March 26, 2011

The Profundity of Practice

You miss every shot you don't take.

With that in mind, I poured, and poured, and poured. I tamped each dose of espresso, trying to find the optimal level of pressure. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I did not. There is a level of variance, of intricacy that I can't put in to words. But it's the sort of thing I can't imagine ever being rote. It takes presence, a concentration on the moment.

Steaming milk is the same way. I've done it for years now, and yet every pitcher acts differently. The wand needs to be deeper this time, wider the next. It varies. You don't ever develop a set pattern, so much as you develop a feel. You learn to trust that feel, the pressure you feel on the side of the pitcher, the hiss and the whoosh emanated from the milk, to tell you what you need to know. Rules are fine. So are videos, thermometers, and any other apparatus. But they aren't the same as doing.

You miss every shot you don't take. And for every one that you do, your feel develops, so does your touch and your confidence. Thus, the likelihood that your next shot goes in increases.

That is the beauty of doing. You might be good - maybe even the best - but you learn with every action. You are better now than you've ever been, yet not as good as you're going to be. It's a nice spot to be. You feel accomplished, but not satisfied. You are driven to get better, confident that you'll achieve that next mark, because you got the last one.

All of this is to say, I think I made some great drinks today. Customers told me so, at least. Several commented on some smart looking rosettas, with exclamations of "Wow", "Look and that", and "That's beautiful". There is more to a good drink than a pretty pour, of course, but it's a solid indicator of quality nonetheless. And I think my art was not misleading. The crema was a deep, golden brown, a perfect canvas for the stark contrast provided by the milk.

Sometimes. Not every drink was as good; though I certainly didn't serve anything that I wouldn't have been happy to receive myself, were the roles reversed. Still, there is fine, and there is better. Better is the goal, sometimes achieved, but always targeted.

And so, though I'm pleased with those 10% of drinks that were perfect (or thereabouts), I'm much more focused on turning that 10% in to 25, then 50, then god only knows.

You miss every shot you don't take. So you practice, knowing that fruit is born from the labor itself, not just the results.

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