Feature: In Wuhan, heroes deserve a decent cup of coffee



On a quiet, deserted street in Wuhan, a cafe is filled with the mixed smells of coffee beans, disinfectant and medical alcohol.

While most businesses remain shuttered in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the cafe named Wakanda is running at full tilt. Seven baristas there race against the clock to concoct about 500 cups of coffee every day and send them to three hospitals free of charge.

"Doctors and nurses are the true heroes who risk their lives to fight the virus. We're just trying to help them in our way -- with some good coffee," said Tian Yazhen, owner of the cafe.

The cafe was closed on Jan. 21 ahead of the Spring Festival Holiday. But when the city later declared an unprecedented lockdown to contain the spread of the virus to other parts of China and beyond, Tian began to worry about their faithful clients -- doctors and nurses at a nearby hospital.

Wuhan has reported 35,991 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, over half of the country's total. More than 90,000 medics, including about 20,000 mobilized from across the country, are diligently working in the city to battle with the contagious respiratory disease.

Apart from the tight supply of protective gear like masks, many medical workers had to be isolated from their families, taking turns to rest in offices, hotel rooms or rented condos.

Tian issued a call to the shop's 21 employees to resume their coffee supply. To her surprise, all six baristas who had stayed in Wuhan agreed to her proposal, including one Iranian national Sina Karami, who later turned down an offer to return to his home country on a chartered flight.

Sina Karami from Iran makes coffee in the Cafe Wakanda in Wuhan, Hubei Province on Feb. 14, 2020. (Xinhua/Yue Wenwan)

Another barista Xiao Hao, a Wuhan local who was then on a holiday in Sichuan Province, returned despite his family's opposition. Due to the cancellation of flights and trains to Wuhan, he managed to board a train to a nearby city and asked his family to drive him home.

On Jan. 26, the third day after the seal-off, business quietly resumed at the cafe.

A typical day at the cafe starts with thorough disinfection. With protective masks and gloves, the baristas sprayed each other with medical alcohol and then disinfected equipment with food-grade sanitizer.

Extra efforts are also made in brewing. To prevent cooling during transportation, they perform milk foaming at 80 degrees centigrade, higher than the ideal temperature of 60. They also stick to Ristretto extraction, which gives coffee a better fragrance and taste but consumes more coffee beans.

After the cafe's story caught online attention, donations of coffee beans, milk and masks flowed in from their suppliers and public-spirited netizens. Many donated money through take-out apps, which Tian said would be used for setting a "Latte fund" for medics after the epidemic.

"In this special time, it's our mission to give the frontline medics some hot, professionally-made coffee," Tian said.

Photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020 shows Xiao Hao and Sina Karami making coffee free of charge for medics in central China's Wuhan, Hubei Province. (Xinhua/Yue Wenwan)

On every paper cup, they write words like "Wuhan be strong!" and "Thank you!"

As the novel coronavirus is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets, people are required to wear masks and keep certain distance with others. To avoid unnecessary risks, the coffee delivery is usually brief, with no conversation.

"The hospital's volunteers stood in the distance and came to fetch the coffee only when we unloaded the coffee from the car and retreated two meters away. We never said a word," Tian recalled. But one day after delivery, two doctors and three volunteers made a deep bow toward them.

In a rare exchange of greeting and gratitude under all the protective gear, the baristas bowed back.