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Where Y’Eat: New Orleans Finds Ways to Keep Its Coffee Rituals Strong

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Ian McNulty
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Rose petal matcha at Park Island Brew Coffee House in New Orleans.

The stage was quiet at Tipitina‘s, but around one corner of the famous Uptown music hall there were the steam whistle sounds of an espresso machine and the familiar banter of a barista and regulars — evidence of everyday routines rebooted for the times.

Tipitina’s has become a new home for Hey! Cafe, after that local coffee company lost the lease to its original location nearby. Working from one of the club’s bars, it serves coffee, bagels and breakfast tacos through a walk-up takeout window. Even now, though, it’s also still serving a social role, as people talk under the sidewalk oaks or sit for a spell on neutral ground benches.

For all the uncertainty the pandemic has brought, it has also made some things vividly clear. One is that New Orleans people will go to great lengths to maintain their coffee rituals, and often that goes beyond the cup. Even as they struggle with slower business and some beloved shops close for good, the role of coffee shop as gathering spot is still in play, and in some ways even more vital now.

Business at the cafés disappeared at first, with a corresponding boom in sales of bagged beans for home. Cafes got creative to resume limited business, and regulars found ways to connect with their favorite shops and baristas.

Gradually, through intermittent reopening phases, a semblance of what these places contribute beyond the daily grind has been returning too.

More people working from home has drastically affected downtown shops that once bustled, and slow tourism hurts many others. But working from home also means eventually people desperately need to schedule time away from home – and the coffee shop fills that role again, for a full dose of caffeine and a measured dose of humanity.

Coffee is more than a routine after all. It’s a ritual, a moment of bliss, a way to connect. Of course New Orleans will find ways to keep that brewing.

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