March 28, 2013

Shots to Miles

A one-to-one ratio of espresso to miles provided not as interesting of a day as you might expect, proof enough that even the most staunch of advocates sometimes misses the high, yet still chases.

Sometimes, you taste more shots because the first two were shit. Sometimes, you drink more because that sushi left you in a coma, and it's 11:30. And then, what's another two? These actually taste good, after all. And then another two for the road, of course, all the better to prepare for the miles to come.

And then those miles. You here about this supposed runner's high, a thing you've perhaps experienced, but more likely, missed. People tell me that often, suggesting that they must be doing it wrong. I don't think that's the case. I simply think that sometimes things aren't fun. The people we love sometimes agitate us, and the things we love sometimes fail to give us the elation we seek.

Sometimes, the miles suck. Your legs never loosen, and those knots in both your calves only tighten. The concrete hurts more than usual, and someone yells something vaguely insulting, probably, but you couldn't really hear for sure, from their car.

But you go on. You click off the miles, one at a time, because the miles don't care about what hurts, or about your various anxieties or neurosis. The miles are a great cosmic apathy, immune to the desires of the petty humans who would measure themselves thusly. They are a cold, infinite mountain, the faces of which people will eternally scale, no summit to seek.

The miles don't care, but you do, and so you go on. You finish, eat, and write about it. You go to bed and dream of the shots and miles to come, the shots and miles that as of yet can all be perfect, profound.  You chase the horizon, and in that pursuit, there is meaning.

March 26, 2013

Plants From Places

It was mentioned to me today that not many people know what coffee looks like, pre-processing.

Here. It looks like the above.

Readers who are themselves "coffee people" know this already, but I imagine many don't. It's worth remembering that everything we consume - coffee too - came from somewhere, and required some work to arrive at its destination.

So consider this a brief reminder. Coffee does not appear in the pot at your local shop; it starts here, looking very much like this.

It is a plant that requires a lot of work from a lot of people to provide, and perhaps more importantly, a great deal of the world's soil and resources. 

This is not a guilt trip. I partake of this product and am employed in this industry. I am quite pleased that those things are true. Still, it never hurts to remember that things come from places, and all the steps required to complete that circuit.

March 23, 2013

Balancing the Bullshit

I guess you could say that I worked today. Probably, you would say that. I carried several boxes, which counts, right? I also did some ordering, and some forgetting to order. I like to keep a nice balance between having enough stock and absolute panic. I find toeing that line to be refreshing, in an anxiety ridden sort of way.

But I did these things, and cleaning stuff too. I emptied drawers and wiped them out, dusted everywhere my arms could reach, swept and mopped our admittedly small floor space.

I did the sort of things that anyone who's ever barista'd knows are essential to the job, and yet not the things people think of. You see the drink making, the attempts at witty banter, and the leaning with practiced ease against the counter. You don't see the accounting, inventory, and cleaning. And yet it's all part of the job, necessary work to allow the actual coffee stuff to happen.

So I did these things today, as I've done many days. I won't tell you that I like them, or write about them here with the same overly romantic zest I devote to coffee making and customer interactions.

But: Today I was told by someone that I had made the best latte she'd ever had. And she's had many. I know, because she's been around the coffee bar/restaurant scene for as long as I've been alive, and been served by basically everyone around these parts. She said it was perfect, and I didn't argue.

These are the things that make the bullshit worth it. When someone respects the time you've put in to what you do, and the quality that comes from that devotion, it's worth it. When you connect with the people you work with, and those that visit you every day, it's worth it.

There are things I genuinely do not like about this job, yes, but I don't mention them too often. There is simply too much beauty to devote too much time to the other side of the scale.

March 21, 2013

Standing For It

I'm not going to link to anything, because, you know, I basically just don't feel like looking up an altogether good article. But it's ok, because you've probably read this sort of thing, assuming you're the sort of person who does read these sorts of things. If you're not, then ok, this is new, but Google knows more about these things than I do.

Anyway, standing. It's good for you.

Take a second to soak that in, really drink in the implications. There's a fair body of research that suggests even such low intensity activity can improve insulin sensitivity, cognition, and all sorts of other good stuff. No need for crossfit, bro.

This is something baristas needn't worry about. Our job requires us to engage fully and frequently with our bipedal nature. This is cool, I think, and yet it's something I here a bit of bitching about, now and then. There are the usual complaints of sore feet, ankles, knees, and just generally lethargic legs.

Which, yeah, I understand. Shit happens, pain happens, and sometimes things don't feel great. That's life, welcome to it.

But I don't think it's quite that simple, really. I don't think standing all day has to suck, by definition. It can, I think, be rather effortless. If I'm being honest, it should be.

Small sample size, sure, but let's take my workplace as an example. We have 3 full time baristas. All of us stand for the length of the shift, and never mind doing so. Let's see if we can detect a theme.

Barista 1: Runs 50-70 miles a week in really light shoes, and does all the cross training stuff that goes along with.

Barista 2: Won a triathlon on a whim once, since she swims/bikes/runs for fun. Also competes in various martial arts tournaments - basically always wins.

Barista 3: Spends 2-6 hours outside of work at a dance studio, doing evil things to various tendons and ligaments.

Baristas 1/2/3: Get awkwardly excited about vegetables.

So there's that. Things to consider.

March 19, 2013

Away From Home

Working at my owner's other shop this week. Some thoughts:

I've been asked, several times, if I'm new, and how training is going.

I've been asked to make drinks that for regulars that I have never seen before, and watched as they looked a bit uncomfortable. People grow accustomed to a certain face serving them, and they don't immediately trust the "new" guy.

I trained every barista who works there.

There is a kitchen at this place. Really, it's a restaurant with coffee bar service offered as an aside. I had the pea soup today, with rainbow carrots and purple potatoes. It was perfect.

I was, however, told by a certain customer that vegetables were not "manly", whatever that is to mean, and that he wanted his ham and cheese omelet with extra ham, extra cheese, and no peppers, greens, or any other plant material. He also ordered a side of ham and a breve (made with half-and-half) latte. I was informed that this is basically an every day thing.

After some thought, I've determined that I'll keep eating veggies, and that atherosclerosis isn't "manly" either.

It is still snowing, and what the fuck, really?

But it's all good. Eight busy hours with a few other people, all of whom have spent years getting quite good at their specific task, the whole apparatus humming along as if it couldn't do anything else, and you a part of it. Feet and legs tired, 12x400 still to go today, but it's cool. And that pea soup, man, really.

March 16, 2013

Real Life

People look a little different without a counter separating you from them. I probably look different to them as well, but it's hard to say in what ways. My perspective is mine, and it's the only one I've got.

Today I was told today that I almost looked naked without a portafilter in my hand, or an espresso machine nearby. Those things aren't just tools I use at work; they're tools I use to craft the persona that I've worn for the past few years. This, including this thing you're reading, all of this, is a product of that.

And that's something. I won't say whether it's good or bad, because it's not really either. I do have to say that I found it a little flattering, although I can't say why. We are who we are, and so long as who we are is the sum of choices we happily and consciously made, it's hard to complain too much. This is the hat I wear because it's the hat I continue to put on every morning. I think it fits well.

March 10, 2013

Pi Day Half Marathon

Shortest race report ever: I ran well and got second, through a light mist, bare trees, and budding green everywhere. It felt like a fairy tale laced with the copper tang of lactic acid. I finished and felt like this.

March 9, 2013

Energy Now

Tired of being tired?

I bet. Most people are these days, if the ubiquity of caffeinated and sweetened things is any indication.

Cool with me. I sell those things.

But what if, you know, you wanted to wake up every day, feeling energetic, perky, ready to tear apart the day like some sort of large predatory cat?

Well, get your claws out, tiger, because a customer shared the secret with me today.

Drink coffee right before bed.

That way, when you wake up, you're already wired. Fucking. Brilliant.

So brilliant that I decided to try it myself tonight. So brilliant that I'm already feeling great! And it's 1:30 AM! And I'm not even tired! Yeah! Fuck you, sleep!

Still, he kind of implied I should be, you know, asleep at some point. I mean, that seems reasonable.

Maybe I shouldn't have had 6 shots of espresso and two cups of iced tea before the bedtime coffee? Huh? Maybe. He didn't give me a rule book, just inspiration.

Whatever. Revolutionaries ain't got time for semantics.

I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Or be compost. You know, whatever.

March 7, 2013

Getting Fancy

I've never shot a man in Reno, nor a police officer of any rank; but I have committed a crime, as of today, that - in the coffee world - may stand as more egregious than either. (Punctuation gymnastics are fun.)

Today, I drank something with syrup in it.

These are the things we hate, the things that I've spent 5 years trying to rise above. Espresso and maybe a little bit of something else, a dollop of foam or the like, and that's it. Coffee, black. Fuck your cream and your sugar. It's on the counter, but it's a prop. You're not actually supposed to drink it, people.

But syrupy drinks? Worse. Far worse. Like, coffee cred killing bad.

My name is Alex Beecher and in my house, right now, is Kenyan Peaberry by Broadway Roasting Company. I prepared it this morning with a pour over cone. I then went to work, as a barista, a position I've occupied for nearly 6 years now. I poured 3 rosettas in one cup because I am really, really good at what I do.

And I tasted a flavored, syrupy thing.

Pigs flew and kittens died and Satan bought some trendy Patagonia pullover because fuck, it got cold down there.

It tasted pretty good, the flavors more balanced than I expected. I basically understood why people get addicted to these things. Sugar is sugar, after all. It does things to the brain that are usually illegal.

I didn't drink any more than a mouthful, I promise, and hey, IT CAME ON TO ME, dammit, and it was totally out of context anyway, like, kind of a friendly thing, and then nothing. I won't call.

I drank 2 shots of espresso, cleansing my palette but more so, my credibility. I ate lentil soup and rode my 1985 Centurion road bike. I am hipster, here me meekly and apathetically mumble something noncommittal.

March 2, 2013


This is a naked - or bottomless, if you prefer - portafilter, in action. I've never used on before, but have had several people message me recently, telling me that I simply must. Some make the case that it's an instructive training tool, which seems to probably be true. But the primary selling point has always been aesthetics. And I have to say, on that point, I am entirely sold.