May 1, 2012

Portafilter in Hand

I can't tell you how many times I've sat here, with my fingers on the keyboard, and stared at a blank screen. There were no words, only sensations; and no way for me to bridge that gap. And so I sat and looked, waiting for some muse to offer up divine inspiration. But it never happened.

And so I wrote other things sometimes, or nothing at all. Sometimes I'd put out several posts in several days, hitting on various topics with... varying levels of quality. And of course, there would be stretches of silence as well, when I simply couldn't muster anything worth saying.

What I wanted to write about all those times was the feeling of a portafilter in my hand, the first tamp, the tap, then the second, and the twist. I want to convey that feeling of technique and artistry, or maybe just the comfort of holding on to a solid piece of metal.

There is something to be said for a tool which can produce cool shit, the sort of toy every little boy would dream of playing with. You can hit it, for one, and it spits out hot water. I'm not sure I'll ever grow out of that being fun, just like I'm not sure running in the mud and the rain will ever stop being scintillating. It is what it is; and so what if it's maybe a little immature?

But there is that technique and artistry too - or at least I said there is. It's the sort of thing a lot of people could fuck around with, but they'd probably break something, and those machines aren't cheap. Even if they didn't, the odds of getting a good drink would be nil. So no, it's not just a toy. It's a tool, one that can break and burn, but that can also produce 2 ounces of heaven at a time. It can extract ambrosia and offer up salvation and deliverance.

But what I want to tell you about isn't the shots it can pull, or anything else about it. I want to tell you about that sensation I get - maybe that you get - when grasping the handle, flicking the portafilter free, and going to work. I don't want to tell you about it; I want to tell you how it is, it's nature. I want to pull a shot of that essence and make a drink out of it, to make tangible what my words can't.

Maybe it's the same sort of thing a carpenter feels when gripping a saw, a guitarist when fingering the strings, or a priest when cracking open a Bible; I don't know. I don't know because to be honest, I don't know much else. I know that the sensation I get when flushing a portafilter - nevermind doing anything truly productive - is just so right that it's not like anything else feels to me. And I know that that's what this blog mostly exist to aspire to, to put in to words what baristas know and to express - maybe even validate, a bit - what we're doing with our lives.

I want to do all of that, but you know, there's a reason the screen was blank all those times before, and maybe, why it still should be. But in any case, there are words here now, and maybe, though they don't reach my heights of aspiration, they don't fall altogether short. So I don't know. Maybe just go grab a portafilter, and see what it's like.


  1. This is great...I know the feeling. I remember being able to tell which barista was currently pulling shots merely by the rhythm of their tamping. Some noticeable by the sounds of proper technique...others, well...not.

    I just found out I might be getting a barista job on the side again and will be looking to you for more inspiration/information.

    1. Awesome.

      And you're right, there really is music to a busy bar, a rhythm that sometimes makes the whole thing feel like performance art, as much as food service.