“You can taste it, right? It’s funny because people can’t taste the banana unless they get the drink sweetened. If it’s unsweetened, you miss it completely.” I take a sip of the custom brewed iced tea and nod. There it is, right at the end.
She flashes a warm smile and runs her hand through her hair. Leaning over the beautiful wood bar, she talks easily about her quest to find the perfect brew time, best flavor profiles, and flawless Pandora mix. Today she has chosen a classic R&B curation. Luke gives his nod of approval when New Edition begins to seep through the speakers.
Maybe it’s the candid conversation or the bright decor, but we feel at home at Brew D Licious (Purveyors of No Name Java Coffee). I settle onto the couch and admire the cheeky phrases on the walls and the throw pillows. Luke lowers into the armchair to my right, and we sip tea and watch the Saint Petersburg locals through the glass garage door that faces the sidewalk. The garage door has replaced the shop’s front wall and lifts up during winter months when Florida’s weather is at its best.
We hum along to “Cool It Now” and debate on whether to stay for the Pride festivities scheduled later that night. As if on cue, a woman stops in front of the shop. Her movements are quick - almost surreptitious - but confident as she drapes a rainbow-colored feather boa over the coffee shop’s sign. I look back at our host; she seems unconcerned. Even when the woman bursts into the shop with a flourish and slides a set of keys across the counter, our barista is unfettered.
“Somebody dropped these. I know they are going to be looking for them later!” her voice is deeper and more robust than one would expect from such a petite frame. She’s moving from one spot to another, walking in and out of the shop to make adjustments or greet customers. I watch for a minute. I’m certain that if I catch her in the right light, I will literally see the enthusiasm radiating off of her in waves, like the quiver around a campfire or the air above asphalt when it’s baking in the summer heat.
“It’s good, right?”
She’s talking to me.
Her bright eyes vacillate between my face and the drink that’s sweating in my left hand. I nod, slightly intimidated. It’s like watching a psychedelic fairytale just at the part when the heroine grows too large for the room. She is Alice with her head pressed against the ceiling, but without any naiveté or trepidation. She is confident and regal - short silver hair, deep olive skin, sharp features.
“The tea is very good,” I manage to say. “Do you own this place? It’s beautiful.”
“Everything has meaning!” She spreads her arms wide and motions to the walls around us. I follow her gaze around the eclectic space.
“A woman who works with me painted the mural and a lot of these art pieces. I find treasures at antique markets, and my customers contribute some things too. That big B over there,” she extends her arm and her bangles wink in the light, “that’s from a customer. It was white, but my husband painted it red. It stands for bitch…or Brigitte!”
That’s her name. I'm already smitten.
I’m itching to take my notepad out of my purse, but I don’t want her to shut down. Instead, I choose a tentative approach, like taking a step toward an exotic animal in its natural habitat.
I give her my pitch, “So, I have a website that celebrates artists, makers, and creatives and -“
“Listen, Baby,” she says, “I’m OK with you writing about us, but I need you to make one thing clear. This is not a cafe, it’s a coffee house. We don’t serve food, but we do serve seventeen varieties of coffee and support twelve local businesses.”
I commence the frantic scribbling, she leans in and her voice lowers. She likes me, but she doesn’t trust me yet.
“You’re not going to write anything bad about me, are you?”
It’s just a fragment of a moment where she shows her vulnerability, but it makes her utterly charming. I assure her of my good intentions.
“I feel like everything in my life prepared me for this. I was selling shoes,” she leans against the bar and shakes her head ruefully. “What the fuck was I doing selling shoes? I knew the original owners. I was working at farmers markets for them to feed my habit because I was such a coffee junkie! Hey Baby, how are you?”
She’s not talking to me this time.
A young woman comes in, gives her a kiss on the cheek and slides past us. I give the woman a slight nod, but she’s already moved on. She doesn’t want me to pull her into whatever I have going on here. Actually, I’m not sure that I know what I have going on here, but I want to tell the woman that it’s not as painful as it seems - being picked through. Brigitte certainly seems to be enjoying herself, but she connects readily with everyone, even her employees are like family.
“I work with people. People don’t work for me. I just took this one on vacation with me for seven days because she busts her ass.” She makes a quick gesture to our brew specialist/R&B fan from earlier, who is talking to a couple and their young son.
I wonder if she’s telling them about the banana…
Brigitt’s focus on people also shows in the shop’s strict No-Wifi policy. They don’t offer wifi service. They even have a sign and a painting celebrating this fact.
“Coffee is warm, inviting, and inclusive. Those places with everyone sitting around tapping away on their laptops are cold, like steel. We want people to talk to each other. I refuse to allow us to turn into robots.”
Her passion and energy are off the charts. I consider forming my own coffee habit.
It’s obvious to us that Brigitte has achieved her goal. The whimsy and warmth at Brew D Licious (Purveyors of No Name Java Coffee) makes it impossible to resist learning more. This place is color and light and art, big personalities that pull you in and small trinkets that make you linger longer than you thought you would.
And we do linger. We contemplate moving in. We could press ourselves neatly into a corner and no one would notice - surely the tea and organic honey is enough to sustain us through the summer…
But alas, we reluctantly gather our bags. On our way out, we stop by the dog bowl holder - fashioned from a children’s church pew.
“You don’t even want to know what I had to do to get that!” Brigitte exclaims.
Yes, I do. I’m dying to know, but unfortunately this sassy tea party is over. That will have to be a story for another day.