How cool is too cool? I am a strong advocate of café culture, I love it. Before coming to Spain I spent many a summer’s weekend trawling London from North to South, East to West in search of the best spaces for coffee, study and chat.
I was convinced coming to Valencia spelt the end of that short-lived career. Instead, it has lived on, the service is just in good old español, the translation of which is work itself. I should have known this would be the case when I visited my new pueblo in June 2014. My best friend and outgoing resident Cambridge MMLer in Valencia took me to Dulce de Leche; it was all I loved about a good café and more. Splendiferous homemade cakes and quiches were stockpiled behind glass and the yellow top-of-the-range coffee machine gleamed majestically in the corner. Issues of Kinfolk lifestyle magazine hung from the walls and potted plants were on every table inside and out. I was sold. I was determined to live as close to this reverie as possible.
This meant looking for a home in Ruzafa, a former ‘immigrant area’. I did not know it in June 2014 but as seems to be the trend, Ruzafa was and in many ways still is the site or perhaps the victim of a gentrification which is sweeping its way through Europe’s once no-go zones. Dulce de Leche was only just the beginning—the wooden-fronted Sushi Room across the road should have been yet another giveaway.
Now, just months later, there is an abundance of Dulce de Leche-esque establishments and they just keep coming. These days, Ruzafa is known to locals as one of the “lugares más chulos” of the city and to tourists familiar with other global hipster hubs as the Soho of Valencia. Much like Soho for me, I’m beginning to tire of the cool. Every Sunday I go for brunch and almost every two weeks there is a new option, some independent start-up, defiantly individual and industrially bare save for the scattering of art show and bikram yoga flyers—admittedly, both things I enjoy but as these shops continue to pop up, I can’t help but feel like it’s all slightly contrived.
I like cafés, yes. I like culture, yes. I love café culture, yes. However, I also appreciate character. Where is the individualism if everything is the same and not even comfortable? It breaks my heart to type that if I’m completely honest with myself and with you, dear reader and quite possibly, fellow café-goer: The novelty of hipster chic minimalist coffee bars is definitely wearing off. Occasionally, a few get it right in Ruzafa with a welcoming mix of Home and Edge… Hedgey if you will: Bluebell Coffee Co., LaLa Land, Café Autor to add name to glory. And, for as busy as popular and busy as it gets, I will of course always keep un espacio dulce in my heart for the original Café simple. Still, more and more, try as I might to fight it, I’m left feeling cold and wanting more every time I try somewhere new, despite the warmth of the soya cappuccino between my hands. Probably because it’s just not big enough, no coffee here is big enough.
At least true connoisseurs of good coffee can rest assured that whilst their surroundings might be impersonal bordering on institutional, what’s in their mug is a more positive reflection of its brutally reduced environment since the Spaniards really do seem to stand by quality over quantity when it comes to their daily caffeine boost. As if the drastic drop reduction in general tamaño was not enough, the cortado, the smallest and strongest coffee of all—usually made from a quality blend, is the go-to choice. No watered-down chain-style ventis to nurse for hours here…unless you—like I—have mastered the art of the Bootleg Americano AKA the cortado-sneakily-added-to-an-extra-cup-of-boiling-water.
Now to sit with my concoction and ponder where-in lies my next obsession. Perhaps the realms of fine dining and tapas beyond tourism.