My last post informed the reader on my caffeine addiction just as as much my Bach obsession. Warning: this will be a recurring theme in this blog. As such, it may be appropriate to take a brief pause from talk on music to focus on the more immediate, tangible form of sustenance in my life: coffee. I don’t know about you, but there is nothing that can replace the fantastic rush I get from my first cup in the morning.
The downside of my coffee dependency is the institution of the coffee shop. No matter where you go, coffee houses are always a bit of a scene, and none more so than in New York City. My generation is particularly hung up on aeropresses, pourovers, the temperature of the milk, the quality of the roast, etc. and I admit that I am guilty of the same pretentiousness. Just last week, I may or may not have spent $300+ on a grinder, water distributor and a set of scales, all delivered within 24 hours to my front door, courtesy of Amazon Prime.
As in Oberlin, I continue to be fortunate that decent coffee is not far from work or school. But as I sit at JOE on Columbus Avenue, a relatively low-key coffee shop, I’m aware that coffee culture is getting out of control, and I am an active accomplice. As the new year was ushered in, I purchased a fresh Stumptown official coffee tasting journal (my third in two years). I have yet to fill in my first page. Despite the description of my Guarnizo as having a “berry-like” and “cola” flavor, I’m yet undecided on the relative berry/citrus/caramel quotients. I want to wait until I’ve finished my cup, and work out my feelings about the whole experience, wishing not to misrepresent the complexity of the situation.
The fact that I purchased two extra copies of these journals for my friends is less indicative of my generous spirit, and more of my desire not to remain alone in this enterprise.
As we all know, solidarity is key when it comes to our passions. So are patience and empathy. And patience again. These are crucial criteria in choosing friends. Think about it. How will they react when you finally express your true feelings about coffee? Will they be supportive? Will they try to convert you to their sect of coffee consumption?
It’s all fun and games until the topics of water quality and temperature are raised. Things can get ugly. These incidents make or break friendships, as you recall difficult incidents in which your boyfriend effectively banned you from making a pourover in his apartment because you ground the beans far too early in the process and didn’t wet the filter sufficiently before brewing. All the while, you yourself are driven to distraction by the fact that he uses unfiltered tap water, and brings it all the way to boiling point (heresy, frankly). But your companion has also handed you a coffee cup that’s too small for the amount of water you are accustomed to using, and the overflowing incident before your eyes disrupts the entire process further.
We’ve all been there, right?
It eventually calms down, but it’s a rather dark reminder that coffee consumption is still a democratic enterprise (to your immense frustration), and that while you think your boyfriend’s coffee tastes like your sister’s daily 6AM extra-large from Dunkin Donuts, you have to countenance that your friend probably thinks the same of yours. Each to their own. You’re not bitter (though your coffee is) and your relationship has survived. Sort of.
In the end you break up, realizing that you need someone who truly understands you. You don’t want a soul mate, and you’re clearly too irresponsible to handle a pet. Your therapist drinks tea, and your mother, Starbucks. That leaves the one person in your life who is truly there for you and helps you hold it all together: the barista.
The subjects of ridicule from Netflix to NPR, no coffee shop is complete without the millennial behind the counter, supporting themselves and their creative path by providing you with the substance you most need and enjoy. The jokes about piercings, beanies and their choice of music (why are they playing Indian Classical music now, when they were just playing Kenny Chesney 5 minutes ago? And now Aretha Franklin?) remind you perhaps to take yourself less seriously, but it’s all in jest as you admire their craft, and the atmosphere that they create in decorating not only themselves but the environs in which you slowly sip.
But sometimes they can go overboard, not only with their own adornments but with the surroundings around you. I’m usually immune to the surroundings of the average hip coffee shop. But when I first stepped into the Ace Hotel on 29th Street to purchase my morning courage in October, the scene was a bit too precious, particularly the rather unnerving presence of a certain British couple. A pair of taxidermied badgers were included in the decor.
Indeed, the level of hispterdom had hit Portlandia levels. To make things worse, my own hypocrisy was evident. I had my journal with me and a copy of Lost Illusions, a masterwork by the great caffeine junkie himself. It was a tad overwhelming, especially at 6:30 in the morning. I could perhaps describe the entire scene in clinical, or objective prose. But that morning, my pen made its way to my Moleskine, and it was all over. I have transcribed the morning’s proceedings below.
For the Barista
Soar for morning’s mirth,
O great Paraclete,
Thou mighty florentine tyger,
What dulcet tones of steam whirr as my coffee is pressed,
Conjuring alabaster spume to temper the gloom of my espresso,
My matin routine.
Your servant, the dutiful millennial
Forges pulchritude out of mere milk, water, beans
Three voices in perfect counterpoint,
Like unto the moving sight of this Adonian slave.
I see him and am thrice transported by a Sienese complexion,
Etched with Manchurian proverb,
Pierced with a kokopelli.
O beauteous hipster!
If I could but garner one glance from your tired, bored eyes,
I might know the true meaning of the word ‘blasé’.
I am not alone in my quixotic caffeinated quest,
As my fruity generation launches Apples innumerable at their respective windmills.
The lobby DJ sits in the corner,
Sports shaded spectacles despite his seclusion from Apollo’s rays,
Mixes odes and verses to match the disjointed nature of our ‘e’-xistance.
Beirut, Ravi Shankar and that inevitable folk music,
Evoked by the repetition of modal strains on an acoustic guitar.
Yea, “Bread and Roses” plays as these vestal virgins
Mindlessly gnaw on croissants,
Acolytes in preparation for a wireless communion.
My isolation is broken by the presence of
two furry compatriots.
From that fairest isle they hail,
badgers appearing frozen in opposing
expressions of frenzy and serenity,
A reflection of
my own complex relationship with
These two share in my former life in Albion,
Salem of Marmite, Jaffa Cakes, Tesco builder’s tea.
Nostalgia sets in as
my coffee cools,
Et in Arcadia ego.
I check my chronometer (iPhone)
I imbibe those last frigid swigs of my cappuccino.
My morning is complete here in this temple of my generation,
This orchard of gadgets,
This ever-flowing fount of brew.