December 27, 2012


It is December 27, a day that is not regarded as anything but a moment in time between two MOMENTS IN TIME, Christmas and the New Year. It is a day spent recovering from long drives to distant relatives so that one can sustain a night of relatively sterile partying that your 18-year-old self would merely call pre-gaming. And then it's off to 2013, full of possibilities and resolutions, things do to and things to be.

Today is December 27, a day without any meaning - except that which you give it. Maybe you make your resolution a few days early; maybe you simply make the change. Becoming is a process best started in the ever present NOW, since it's all we live in anyway. The future is always the future; today you can say tomorrow forever.

But I'm not writing about plans for weight loss, job security, or any such thing. I don't pretend to have any particular wisdom or life coaching credentials beyond this one: I know how to enjoy a moment accompanied by coffee, how to enjoy the coffee itself. I know how to enjoy the process of making it, to indulge the ritual. I can look at the oil swirling on the surface, and know that there are impossibly complex things taking place. It is a beverage of endless complexity and yet so basic.

I know how to take this day - any day - and create something beautiful. It isn't forever - nothing is - but the sensation is real; the meaning is real.

Resolve to do the same. Resolve to give yourself that time and that pleasure, to find beauty and meaning in simple things. Resolve that happiness is a decision you make right now, not 6 inches to be lost by next year or a debt to be payed off.

It is December 27, a moment in time. It is just a day. It is just a day. It is 24 hours of life, an impossible set of circumstances conspiring to make THIS; and here it is. It is opulence and luxury and opportunity beyond words; and here it is.

December 26, 2012

Give Yourself the Gift of Good Coffee

Maybe you got some cool coffee gadget for Christmas. That's cool. I hope you find it useful.

But maybe you didn't. Maybe you had your eye on some fancy electric gizmo or whatever and you didn't get it. You're thinking that you're stuck drinking shitty coffee for another year because you're broke from buying everyone else great gifts and they only got you a CD from some shitty twee hipster garbage band and god maybe some other crap too but you can't even remember.

Well, no. Good coffee doesn't require fancy equipment, nor does it require a lot of money. Skip laundry for a couple weeks because who really cares just febreeze your pants and use that money plus the change sitting on your desk to buy this stuff:

1) A plastic Melitta cone. Sure it's plastic and you wouldn't decorate with it like you could a Chemex but you just want to make good coffee remember? It costs like $3 at a grocery store and it's stupid easy to use. Pour water of grounds. DONE. Yeah the technique can get fancy and complicated but most of that is needless posturing.

2) A tea kettle. I found one for free in my parents' basement but maybe you aren't that lucky and have to buy one. That's ok since a decent kettle only costs about $15 and holy shit that's a lot more than couch change right? Well whatever it's a lot cheaper than an electric water heater or specifically designed pour over kettle with a skinny long neck that stops the water from coming out too fast because OH MY GOD I can't pour water without having my hand held. If you're still too broke for this option just boil water in any pot or even just microwave it in a cup.

3) A grinder. Ok this actually gets pretty expensive as a decent burr grinder will run you $80+ and that's a lot of money but actually totally worth the investment if you can afford it. If you can't get a blade grinder which yeah kinda sucks but is still better than having pre ground coffee even if you do have the barista do it for you at the shop where you really should be buying your coffee.

4) So yeah, get good coffee. Probably go to a shop you like so you know the coffee isn't shitty and if the shop is good they'll have roast dates and even grind it for you if you need them too just make sure to get it ground for that Melitta you totally already bought which is a slightly finer grind than they probably use at the shop. Also don't buy a ton because then it's gets all stale and musty and you like to visit your local shop all the time anyway right? And yeah this costs money too but whatever it's the COFFEE  part of making good coffee a.k.a. is pretty fucking important.


December 23, 2012

Being Easy

Running and pulling shots matter a great deal to me, and are thus the primary concern of this blog. Both endeavors, though hands on, are still largely about speed. To be a good runner is to be a fast runner, of course. And although there is growing tolerance for pour over bars and other "slow coffee" methods, most customers want their drink within a 90 second window. And that's fine.

In some ways, it's become more than fine. It's become a set of circumstances to which I am so well adapted that, when they are absent, it feels as if something vital is missing. Without the urge to GO, to get shit done quickly, precisely, and exactly, I feel like something of a bum. Life without grindtamppullsteampournext is lacking something, and it's noticeable, even for this one week.

There is a place for such activity, and value in embracing it. I don't think I'll ever rid myself of the pleasure I get from manic activity, from simply doing things. But there is value in not doing such things as well, in inaction and stillness. And that's something I've never quite been able to embrace, though I'm realizing, more and more, that I really ought to.

I took a three hour walk today, out by the lake. There is a trail there which I run a great deal, but I'd never walked it before. It was cold and somewhat wet, the sky tinged with a soft grey. There was snow and the ground too, and a little ice. It felt like Winter. I had rice, beans, and coffee, then set off. I didn't take my phone or an MP3 player and there were no cars nearby. There was the crunch of my feet on the dirt, the ice crystals cracking beneath me. Otherwise it was silent. My only company was the skeletons of trees and the wind, omnipresently pressed up against my face, finding its way inside my coat. I got cold but embraced the sensation, feeling just that one thing and not really minding anything else. I thought about nothing and did nothing but walk.

It was a spectacularly useless afternoon spent doing nothing of any value at all and yet I feel very good having done it. I feel refreshed, as if my mind had been thirsty for such a thing and had now drank its fill.

A customer once told me to be easy and I think he was right.

December 21, 2012

5 @ 7

We tend to ascribe a somewhat negative connotation to competitiveness, especially among those of us who lack the talent to post national class times. To be competitive, while running a 38-minute 10K, is seen as somewhat self indulgent folly. And so it's a difficult thing to explain to people, why you care, when there will never be medals or accolades of any significance. And it would be harder still if they knew that the medals you did have were tossed in to a pile, or left in the car, or forgotten elsewhere.

But words hide within them meaning beyond what we often see, and "compete" is no different. Compete is not, as we tend to think, merely about striving to destroy someone else, to train harder or to race faster than them. No, compete comes from the Latin competere, which means "to strive together". Competition is that group training run where the miles tick off at X:XX when you'd normally be running Y:YY, drawing on the collective energy of the group to fuel your efforts. It is beautifully feral behavior, dressed up in compression shorts and wicking fabric.

As per my usual habits, this digression is inspired by recent events. I ran last night. I ran for the first time in several weeks, which is still a couple weeks sooner than recommended. But there was snow on the ground. There was an orange sun fading behind the trees, just over the river, and a quiet gravel levee on which to run. There were houses and the lights of downtown on either side, cars and people and walls and heat and so many other things; but here there was nothing but the dirt, snow, and the possibilities that lay in propelling one's self over it.

And there was an invitation to compete. Not to run against, but with, two other runners, both of whom have considerably more talent and accolades than I. The scenery was right, but this was harder to turn down. To run with a marginally faster group and to competere is simply right. Distance training is so often a solo endeavor, but is in that way detached from our primordial running roots. If the paleoanthropologists are to be believed, we evolved our bipedal skill as a pack, running at things which we might eat, and away from things which might eat us. Simply, our strides our made to be synced.

So I ran. I ran across the gravel and the snow and the ice, three wide, chests out and legs churning in time. We talked between our breaths, through the pooling saliva and despite frozen lips. We ran in to the biting wind for 2.5 miles, then turned and let it push us back. We finished in 35 minutes, peeled off our gloves and hats, and said that it was good. We breathed deeply but not hard, shook hands and parted ways.

My foot hurts a little today. I expected as much going in, however, and so this is no surprise. You have to know when you're making an unwise decision, and the potential repercussions. But you also have to know when to make the right decision, smart or not.

December 20, 2012

Adios, Ristretto

To call the New York Times "the paper of record" is to pay it a great compliment, but it is not quite sufficient: It is perhaps the only paper that matters in this country. And so it mattered a great deal that Oliver Strand's Ristretto column appeared in those hallowed pages, given space beside other more celebrated indulgences such as wine, food and fashion. It elevated in the eyes of the lay-reader the humble cup of coffee to something beyond a black and bitter stimulant. And to those of us who live coffee, for whom the industry is our home, his column was a thing to be celebrated. This was a voice stating our cause on the nation's largest print stage, discussing without irony the craft of coffee, and those who are committed to it. It felt like we mattered, just a little bit, when reading about Bear Pond on the same pages as whatever lardcore eatery is currently trendy.

And it's gone now.

We are reminded on the front pages of that same paper that there are real and genuine tragedies in the world today, and that this is really not so bad, when viewed with the right perspective. So I won't call this tragic, or try and ascribe to it false importance. It was a very good newspaper column that will no longer exist. And it was only ever about coffee, really. There is no tragedy here.

And yet it's hard not to feel a sense of loss, like the community is being cheated just a little bit. This was not just a column that wrote informative articles on how to better prepare coffee, or how to procure it in certain cities. Beyond merely informing the readership about those specific things, its very existence argued that this information was worth having, that coffee was a thing worth discussing and considering. Put simply: If coffee mattered to you, Ristretto mattered to you.

There is a void now. Coffee has other articulate voices, to be sure, but they are largely sequestered away on personal blogs or in industry specific publications. James Hoffmann simply cannot reach the same number of people, and no one subscribes to Barista Magazine unless they're already convinced that the trade is worthwhile. Ristretto had that platform, and an audience of the nation's tastemakers to speak to. And in Mr. Strand, it had a voice that was educational without being condescending - something the coffee industry famously struggles with. The reader was never made to feel foolish for having never heard of a Hario V60. Instead, they finished the article interested in trying coffee prepared with one. I once had a customer order a cortado specifically because it was mentioned in Ristretto.

Of course, the tide of specialty coffee is still rising. Even within our industry, this is no measure of doom. There will be other writers in other publications doing many of the same things - perhaps Strand himself will return elsewhere. He does have a book on coffee, set to be released sometime soon I hope, for which I have high expectations. But make no mistake, this is a setback, and it is disappointing. Ristretto was, in the paper of record, the coffee column of record.

And now we are left with nothing but its record, which you can and should read.

December 18, 2012

Time Off or Time Missed?

I've had a lot of free time today, and will have plenty more in the coming days. One of the biggest perks of my job is that I get a week's paid time off, twice a year. It's a boon that nary a barista receives, and I'm duly grateful for it. But as I sit here, I can't help but wish I had eight hours of my day spoken for. I can't help but wish I had milk to steam, shots to pull, floors to sweep, shit to do.

My last break was spent trying to log a 100 mile week, for no reason other than to see if I could do it. In the running community, a 100 mile week is legitimately high training volume - far too high, truthfully, for someone of my talent and experience. (My usual volume is between 45-70 miles, depending on numerous factors.) But given my lack of anything else to do, it proved easy enough. 100 miles, over the course of 7 days, averages out to 14 miles a day. This might sound like a lot, but it's worth remembering that I could run 2-3 times a day, and take smaller, more frequent bites at the apple. (This is what elite runners tend to do. Keep in mind, also, that they cover miles much faster than me.) I got it done, and my legs didn't even fall off. Although I hadn't done anything truly noteworthy, there was a definite sense of accomplishment waiting at my driveway, as I loped to the imagined finish line. The week had been productive, even if no sane person would agree.

But remember that whole foot thing? You probably do, since I won't stop writing about it. Well, it still can't stomach running one mile, never mind 100. In 2-3 weeks I can "ease back in to it" (so says the doctor) - but not yet. For now, I'm (still) ellipticaling (spellcheck says this is not a word but dammit, there needs to be a verb form) and lifting (pathetically light weights).

In other words: It is Tuesday. I will not make coffee again for a week. I will not run again for several weeks.

So, I've spent most of today watching videos of other people making coffee and other people running. These are beautifully shot, featuring world class baristas/runners doing what they do. It is damn near pornographic. Watching the videos, my brain swims with ideas and inspiration. I imagine that I'm pulling those shots, or that it's me rocketing up a technical 20% grade. I go to bed and dream of tamping techniques and Killian Jornet. (But not like that. And not at the same time.)

And then I wake up and my foot hurts and it's 6 A.M. and I don't have anywhere to go and the only coffee I have to make is for myself and fuck, now what?

Deep breath.

This is a good thing. I keep telling myself that, and I even sort of believe it. There are cleaning things to do, books to read, and even cooking to experiment with. And there is still the gym, providing me with a means to elevate my heartrate and cling to (and perhaps even build) some fitness.

Those are a few of the things I have, and they are good. Really. But even those two massive things I lack are not suddenly negatives, just by their absence. I will tamp again very soon, and run again not too long after that. I will return to them with a renewed vigor and an absolute conviction that yes, these are the things I want to spend my time on.

It is a beautiful and lucky thing that I have hobbies that inspire me - and I'm even paid to do one of them. To bemoan the fact that I am deprived of both for a relatively short amount of time misses both that perspective, and of course the fact that I'm getting paid to do nothing.

So yeah, it's all good.

December 17, 2012

Skinning Cats

I really don't like starting off by requiring you to read something else. Ideally, this blog could function in a vacuum, and add value to your life, independent of anything else. But, reality doesn't function that way. And even if it did, I don't have any unique wisdom to impart. Oh well.

So what I'm going to do is this, basically: I'm going to ask you to read the article posted above. Then, I'm going to steal the author's concept, and apply it to coffee. Got it? All right then, let's go.

We as baristas, shop owners/managers, and internet "gurus" have to sell something in order to distinguish ourselves from the competition. If I tamp like every other barista, why should you hire me? If I run my business the same way, why should you buy from me? And if I write the same things, why should you read me? The answer, of course, is that you wouldn't. So if I'm truly interested in marketing either myself, my shop, or this blog, I have to convince you that I have some unique, some way of doing things that runs counter to what conventional wisdom dictates.

Make no mistake; this is often a good thing. Every business needs innovators, and coffee is no different.  We need to baristas, managers, and writers who are willing to simply try shit sometimes.

But the crucial thing is that we remain humble, and never lose sight of the fact that there are many right ways. Coffee is an impossibly complex plant, with nearly infinite viable uses and preparations. While we explore those uses and seek to innovate, we need to avoid denigrating and trampling the efforts of others.

Using an inverted Aeropress may yield a good cup at your cafe, but that in no way invalidates the right-side-up using cafe down the street. Nor does it mean the pour-over guys around the block are a bunch of tools. Dare they serve a blend? Perhaps they even roast their beans a shade darker than you.

It's all good.

So long as you're all using good beans, and tending to them a careful and attentive manner, the result will almost always be quality.

December 16, 2012

Things Change and Life Goes On Unless a Shark Eats You

We spend most of our lives, not finding ourselves, but finding shit to busy ourselves. It changes a lot and that's cool. 

In my youth, I went from basketball (shitty at it) to riding my BMX around (shitty at that too) to sitting on my ass and reading (this never changed and boy, at least I've always been good at it) to college where I took up lifting (which I actually got kinda good at until I exploded a non-essential organ) and coffee (still truckin') and running (fucking foot still hurts). 

So that's me. I'm 24 and probably not done exploring obsessions. If this blog still exists in 10 years we may find that I've traded in running for something else. I doubt it - heaven is at 120-150 BPM, a nice easy cruising heart rate - but you never know. Maybe there is a Zumba instructor inside of me waiting to burst out. Maybe my Crossfit mocking will redirect in to a passionate love for kipping pullups. Maybe I will overcome my crippling fear of sharks and move to some isolated beach and surf my life away - until I get eaten by a giant fucking shark because god that could totally happen. Think about it. (True aside: I will never, ever do a triathlon, because I couldn't possibly swim in a lake. Any water that I can't stand in and isn't totally clear is just not happening. There could be big gnarly things that could eat you in it and you can't tell me otherwise. Also, triathlon tights look funny.)

Maybe I will learn to write personally and with real verve without relying on profanity. But you know, probably not. 

Coffee though, that's sticking around. I'm going to keep drinking it because it's awesome and also I have a crippling addiction to it. I will continue to obsess over a great cup and beautiful shots and god help me, if I can't keep making those things for money I will have to find a damn fine shop. After spending a few years pulling shots to your exact tastes, trusting the process to someone else would surely take time. 

But I'll probably have to spend it one day - it's only a question of when. I imagine I will not live out the rest of my life as a barista, because people just don't. Maybe that's accepting a stupid paradigm, but whatever. Someday I will maybe wear a tie to work, but god I hope not, because what a stupid piece of clothing that is. Think about it. It's a random piece of pointy cloth dangling from your neck and strangling you a little bit all day. AWESOME. 

For now though, I'm happy doing what I'm doing, wearing t-shirts to work and sometimes even wearing the same one two days in a row. I'm so hardcore. 

December 14, 2012

Some Sappy Kumbaya Stuff

I sat in a chair and drank very small amounts of Sumatra from a ceramic demitasse, feet not quite up on the counter, decidedly not working. There was a man behind me in a blue who looked in every way like a mechanic, only he was working on my espresso machine, which was broken. People approached the counter and I told them the news; they reacted in the variety of ways you would expect. Some were apathetic, others borderline distraught. 

It is very nice to be a consistent highlight in someone's day - right up until that point where you aren't. Then the responsibility weighs on you and, no matter how much you know this shit just happens, there is an pervading feeling of impotence. Sure, there is nothing to be done - but that's the point. Being powerless to fix such a crucial problem sucks, nearly as much as disappointing loyal customers does. 

Things are fine now. Things were fine soon after, really; the time between the break and the fixing was only about 3 hours. The repair guy did his job and was awesome, as he usually is. He managed to fix the whole deal without requiring me to buy a new part, saving me nearly $500. When you're shop is a fairly low cost, low volume operation, that's huge savings. Obviously. 

So that's two guys I've managed to mention in the last few days - the espresso machine repair guy and the milk guy - without whom I'd be some degree of fucked. And I don't mean to say merely that someone who does their job is essential - although that's true; they are themselves lifesavers, consistently nice people who do great work for me - even if it means losing money. (God, that was some weird punctuation in that sentence, huh?)

It's that kind of service I aspire to, not just in work, but in life. I don't believe in any sort of cosmic meritocracy, nor do I think any positive actions guarantee you'll be rewarded; but worrying about that is missing the point anyway. Doing good work is rewarding for its own sake, and damn, it can go a long way towards making someone else's life better. 

And the chain doesn't stop at one link.

Because espresso repair guy fixed my machine so rapidly, I was able to get back to making drinks - even catching the most disappointed of the earlier customers in time. In short: He made my day better, which allowed me to make a few other people's days better. Not to get all "We Are the World" or anything, but yeah, maybe I will just a little. 

There really are, for all of the awful things we read about and see presented to us ever day, nice people doing things that nice people do. They are not saving the world or curing cancer but they are providing their own small scale salvation, working as they do and as they can to enrich the lives they come in contact with. 

And I am saying that that, more than anything else, is the ideal behind our profession. Make good coffee, yes, but be a good person too. You never know how much it might matter. 

December 12, 2012


I admire a lot of things about a lot of fitness cultures. But in some ways I think I just like the aesthetic. That is, I like that there is a community of people who commit themselves to doing that thing, using it as a mechanism to take control of their bodies and thus, by proxy, their lives. Maybe that sounds overzealous, but talk to someone who's heavily involved in just about anything and you'll know it's true. Whether it be trail running (mine), skiing, skating, BMX, cyclocross, crossfit (which I'm only listing to be nice, because really I kinda hate it), olympic lifting, surfing, judo, etcetcetc...., it doesn't matter. You have a thing and it takes time to master, and so you spend it, working on yourself and with or against others. You dress similarly and share a vocabulary and you subscribe to magazines. You call yourself a whatever and you have a community, and that's awesome, essential I think to being a truly happy person.

So, baristas.

We have that too, or we should, really. There are magazines with articles that people who make coffee for a living really should read. Barista Magazine and Roast Magazine are the two I read, and I'm not going to tell you that you should too - but really, you should.

And god, there are blogs. So many that I can't list them all. But here are a few barista blogs (or not, in the case of one) I can't live without: Vvlgr (sadly inactive for a while, but still a great resource), Sprudge, Jimseven. There are approximately one bajillion more, with half of those having something valuable to offer. And I'm here too, filling the rambly stream of consciousness corner the market just DEMANDED.

Sometimes, take your work home with you. Make it a part of who you are, because fuck hating your job so much that you just can't stomach the idea of dealing with it for more than 8 hours a day. Become a lithe hipster barista dirtbag who sneers at people who order things the wrong way... or maybe not quite that far. But you get the idea. So anyway, join the club. EVERYBODY ELSE IS DOING IT AND I'M NOT SAYING WE'LL MAKE FUN OF YOU OTHERWISE BUT PROBABLY WE WILL.

December 11, 2012

The Milk Man

The vast majority of my writing here is not planned in any real sense, but is instead an outpouring of spontaneous thought. Maybe this gives it a certain "urgent" quality; maybe it just seems hurried; maybe it's just awful. But there are certain ideas that have bounced around my head for some time, sitting there, collecting dust, doing nothing in particular.

One of these ideas is to say something about my milkman.

I would like to say that he is nice, that he is good at his job, and that we should remember to thank people like him. There are a lot of parts and pieces that have to come together to make a coffee bar work well; us barista folks are really the last link on that chain. And though it's tempting to think that we're the talented craftsmen the people are clamoring for, the truth is a little more humbling - but no less true.

So, the milkman. I'm not going to say his name, or give any real details about him, because I don't know that that would be appropriate. I've made the decision to exist as myself on the internet; he has not. And I won't simply tell you that he is nice, or that he is good at his job - although both of those things are true.

He's nice, in the folksy and chatty way you expect the classic, black and white TV milk man to be. He also made our staff cinnamon rolls (he sells these at the local farmer's market, and they are not from a cannister) today, which is a small gesture that managed to make several people very obviously happy.

So, there's that.

Also, on the instance that I forgot to order any milk at all, he filed and delivered an order for me, averaging together what I had ordered the last several weeks to form a reasonably accurate guess of what I'd need. I'd have been fucked without that.

And I'm looking at this now, remembering why I never seem to publish this. I want to tell you that he's nice and that he's good at his job - and I've done so. But it's hard not to look at the words on the screen in front of me and know that I've failed somewhat, that I've fallen horribly short in depicting what a genuinely good guy he is, and has proven to be over the nearly 4 years he's delivered dairy for me.

Very soon, however, I will click "Publish". If you're reading this, I've already done so, of course. (Isn't this whole present tense writing thing awkward?) I'm not doing this because I think I've given the man a fair account, a glamorous profile, or even written a decent post. I'm doing this because there are people who make your job both possible and more enjoyable, people like my milk guy, and we really can't thank them enough.

December 9, 2012

College Town

KU's academic semester is coming to an end, and as it goes, so goes a great deal of my business. When people call Lawrence a "college town", what they mean is that there is a certain youthful, hipster vibe to the coffee shops, and a certain broish, douchey vibe to the bars. There are art galleries and a skate park and other things that are maybe not what you expect from the place everyone still knows as Dorothy's home state.

But literally, it means that a great deal of Lawrence's population is transient, gone for several months out of the year. Business owners/managers do not forget this fact, I promise, because of the financial impact it makes.

And so here we are, creeping towards that money sapping 40 days or so without students, and I'm thinking a lot about it. Both how the shop will do and how I will do, because I'm somewhat neurotic about things in general, and it's my job to be neurotic about this thing specifically.

But I can't, just can't, focus on that entirely. I can't think of these people as merely potential purchases, because I've seen them too damn much recently, and, uh, feelings and stuff? I've written about this before, as you may recall. If you haven't, that post went very much like this one seems to be going. I talk about how I genuinely, like, care or something, and mention that the prospect of never seeing certain regulars again is not entirely a pleasant sensation.

So I'm not going to rehash that post. It's here, if you care to read it. My post count is getting somewhat high on this blog, as I've maintained a decent output for about three years now. Still, that post sticks out as one my better offerings, so I dare say it's worth your time.

So, one semester later, and we're doing that dance again. I'm saying goodbye to people forever in my usual flippant ways, wishing that I could convey something beyond the icy apathy that seems to come out. But for all of my (sometimes fairly personal) writing here, I'm not very good at being forthcoming in person. So I say thanks, and return to work, mostly so I don't have to say anything else. I go over alternate lines in my head, contemplating another universe in which I'd actually say something. But I just rinse the pitcher.

Life goes on. I know that, and all of my beatnik pop-zen reading reinforces it. People come and go, and so do we. Our lives are all better off for our interactions and experiences, and so we go to acquire new ones, to add to our life's scrapbook.

It's just nice, I guess, to have people tell you nice things, to say that you were a bright spot in their day, every day, that you meant something to them. It's nice to hear it, and it's nice to aspire to it, to have a job where your expressed purpose is to be a sort of omnipresent friend. The coffee is great, of course, but maybe a bit beside the point. This job is really about the people, what you mean to them, and though we don't ever say it, what they mean to you.

December 8, 2012

Triple Rosetta Therapy

Today I made the best triple rosetta of my life, but there's no picture, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I would tell you what I did, except it was the same steps as always, no better. I pulled good shots and steamed good milk and poured well and then, well, there it was. It happened and then she drank it and it was gone. No one else saw or cared, but it was beautiful, I promise.

And it felt good, for reasons beyond the usual.

I haven't run in about two weeks now, and yet the foot still hurts. Probably, standing for 7-10 hours a day isn't the best thing for recovery, but oh well. Nor have I heard the results of my x-ray, so I still don't know how long it will be before I can return. Although I'm working very hard to maintain some fitness via death by elliptical and general strength training, I have to be realistic: The longer I don't run, the more foolish running a trail 50K in early February becomes. I'm quite close to emailing the race director, and dropping to the 10 miler.

This, I think you can surmise, sucks. Running is cool and all, and so is working out for its own sake; but it's not training. Training has a purpose, and in turn, gives you one. Coming off of a third place finish at the Heartland 50 miler, I had hoped to be competitive here, despite a strong field. The area's best distance trail runner (maybe ever) is going to race, as is an Olympic trials marathoner (female, but whatever, I can't run a 2:40 marathon). Those two - and probably about ten others - will run about 4:30, maybe as fast as 4:15, and compete for the win.

This is not to say that 10 miles can't be a challenging distance, or that longer races are somehow better or more valid tests of skill. In the words of someone I read on the internet but can't remember: "A fast mile is still cooler than a slow marathon." But no matter how much I tell myself that, the challenge of racing the shorter distance is somehow just less inspiring, less omnipresently looming in the corner of my mind. In other words, for the first time in a long time, I'm not thinking about an upcoming race, every minute of every day.

And so, back to the triple, because this is still mostly about coffee, I think.

Without the looming threat of a 33ish mile trail race against some pretty accomplished runners, it's nice to have something else to fall back on. It's nice to focus on coffee, both running the shop and making the drinks. Mostly, it's nice to take pride in a skill, to know you're good at something you care about, and to know that it's there for you ever day.

Let's just hope I never break a wrist.

December 6, 2012

Let Them Make Cake

Figs in a scone is some sort of minor revolution it seems, a shocking development on the bleeding edge of pastry science. Anyway, it confused the hell out of people today. Verbatim, one asked: "Can you even do that?" I replied that yes, I could and did - or rather the baker did - and told her she should probably eat it. She did, and loved it.

Had it been blueberry, there would have been no questions, no cringes, neither shock nor awe that we had dared put such an exotic(?) fruit inside a scone. But we had, and so there was. Different is different, but people react in the same ways.

The same, as when we, whatever deity you like forbid, dare put "vegan" on the label for a baked good. To do so is to condemn said baked good to sit lonely on the shelf, until such time as it's eaten by the staff or given away to some very nice hippie folks who compost our coffee grounds. I do not think that anyone has ever eaten a brownie and thought to themselves that they would like more egg flavor, but perhaps I'm mistaken.

The victim today was the so-called "vegan breakfast cake", a brand new item which I will try desperately to rename, since honey (the sweetener in said cake) is not technically vegan, even if it does seem to be considered kinda sorta maybe ok by many in the community. But even disregarding that, we had sold absolutely none of it, since anyone who inquired about the name only seemed to do so in order to mock the very notion of dairy/egg free cake, and insist that it must taste like cardboard paste.

So I called it carrot cake (which it is, basically, without the frosting), and people bought it, ate it, loved it. No one complained about the lack of eggs.

If it seems like I care a bit too much about this, it's because maybe I do. We have a baker, a real human with a real stove for whom making awesome pastries is her life's work. Sometimes she makes things that do not have blueberries, and that's ok, because new can be exciting and delicious in ways you didn't know were possible. Figs in a scone? Cake without eggs? Fucking right.

I'm not saying trust everyone. Some places make awful drinks and awful food and deserve your doubt and derision. But some places make good drinks and good food that has never seen the inside of a freezer truck. Some places care because making good things is what they do, and a very real part of who they are. Trust them. They won't serve you something they don't truly believe in.

December 4, 2012

Requiem For an Injury

I don't know when it became normal for my roommates to talk to their TV, but it is. And I don't mean to say that either of them are talking to the programs or characters; no, they address the TV itself. They tell it hello, and then say "ON", and on it goes. I don't recall when that became what I was used to, but I do recall not having a remote control as a kid, having to get up to change the channel. I recall thinking that that was cruelly difficult, since I wasn't always sitting right there, and sometimes I was busy eating. I remember thinking that technology would rid us of the need for physical intervention, and thinking that that would be a wonderful world. I remember thinking, and thinking that thinking was all anyone should ever have to do.

I don't know when that changed, or how, but here we are. I am twisting my foot about, trying to manipulate it in a way that does not hurt, and failing. I would like very much to stop thinking about it, to get moving on it, to lose myself in the rhythmic contractions of quadriceps and hamstrings. It is nice out, the kind of nice that you want to bottle up and save for vacations, or weddings. It is the kind of nice that should be experienced, which is not the same as merely noticing it, or feeling that it is there.

Experience, I've realized, is not about knowing, or thinking. It is doing and feeling and living, and you cannot ask for these things by name, cannot call them down from the sky, cannot turn them on with a word. You cannot say "RUN" and then do it, wake up to find yourself sitting on your floor, embracing your foam roller while the brown rice cooks. Experience is the moment you are in, this step until it's the next step, downhill until it's up. You walk up stairs and your calves quiver and you smile because the rice is done and you have beets to put in it.

But I'm not going to run tonight, not going to have that experience. Instead I am going to drive to my gym and spin on an elliptical, going nowhere. I will plug in headphones and listen to shrieking and screaming vocals about vile things and I will think that I should go faster and harder so I will. I will sweat the same and breath the same and my muscles will sort of twitch in the same pattern but no, no it will not be the same. The air will be nice but the kind of nice that feels like maybe you did bottle it and then forgot about it and now it's kind of stale but you should probably use it anyway since it's bad to waste. I will walk up the stairs and not touch my foam roller and eat rice cereal because I don't feel like cooking and I will not put beets in it since that would be gross.

I will go to work in the morning and stand on my feet but not think about them. I will grab a tamper and tamp because that's what you do with a tamper. There will be microadjustments and the whole damn ritual; golden bronze espresso will trickle like syrup and I will pour milk in it in ways that people seem to enjoy and their happiness will become mine, their smile reflected on my face. I will not care about my foot which will be fine in like a month anyway, and I will experience people and there will be words between us, words that are not "ON", and I will think a lot about all of this.

December 3, 2012

Running, or Perhaps Not (With Update)

As I write this, it is 6:30 AM, and I am drinking a fairly mediocre cup of coffee (my fault, really). I am reading all of my usual internet things, one of which - the local newspaper - informs me that it is 65 degrees. Lest I am mistaken, I check the calendar, and see that it is, indeed, December. Instinctively, I'm happy, thinking how pleasant such a temperature, pre sun, will feel. I will run 7 or so miles before work, and feel so refreshed, so high, that people will think I must clearly have received chemical aid.

But there is the small matter of my right foot, somewhere around the 4th or 5th metatarsal, a small pain that becomes a big pain after attempting to run a block. This is not a new pain; it's been with me since Heartland, a race - being 50 miles and all - that might leave one with an injury or two. Still, I ran, because taking time off for minor pain is not something young people with the desire to race foolishly long distances do. And I suppose I fit that mold, having completed two 50 milers, two 50Ks, and two marathons in the last 13 months. So I ran, until it got worse, and then worse still, and then until I couldn't any more.

So if this is a metatarsal stress fracture - my amateur diagnosis - I won't feel cheated. It is a common injury among runners, with higher incidence among those who habitually go really far, and even more correlation with those who mid/forefoot strike. This is not to say I'll be pleased, of course, especially given that the weather has brought out so many more people than would normally be running this time of year. And there is also the matter, you know, of not running for weeks, or maybe even a couple months, that irks me. I don't hate cross training with ellipticals and weights, but after a while, it all feels rather pointless. Running, while fun for its own sake, feels like you're doing something, getting better and building fitness, all to cash in your earnings on race day. Gym work, as much as I might like it to, does not lend that same satisfaction.

But, life happens. And life, for one who decides to label themselves even a slightly serious runner, means getting hurt now and then. That inevitability makes this not so bad as it might be; you'd be naive to think injuries only happened to others. Still, there is some hope, which is perhaps why I'm writing this now. Perhaps I want some catharsis, hoping that some cognitive relief will trickle down to my foot.

We'll see. I've got a trip to the doctor today, to get a professional diagnosis. I'll update here with whatever information I get, because I'm going to pretend you're invested in this as well.


The thing about feet is that everything in there is pretty small, and so damage can be hard to see, when it exists, often due to some swelling. As this is the case with me, I didn't get a specific diagnosis, outside of confirming that nothing is completely snapped. Of course, I had figured this already, given that I can stand all day without any pain at all. So we're nowhere new, really, but I'm somewhat encouraged. Worst case? I'm out two months. Probably it's more like one month. It depends on the degree of the damage - or if there is any, really - once the doctors can get a clearer picture. In any case, I'll do my best to hold on to - and in some cases, build - my fitness in the interim.

December 2, 2012


Chaos is big, heavy word, with implications for things far greater then general coffee bar problems. So I probably shouldn't use it here, except that things have sometimes felt very chaotic, in leu of that thing I mentioned earlier, my owner's new shop. Still, I know, very nearly running out of lids, sleeves, tea, and I think that's about it, is not "chaos". But damn if it didn't feel like it.

I spent an inordinate amount of time leaning against the back counter, gazing out the windows, hoping for things to magically rectify themselves, for the delivery truck to arrive, finally. I kept - at least I think I did - a calm external demeanor, but inside, I was often anxiety ridden. Lids? Lids? You can't run out of those. You just can't. But we almost did - and would have, were it not for some creative lid acquisition on my part.

And that's to say nothing of the food, which we did not have any of for three days, and only had limited options the other two. Telling people that they can't have a cookie or scone or whatever sugary starch bomb their heart desires can trigger a fit of pouty rage the likes of which you've never seen, or maybe you have, in which case I feel sorry for you. Things run out, of course, especially when you have no kitchen to make them for you, but that's not reason enough, apparently. Not to be the guy who bitches about society and stuff, but it's really quite sad to see how many people apparently have no ability to delay gratification, to hear that they can't have exactly what they want, right at that moment.

I think - and hope - that this blog is an outpouring of positive feelings the vast majority of the time, that I have a very optimistic view of customer service interactions, and coffee bar culture in general. But we're all vulnerable, all capable of bitching about relatively trivial things - which these are, ultimately, I realize - when they seem to consume a week's worth of time.

Still, I tried to do my best, and think that was still pretty good. Not one of those problems was my fault -  or anyone else's, for the most part - so there was no point in letting anxiety drown my other mental processes. You control the things you can control, and let the other things sort themselves out. And I did, mostly. There was still coffee, there were still drinks, and we didn't actually end up running out of any lids or sleeves. I tried to be grateful for all of that, and for the 98% of customers who understood that shit happens, that sometimes you can't have a scone, that life goes on. They were - and always are - great, and the best part of the job.

Looking back on things, that's the lesson. It's easy to let small things ruin hours, and then days, and then weeks, and where then does it stop? Nothing is ever perfect, but most of the time, most things are pretty great. Focus on those, control what you can control, work hard, and stay positive. Even if we - myself included - can't meet that perfect standard, we can strive for it.