Sometimes, our favorite fantasy characters need a break—an escape from the woes of brutal, unforgiving worlds and a safe space to ruminate on life, or simply exist in peaceful solitude. Or perhaps characters just need a warm and welcoming atmosphere to encourage a few hours of friendship and laughter, insulated against the stress and harsh realities of life by four walls and the rich aroma of roasting coffee beans and steaming pots of tea.
Thankfully, fantasy writers and creators give us these spaces in droves. The genre brims with comforting, often whimsical cafes, and many of them make me long for a real-world equivalent. I’d love to nestle into a corner booth at all five of these fantasy cafes with a good book, basking in the ambiance and sipping on whatever delightful brews the owners have on offer…
Charon’s Crossing (T.J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door)
It may be a waystation for spirits passing into the beyond, but I’d prefer to visit Charon’s Crossing while I’m alive and well, thank you very much. If my dishes move around a little, jostled by a friendly ghost who has yet to move on? So be it. I’d feel safe and warm in the embrace of proprietor Hugo and his coffee shop companions.
Klune’s fictional cafe may be a bridge between worlds, but it serves a second purpose: comforting those impacted by loss. Family members of loved ones who passed away are drawn to the cafe and to Hugo, specifically, seeking solace and peace in the face of tragedy. It takes time, but Hugo and reaper Mei always find a way to help. Meanwhile, ghostly companions Nelson, Wallace, and Apollo learn valuable lessons as they observe the goings-on at the tea shop.
It’s not all heavenly at Charon’s Crossing, but Hugo does his best. The result is a much-needed refuge: a kindhearted, accepting have where the living take solace in an aromatic brew while the dead learn to cope with moving on. I long for a visit, even for just an hour, to revel in the warmth that radiates through Charon’s Crossing.
Dex’s Tea Cart (Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built)
Dex had a day job, and they were pretty proficient at it. But it didn’t quell Dex’s need for interaction and exploration, so they quit. Dex’s corporate colleagues wished them well, and the monk set out to purchase a tea cart and roam the land offering tea and advice to strangers.
What I’d give to be one of the strangers welcomed into Dex’s cart… The monk earns a modicum of microfame, their arrival eagerly anticipated and welcomes by the communities they visit. Dex becomes a therapist and tea matchmaker of sorts, lending a patient ear and proffering wisdom as best they can.
Sure, the promise of a tea selected just for me is alluring, but I’d cherish a visit to Dex’s cart for the conversation, the explorations of humanity’s troubles and my own struggles. Dex tailors their tea-cart experience to each visitor, showing appreciation for the individuality of their patrons. What advice might they give me? What problems would I discuss and how would Dex recommend I overcome them?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m sure answers would start to arise after a few sips of Dex’s tea and a few moments of conversational contemplation…
Legends & Lattes (Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes)
Travis Baldree’s debut release came out mere days ago, and already it holds a special place in my heart. Legends & Lattes follows orc barbarian Viv as she quits adventuring in favor of opening a coffee shop in Thune, a city populated by all sorts of magical species. Leaving the barbarian lifestyle behind, Viv must surmount the challenges of opening a new business: advertising, hiring a staff, building a menu, renovating a storefront, and convincing Thune’s denizens that coffee is a tasty treat.
The final product? A charming cafe, the titular Legends & Lattes, complete with regular performances from a local bard, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, and tasty coffee drinks. Viv and her comrades create a space that’s wholly unfamiliar to the typical Thunish resident, but the customers quickly come around thanks to the love and care the barbarian puts into the shop.
Imagine the tales told within the walls of Legends & Lattes as people from Thune and beyond stop in for a rest and a refreshing caffeine boost. I’d happily grab a seat at one of the tables constructed by Cal, the hob carpenter, and enjoy pleasant conversation with whoever happened to wander in.
The Jasmine Dragon Tea Shop (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
This entry should come as no surprise if you’ve read any of my previous lists. Of course I’d find my way to the Upper Ring’s premier tea shop, were I to visit the Earth Kingdom Capital.
Let’s be real: this place would be my first stop during any trip to Ba Sing Se, just edging out the tree on the hill where Uncle Iroh quietly mourned his fallen son.
I’d stroll right up to The Jasmine Dragon and find a table with a view out of the structure’s wide-open doors, observing the bustle of Ba Sing Se. All the while, I’d happily allow Iroh to replenish my cup with more of whatever delicious concoction he has on the menu.
Who else could I trust to brew my tea with the delicious leaves and flowers of the white dragon bush instead of the poisonous white jade leaf?
The Eolian (Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind)
Let’s cap things off with an epic finale, shall we?
Yes, yes: the Eolian is technically more of a tavern than a cafe, but I think it serves the same purpose. It may be more of a nighttime watering hole for students and staff of The University or the locals from surrounding towns, but in my mind it has that distinct coffee-shop flair, filling the same key role as a communal gathering spot.
I imagine myself as a mildly successful student of The University, scraping by on my rudimentary knowledge of Sympathy. After a day of classes and a brief sojourn to the library to cram a bit more knowledge into my brain, I’d make the walk to Imre, settle into a table with some friends, and enjoy a few games and drinks.
After a while, the place would quiet, and pipe-bearing bards would regale the crowd with song and pageantry, capping the evening off with entertainment.
The Eolian isn’t just some ho-hum open mic at your average local coffee shop. It’s a place for musicians to test their mettle, to live or die by the response of the audience. And I, for one, would be tickled to be in that audience for just one evening, listening to the musical mastery of the various performers. Should a certain redheaded bard arrive to pluck a tune on his lute and sing a haunting melody to an enraptured audience, well—that’s just a bonus to an already great night.