January 31, 2013


It is the kind of cold that finds its way in and around every bit of protection you have, seeps through your skin, dives down your throat and strangles you. The wind crashes like a blunt wave, always breaking. The sky is neutral, neither gray nor blue, unwilling to express an opinion on all of this.

But it is cold. It is cold and people say so. They say so in every way, with whatever inflection their frozen lips can manage, and whatever verbiage their addled mind can generate. Often they settle for "It's cold." They add expletives for effect, when nothing else will do.

I nod, say that I know, don't say that this is the same thing I've heard all day, or that I haven't been outside in eight hours. I say that it is what it is and that it's January, so it's whatever. They agree because there is really nothing else to be done.

We dispense with the formalities and they order the coffee; I make it. They touch the cup and close their eyes and smile. They take pictures of the latte art, tell me what social networks and photo sharing services they're going to post to. I smile. I warm them and they warm me and it all feels balanced, it all feels good.

January 30, 2013

Why I'm Not a Waiter

Explaining a frittata to a customer:

"What is it?" he asked.

"Like, an, uh, egg brick with some stuff in it." I offered. Sensing that this was probably not the most appetizing sales pitch, I quickly tried again. "It's basically an omelet, only baked in to a square, rather than folded in a pan." Better.

He decided that he would buy a blueberry scone instead. Safe. And I had never described it to him as something you might use to build a chimney. Perhaps that helped too.

January 29, 2013

Right On

Important note: I am left handed.

That said: Today, I did latte art with my right hand. 

Pictures: There are none.

But still: Pretty awesome. 

Next: Sawada quality triples. 

January 28, 2013

Writing Again?

This has been my lowest posting volume in some time and yet my highest traffic. The lesson: The less I write the more you read? Or perhaps you just prefer my old stuff. Can't dig the new material yet, good coffee blog reading hipsters that we are, eh?

I'd say this is a digression, except it's the start of the post, and damn near the end too. The fact is that I've devoted my free time to running on my now healthy foot, reading, and watching the clouds from whatever hill I just ran up. This is great for my soul but not so good for my average pace. I tell myself that I'm "recovering" still and that I'm just being careful, not lazy. I am, perhaps, lying to myself. But the hills are very nice and so are the clouds especially when there is a sunset rich and pinkish orange like a grapefruit splashed over the lake.

A customer told me today that good food often tastes worse than bad food - in terms of quality of ingredients - but that coffee was not this way. I agreed with her and found it insightful enough to share. Nacho cheese from a baseball game is unabashed shit but probably tastes as good to most as whatever fancy goat business someone told you tasted of herbs and sunshine. Goats are cute but I'm not sure that makes their cheese taste better or not. Anyway, good coffee tastes better than shit coffee, because shit coffee doesn't (usually) have artificial shit ingredients to cover its inherent shittiness.

I feel like us pro coffee folks should probably take advantage of this somehow. My plan is to serve good coffee and hope people like it. This does not involve goats in any way but I can't shake the feeling that it should and might be more profitable if it did. Here is a picture of me on a mountain with GOATS that are actually mountain goats which are actually not goats but like antelope type things.

January 19, 2013

Kenyan Night

Driving home after drinking a Chemex of something Kenyan at PT's, the acidity still dancing on my tongue and my neurons firing with nitrous fuel. There are hills and a dark sky and suddenly, no cars nearby. There are the lights of two towns; one is behind me and one is in front. There are the stars, like pin pricks in a black canvas, pulled taut over the sky, like there is infinite light behind the veil and I can only see that infinitesimal bit. There is the hint of endless empty as darkwave and then hardcore and then post hardcore plays on the radio, pulsing guitar and mumbled screams and barks of angst. Black jeans and black sky and Black Flag and black coffee. A smokestack comes closer, belching out fumes in to forever, lights and an industrial complex on either side. I eat a few berries and walnuts and feel good.

January 18, 2013

Shit Shots

Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is shit. Disregard your feelings towards the man and his works if you can, for opinions on both skew a bit harsh, I've found. Perhaps you find him a drunk, bloodthirsty hypocrite. Perhaps you find his writing dry and unimaginative. (Full disclosure: I'm consistently impressed by the simple power of Hemginway's prose. It reads like a gale wind.) But you know of whom I speak, though I gave no last name. (If you don't, well, then never mind.) I needn't specify that the Hemingway in question is Earnest, an important distinction in identifying long dead authors. (And important, in and of itself, if Wilde is to be believed.)

So the man is important, I think you'll grant at least that much. So let's take that quote again: The first draft of anything is shit.

I rather like that quote. It gives permission to write, to fail, and to write again. The writer who admits there is honest effort in doing so encourages more so than one who builds a narrative of effortless genius. The truth is that you will write many things, and most of them will never be read by eyes but your own. And your eyes will see those failures, and hold on to them. You will only see those things, blind to whatever success and praise you may receive. You will know that, for ever work that invites praise, there are hundreds more banished in to nothing.

It is a bit like espresso, I think. I would never serve my first shots of the day. Frequently, I don't serve my third or fourth either. I grind and tamp and pull and taste the sour mess until it is no longer sour, but rich and sweet in correct and beautiful balance. And then I serve. People taste the good espresso and comment on it, appreciative and full of kind words. They are not merely thanking you for the espresso they enjoy, but also the shots that you puckered down. Some might call this waste, and I can understand that point of view. But it is wrong. It is wrong because serving espresso is not about serving a certain volume or a certain thing that fits basic parameters; it is about providing an experience that had better be good, had better achieve a high standard. Fail to meet that standard, and you've failed the customer, your shop, and yourself.

This is not to say that perfection is the goal; there will be bad shots. You will arrive and the grind will not be were you want it and damn that machine is just off today. Things will happen; shit will happen; shit espresso will happen. But don't serve it. Practice, work, and tweak until it's good. And then do it again the next hour, the next shift, the next day.

January 15, 2013

The Respite

I read a great deal of fiction, but write very little. This is something like a short story, though as is the case for me, there is nothing much like plot or characterization. It is, more likely, masturbatory word play and scene setting. But here it is, regardless.

He walked with his thoughts like angst ridden dogs, tugging him about by the leashes meant to lead them. They pulled this way and that, questioning and doubting and flinging anxiety and misery in to the maelstrom of consciousness, until there was nothing to do but give them their way. It was easier, if not altogether easy, to take this path. It was best to give in, for to fight them was always to lose, only with more damage done to an already battered psyche.

The sky was clear and sun shone bright in it but the air was cold, cold such that the appearance of the sun was just that, and appearance, a damnable mirage suggesting heat, but providing none. There was wind coming from everywhere, cast about by the buildings and the hills and there was no place to hide from it. It had no discernible beginning or end and so it cut from all angles.

There were other people about, hands in pockets tightly clenched, heads shrunk in to coat collars. They walked as if the cold and the wind were things to be raced, to be escaped, but it was not so. They were cold and the wind battered them about and they walked, pressed against all of it and away from it but always were nothing but inside of it, enveloped by it.

He saw them and was among them and though that they must be like him, walking away from things and to things that were not the cold or the wind but were things larger and more powerful still, things esoteric and existential and impossibly infinitely intangible. He walked and felt his legs move, his feet grab and push, holding on to these tangible and real things, grounded quite poetically by the ground, he thought.

The building was brick and there was paint on it that had been chipped away so that you could read none of it clearly. The paint had been a name once but now it was just called The Brick or just Brick because people will do the easy thing when the easy thing is indeed easy and is just as good as more trying options, so far as they can tell. The steps in front were three, the second of which was broken and had to be stepped on just so, otherwise it would collapse.

He stepped on the far right quadrant of the second step and quickly ascended to the third and then to the top, littered with cigarette butts snuffed out on wooden planks, too damp to catch fire and too old besides. The door was a metal of some kind that had rusted some years ago, covered with a screen that had torn slightly at the bottom where someone's dog had run through it. He opened it and there was a slight flapping sound that caused the others already inside to look up briefly from their tables, but only just for that second.

Inside there were flannel and tattoo sleeves, bangs greased by virtue of poor hygiene rather than sartorial concerns. The floor creaked as he approached the counter, wooden with a thousand marks, each covering a thousand more like debaucherous cave art, a cultural tapestry clawed by nails and pens.  There was a great metal thing on it, several feet wide and a couple feet tall, with two wands protruding from each side. It hissed and spat steam and scalding water from several places, except two ports, placed on the underside of a facade on the front of the machine. From those, there came a deep bronze liquid, laced with gold and burnt orange. It dripped like amber and oil. Espresso, it was called.

"Double," he said.

There was a groan and a pop, followed by more and more, the cracking noises condensed in to a matter of seconds. Then there was a whir, the noise traveling in to the machine's bowels, wherein it spun and became louder. Silence, then, followed by a burst of air from the second port, and finally the espresso. He grabbed the cup in to which the espresso had been dispensed, looked at the bronze pool and imagined that the shapes there were really shapes, really intentional things with real significance.

He swirled the cup and raised it to his lips, drinking with a slurp, drawing in air and espresso in equal measures. He tasted chocolate and honey, sweet and bitter in perfect balance. Or at least he had read that this espresso tasted like these things, and believed it to be the case, since he had never had either. The opening and awakening he felt behind his eyes was not second hand experience, however. Neither was the warmth that started in his mouth, and spread to his extremities. These things were real and he felt them, embraced the sensations themselves and the fact that they were his to embrace.

He held them tight as he drank again, walking out the door and again in to the bleak.

January 9, 2013

The Needless Barista Health Crisis

My identity is basically split down the middle, half barista, half runner. These things combined form most people's image of me, which is cool, because that's the image I've put out in to the world. We are the sum of our choices and our actions; we are what we consistently do. I make coffee and I run a lot. So, you know, those conclusions are wholly logical.

As a runner, I value my health and fitness. I ask my body to do a lot of things - sometimes very difficult, borderline insane things. But I put the work in, so I survive. Sometimes I even place sort of high. This is because of the work, because I don't show up at the start line of a marathon without training properly. I run a lot, of course, but also spend a few hours a week on general strength and core work. Because these things matter to runners.

And, I would argue, they should matter to baristas too. Baristas stand all day, lift things, and tamp. None of these things, taken on their own, are hard. But they can add up, over the hours, and then over the weeks, years, etc. You can end up, quite easily, with a host of chronic issues from the neck down.

Sprudge is currently running a series on barista health. It's a great and informative series, asking questions that no one (to my knowledge) has yet considered. And the results, frankly, are depressing. In short: We, as an occupation, are hurt all the fucking time. We are young and yet complain of afflictions usually confined to retirement homes. It doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way.
I wrote this comment on Part 2 of the series: If you are the sort of person who prioritizes health and fitness outside of work, you’ll have less problems at work. That is, if you have adequate strength and mobility across the basic planes of movement, tamping and standing all day shouldn’t be difficult at all. I would also suggest that wearing flatter shoes would do many baristas a world of good. The higher the heel to forefoot ratio, the more torque is placed on your knees. That stress is moved up the kinetic chain, and can result in back and shoulder problems too.
Simple. It really is. Maintain a healthy weight. Don't eat like shit. Lift things. Move.

Standing and tamping all day don't create weaknesses, they reveal them. Fix the underlying lifestyle problems that lead to those weaknesses, and you'll be better off.

January 7, 2013

Downhill From Here

The crest of a hill and then down, down a grade that seemed not so steep just minutes ago, but here it is and down, down and then bumps, small imperfections in the concrete magnified as you gain speed, the frame rattling, you grip the bars despite the sudden compulsion to jump, to put your feet out and stop like you did when you were learning to ride with training wheels only now you can't stop so you go faster and further down, down until the cold wind darts inside your flesh and your mouth and your nose and everything is running and there is cold under your skin, ripping your fingernails off your hands, the whooshing of the air exploding inside your ears louder and louder until it can't get louder and you can't get colder, but it can and you do, and still further down, and you accept that this must be it, the end, nothing but synthetic headgear between your head and uncompromising pavement, ready to twist and mangle your legs and arms when you go down, down further until you aren't, until down becomes flat, until the adrenaline subsides and then flat becomes stale, so you go again.

I got a bike for Christmas, and in that time I have come to the conclusion that serious cyclists have serious balls, balls that I as a (somewhat) serious runner seem to lack. I cannot imagine riding up and down mountains on these things, much less RACING up and down mountains on these things. My life as a hobbyjogger seems comparatively safe.

January 2, 2013


We see and here a lot about New Year's resolutions this time of year. People make them and question their utility at the same time, defeating themselves before they begin. This is not surprising. Specific goals are hard to meet; all but that outcome will feel a failure. And non specific goals are hard to chase; how do you plot a course without a destination?

And yet we continue. We continue to give voice to our desires, to put in words our hopes for what we can become. We do this so that we might be held accountable, both by ourselves and others. Once a thing is stated, it is made real. And then it cannot be unmade. The venture will either succeed or fail; but in either case, it will be.

I have to say that I like that sentiment. What I don't like is that it's relegated to the beginning of each year. The utility of such things extends to every day, not merely those that mark the successful circumnavigation of the sun.

"We are what we repeatedly do," said Aristotle. "Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

And so it is that every day we make resolutions, decisions that craft the narrative of our lives. We become what we do.

All of that having been said, my resolutions for 2013 are the same as they were for 2012: I want to read great things, to make great coffee, and to run well. But those are the things you do every day anyway, one might protest. To that I would simply say: Precisely.