The Art of Coffee
Another Friday alone at home. I had nothing to do except homework or sleep. I began my Advanced Algebra II homework when I decided not to stoop to the nerd level. My siblings were at college and mother in Arkansas. My friends partied together. My boredom mushroomed, so I let coffee fill my night with experimenta-tion and tasting.
Three days earlier, I had purchased twonew bags of coffee: one Ethiopian, one Ke-nyan. To probe for the perfect cup, I start-ed with the Ethiopian. First, I changed the temperature of my water from 195° to 180° to 185°. Then, once I found the best watertemperature, I moved on to finding the best grind coarseness. Very coarse was my firststop, as for a French press. I nearly barfed as the smoky nodes overpowered the jasmine.Next, extremely fine—mocking the Turkish coffee grind. It tasted as acidic as a lime. Fi-nally, I tried the medium grind. Now, cherriesand lemongrass filled my mouth, transport-ing my taste buds to the cherry orchards in Spain. I continued to make my last two cupsof the Ethiopian comparing the filters, whilelistening to the musical Come From Away try-ing to make those blends my own.
Now onto the Kenyan. I ground my beans roasted by Olympia, my favorite roast-er, with a medium coarse grind size, while mywater heated to 185°. Twenty-four grams the scale read, as I measured the ground coffeebeans. Next, I pursued my bloom for 30 sec-onds, while meditating about how I becamea seventeen-year-old boy making coffee on aFriday night.
My whole life, I have been an over-achiever. Since sixth grade, I have crammed my schedule to a point where I have an hourof free time a week, usually finding a co-cur- ricular to fill its void. Never do I stop. Neverdid I have something interesting enough to call it “Liam time,” as a mentor of mine once proposed. A period to relax. For some, televi-sion or video games enhance this time, but I had nothing of the sort.
Second semester freshman year, I launched into work at a gelateria called Ge- lato Di Riso, where they serve gelato andespresso drinks. I pulled shots of espresso. Steamed milk. Attempted to create a ro- setta on lattes. To me, coffee tasted disgust-ing. It was astringent. I wondered to myself,“Why would anyone even like this stuff?” I convinced myself making coffee was a wayto pay for college. Those shots of espressomeant nothing more than a $2 tip in my tipjar labeled “Thanks A Latte!” I continued my job for another year without drinking a shotor a cup of the Gelato Di Riso coffee blend and loathed people who enjoyed the coffeesI made.
After school one day, I had to work until ten: the only way to stay up until ten was withthe influence of that disgusting stuff, espres-so. I had no customers that day, so I groundmy beans. I took the stainless-steel tamper and pushed the recommended thirty pounds of force to cram the beans into a solid disk.Finally, I put the portafilter with the disk in the espresso machine and let the water flow through the fine ground beans to make the three layers of the shot: the heart, the body
and the crema. Each layer looked different,as if they had their own personality. This wasthe first time I ever appreciated the coffee.It was me and the espresso. I stared through the clear shot glass and witnessed art in front of my eyes. It was miraculous. The crema with its light beige pigment approaching the top of the glass. The body which looked like a Mio squeezed into a glass of water. Even the invisible heart of the espresso pleased my eyes, though it looked like a normal cup ofcoffee. I slurped and swallowed the drink.
Pulling that shot had a science behind it, making it beautiful. Those beans I ground had meticulous roasting, allowing them toproduce almond and floral nodes to the shot. Someone hand-picked those coffee beans be-fore the roasting process. All of this playeda role in that one-ounce shot of coffee. Theprocess and observations made me rethink everything I took for granted with life.
My whole life, I had approached things at face value rather than researching them to the atoms. But, in pulling the shot, I real-ized that too much work went into a shot of espresso for a mindless slurp from a demi-tasse.
I stood over my precious Chemex cof- fee maker, an hourglass-shaped vessel, thatlonesome Friday night in my empty home. I poured the 180° water in to my Kenyan beanswith a bamboo filter. I did so until the scaleread 384 grams, allowing me to test my ra- tio of water technique: 1 gram of coffee to 16 grams of water. The hourglass figure re- minded me of the first time I really encoun- tered coffee: pulling that shot of espresso in the empty Gelato Di Riso.
Suddenly, I grew depressed. Not because I was alone on a Friday night. No. It was my evolution from the simple world to the com-plex, from child’s point of view to the adult, from the ignorant to the knowing.
In David Foster Wallace’s speech “Thisis Water,” he mentioned young fish not knowing what water was when an old fishasked how the water was. Before I pulled theshot at Gelato Di Riso, I was a young fish,oblivious to the backstory of everything inmy life, not just coffee. I knew things, yet Inever noticed them.
I was scared knowing I could not go back to the not understanding.
After the shot, my mind was curious about how everything in life came to be. The shoes on my feet: what was their backstory?
Thereafter, I could not allow myself to use ignorance as an excuse when I wanted to avoid a situation. When I gained the breadth knowledge from the invigorating shot of espresso, I could not deny the reality it is-sued in me: the reality of adulthood.
My mind pestered me to think about thefarmers of that Kenyan coffee I was brewing.What type of life were they living? Were they paid enough for growing this wonderful cof- fee? Were they affected by the rioting thatfollowed the presidential elections there?My mind flooded with these thoughts caus-ing me great stress. I did not want to think about others, but now it was my duty.
I judged eight different coffees through-out the night with examinations of the aroma and nodes. I ended up liking the medium ofthe Ethiopian with the bamboo filter at 185°because it had the most extravagant taste as well as the best aroma. This surprised me. All the instructions and manuals made by cof- fee experts said to brew coffee at 195° with amedium coarse grind. I had created my own changes and not mindlessly followed others’ lead.
Eight cups of coffee later, I felt dizzy from the coffee, and I was unfamiliar withthis new person I had become. Was I on my way to adulthood?