating on the go. I did see a few people with to-go Starbucks cups but it definitely looked strange.
What impact would that make in our lives as Americans if we took the time to relish in the coffee break experience? At best, we would get to know our neighbors more and lower stress levels and at the very least we would consume less paper cups if we do as the Spanish do.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of paper cups due to our on-the-go lifestyle. Of 220 billion cups per year used worldwide, 130 billion are consumed in North America. Many corporate coffee shops have implemented a discount program of ten cents off if you bring in your own cup, which does help cut down on our paper cup craze.
But a true environmental and social impact in America can be made by adopting the simple Spanish lifestyle habit of actually taking a break. Next time you go to your local coffee shop, try it Spanish style, ask for a real cup (or bring your own) and have a seat, meet someone new, and savor the moment guilt-free. Both Mother Earth and your blood pressure will thank you.