My friend the coffee douche
About a year ago or so, I went with my friend to a new coffee store in lower Manhattan that he was super excited about. He knew the name of their espresso machine (the Slayer) and kept going on about how amazing the espresso made from this machine must be, if done right. I was happy to go, first because I needed coffee and second because I just like my friend and like it when people get really into things. On the way there I told him that the way he was waxing poetic about the Slayer really defined him as an all-out “coffee douche”. He took it well- in fact I think he actually loved the title. Coffee douches rarely get rewarded with titles, I realized.
I used to be a coffee douche myself. Or at least a potential coffee douche. I worked at Coffee Connection in my youth, which was eventually bought out by Starbucks but in its time gave lots of people in the Boston area pretty good coffee. I hung with the owner, especially once I decided to go to Berkeley, because that’s where he went for undergrad and where he learned to love good coffee (he told me he fell in love at Istanbul Express, I wonder if that place still exists). At some point I knew how many seconds of roasting produced each style (I never liked Italian Roast myself- too burnt) and the characteristics of the different coffees from all over the world (mmm… Sumatra).
Over time, though, I lost it. Something about having kids. I’m now at the level of carrying around Nodoz in my purse just in case I’m traveling and there’s no coffee machine in the hotel room (or in case those tiny little packages of grounds are insufficient). I still enjoy a good cup of Sumatra but I’m almost equally happy going to 7 Eleven. So you can see that coffee douchery is at best a fond memory for me.
When we got to the store, we were immediately asked at the door if we were “press”. Umm, no, what’s going on? It turned out that Sylvia was the guest barista! She was 3 time Brazilian pull champion!! I inferred that this meant there are actually competitions for making espresso. My friend was getting more and more excited and agitated. We got our pictures taken before and after the coffee drinks arrived. Or rather, our cups and saucers were- I think we may have only accidentally entered a frame or two. Sylvia was very gracious and hard-working at the same time. I think I managed to shake her hand, just for the celebrity moment of it all.
As an aside, I noticed something about the whole coffee movement thing when I was checking out Sylvia and her methods. Everything there has a fetishized whiff to it. The coffee machine was the Slayer, the various implements were wooden of some kind of hardwood that they were happy to explain in detail, and although I can’t remember all the names of the implements, I got the distinct impression that there may be a sex shop in the back room with leather and wooden tools very similar to the coffee tools. Maybe just me.
Here’s a close-up sexy shot of the Slayer (if you look carefully at the reflections you will note at least 3 people there admiring its shiny round parts), taken from the website of RBC coffee:
I don’t think I’ve ever been under such pressure to enjoy my espresso, but it was pretty good (I think). Near the end of drinking it, we seemed to be peppered with technical questions from the people there, including the owner of the store, the owner of the coffee plantation that supplied the store, and the guy who roasted the coffee beans. It was a triumvirate of coffee! I was glad I had my coffee douche with me!! He impressed them with his idiosyncratic knowledge (I remember his sympathy combined with pride when he mentioned that he was aware that there were laws against roasting in Manhattan but not in Brooklyn, so did they roast in Brooklyn? They did).
When I left, I was invigorated. Here are these people, completely obsessed and fascinated with coffee and everything pertaining to coffee. In some sense it struck me as a waste of time, but in a larger sense it was very very cool. That’s what’s interesting and fun about humans, after all, that they get totally nerdy and into things that other people can’t relate to, and they really improve our knowledge as a community about the best way to do that thing. There are probably people somewhere who are as into park benches as these guys are into coffee, and thanks to them the park benches are getting more and more comfy and beautifully designed and long-lasting, at least if you know where to go for really excellent park benches.