April 12, 2012

Labor and Love

Good advice, from an espresso machine repair man today: "If you want to make a lot of money in the coffee business, you better start with more."

I smiled, and tamped, creating the shots that would test his work. I rolled what he said around in my head, trying to find a response, and the proper balance between wit and wisdom. "Yeah," I said. It was all I could manage.

I brushed the rim of the portafilter, locked it in to the head, released the water, and watched. A drip, syrup and amber congealing in to a thin stream, twisting in to a waiting shot glass.

I glanced at the repair man. He was 50, maybe 60, with white hair cut short like a summer lawn. His hands were creased, but they lay on the counter then, resting. He wore a full-body blue suit, with a name tag stitched on, indistinguishable from an auto mechanic, unless you looked around his tool box a bit. I glanced at him, but his eyes didn't move. They were fixed on the shots.

They finished pulling, and then neither of us moved. "Looks good," he said.

I nodded. "Yeah."

He started putting his tools away, and I began replacing mine, ensuring that everything on and about the machine was as it had been. (Other than the thermostat. That was new - thankfully - and the reason for his visit.) The customers, who had been milling about, waiting, began to trickle to the register.

The first ordered a latte, and I took to making it. The repair man watched again, looked at my tamp, tap, brush, twist, and everything. He watched the milk steam, the shots finish, and the two combine. He saw the milk cut, like a white stream, a twisting swath in the burnt orange crema, and form a rosetta.

"Looks good," I thought, but didn't say. He didn't speak either.

There were three more drinks to make, by then, and so I was quickly back to work. "Looks like your back in business," he said.

"Happily so," I replied.

"It's a labor of love though, isn't it?" He asked, but it wasn't a question. "If you love it, it never feels like work."

I wiped a portafilter, and purged a grouphead. The water came with a click, hot, and ready for some alchemy. "It is," I said. "And it doesn't."

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