There is something extraordinarily satisfying about the ritual of making coffee: the smell, the heat, the way in which all the little details ultimately become second nature. For some, the process can be just as important and satisfying as the end product. And it turns out that this can even be true if you put a virtual cup.
Talk coffee is a game about, well, coffee and talking. It is a kind of visual novel in which you are the owner of a coffee shop in an alternative version of Seattle. It is still 2020, and it still rains every day, but the world is also full of magical creatures. Your patrons include not only humans, but also vampires, elves, werewolves, mermaids, and other mythical creatures. The cafe is only open after midnight – fans of Netflix are great Midnight Dinner: Tokyo Stories will immediately feel at home – and so it attracts a rather eclectic couple. (Everyone also seems to smoke for some reason.)
Every day the same starts. You can scan the headlines from the local newspaper, the Evening Whisperer, to get an idea of the state of the world before you open the store. There is a regular, Freya, a journalist who spends her evenings in the cafe and struggles to write a novel. But for the most part you don’t know what to expect when the front door opens and someone enters. It may be a pop-pop star who is stressed by her over-anxious father, a developer of an orchestra game in the midst of tiring crunch, or perhaps an elf and succubus whose families will not accept their relationship. You can even be approached by a government agent who is looking for a literally alien.
The cast is quirky and fantastic, but their stories are well founded. Usually it is your job to just sit and listen. They start out as strangers, but over time you will naturally come close to them. There is something about the mysterious barista shtick that makes people open up and tell you about their problems. Slowly, characters will also enter into relationships with each other. It becomes a large group of friends. When someone is away for a while, others ask about them. Ultimately you can see who enters the store by the sound of their footsteps.
Of course customers also come to the cafe for a hot drink. When they sit down, they usually give an order, and you get the only interactive element of the game. It works as follows: each drink has three components and you only have to select them. For example, an espresso is three shots of coffee, while a masala chai needs tea, ginger and cinnamon. During the few hours that the game lasts, you will learn all kinds of drinks, from exotic cough remedies to rich hot chocolate, using a handful of ingredients. Sometimes you even have to guess how to make a drink based on a vague description. However, there is no real penalty for failure and it is difficult to ruin it anyway. My latte art is terrible, but nobody has ever complained.
In a nice touch you also have a simple smartphone with four pre-installed apps. One collects all the recipes in case you forget, while the other lets you choose from an excellent selection of chill, lo-fi music. You can also read Freya’s short stories on the paper’s website and view the profiles of people on a social network called Tomodachi. (The closer you get to your new friends, the more information the app will display.)
Talk coffee is a simple game. What makes it work is the way in which all elements – from engaging writing to the soothing soundtrack – work together to create an extremely relaxed experience. The stories are serious, but the experience is soft. There are no time limits or game over screens to deal with. I played it on the Switch, and the atmosphere was almost perfect: sit back, with headphones in, grabbing my own hot mug of coffee. It is almost as good as the real thing.
Talk coffee is now out on Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC.