In 2018, Dorothy Sinha acted in a play, made more than a dozen friends, decluttered her home and stayed in a swank hotel suite — and it all started with a cup of coffee. Or, rather, 64 cups.
Sinha hatched her 64 Cups of Coffee Project in 2017, when she was about to retire as a librarian with the Veteran’s Administration. Then 64, she wasn’t sure what was next until she took classes in the University of Minnesota’s Learning Life series.
“All of a sudden, I wasn’t panicked,” says Sinha. “Our presenter told us, ‘Don’t think about the things you should do. Think about what really excites you. Think about what you like about your job that you’re really going to miss.’ ”
For Sinha, that was conversations with colleagues, clients and volunteers. She needed a way to keep them going.
“I started making a list of people it would be fun to meet,” says Sinha, who resolved to kaffeeklatsch with 64 women in 2018, beginning with a neighbor. Some coffees were deep, three-hour conversations. Others turned into unexpected adventures.
Sinha, a certified laughter yoga leader, wanted to check in with her yoga teacher, whom she hadn’t seen for years. The woman asked Sinha to bring along her calendar to their meeting.
“I said, ‘What’s the deal?’ and she said, ‘Somebody asked me to be in the Fringe Festival, playing a laughter yoga leader, and I think it would be a great way to grow my business but there are five performances and I can only do three. Would you do the other two?’ ”
That was a “yes.” Sinha followed up with a community theater role and acting classes at the Guthrie Theater.
About 20 of the 64 were people Sinha approached at yoga, drawing class or Shift seminars on life transitions. A coffee date she met in a Latvian egg-dying class mentioned an Iowa hotel, designed by her grandfather, that was being refurbished and Sinha immediately wondered if it might want a period-appropriate Victrola she was trying to get rid of. It did, so the two drove the record player down and earned a night in a hotel suite for their troubles.
“A great adventure came out of talking with this woman that I had not even known,” marvels Sinha, whose project has been a good conversation starter. “If you say to someone, ‘I have this retirement project. Want to be part of it?,’ it’s not so weird. Somebody said to me, ‘That’s about the best friend pickup line I’ve ever heard.’ ”
The Minneapolis woman had so much fun that she’s continuing the project (if you’re doing the math at home, I was number 71 and the first man). Now, she’s café-ing it forward, inspiring others to launch similar ventures.
“There’s one woman who is doing 64 Walks because she wants exercise along with the conversations, and another told me 64 is too much but she wants to do monthly meetups,” says Sinha.
All of this is not unrelated to Sinha’s former career.
“I’ve always said librarians are natural connectors, connecting people with just the right article or resource, and we also like to connect people with each other,” says Sinha.
Which she is doing on May 11 at the home she shares with husband Akhouri. Sinha invited over all 64 of the coffee dates for lunch and 50 accepted. She issued just one requirement: Each invitee had to name three things she hopes to do in the next five years, which will be listed on her name tag (Sinha’s: take a blacksmithing class, learn mahjong and get involved with the local Indian community).
“I don’t want people to just sit. I want them to connect and get ideas for things they want to try,” says Sinha, who says 64 Cups of Coffee is teaching her to be a better listener.
“We’re in a time when we talk on the phone or message each other so much that we don’t spend enough time talking, face to face. I think a lot of good can come of that,” says Sinha.
She’ll test that theory at home now that Akhouri, a research scientist, is closing his lab and settling into retirement. Sinha says her husband is not sure what comes next. But he knows one thing.
“He told me, ‘One thing I’m not going to do? Have 64 cups of coffee.’ ”
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367 @hewittstrib