Coffee and the Pursuit of Excellence

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Coffee.

Over the past few months, this word has taken on an increasingly important role in my life. Those who know me know I’ve always drank the “black” liquid in one form or another. It was at the background of some of the most memorable conversations I’ve had throughout my life.

Then, I was introduced to the world of specialty coffee. Things like roast date, altitude and flavor profile (to name a few) became some of the things I’d explicitly look for before buying a package. I left supermarkets and drifted toward local roasters. Before visiting a new city, I would look up the “third wave” cafes in it and make it a point to go there.

I got serious about my home brewing. Thermometers, scales and timers became daily kitchen gadgets. Well, daily coffee gadgets.

I took notes about my brews, the flavor profile of each cup. Did I use too much water? Too little? Was it too hot? Too cold? Should I have brewed it over a longer time? Shorter time? Maybe I ground the beans too coarse? Too fine? My kitchen became a coffee lab.

And then I became a barista.

This only happened very recently. I’m still as new as it gets to the specialty coffee scene, and although I’ve read articles upon articles, watched documentaries and interviews, it still very much feels like I’m only dipping my toes in the ocean of complexity and depth that this “plant” can have.

I don’t mean for this to become a website about coffee, there are already hundreds out there and just about anyone can do a better job explaining coffee related things than an industry newbie like me. But this is a website about—predominantly—personal development. My personal development.

And I found coffee to be an effective, if a little unexpected, means to develop myself.

Anyone can drop grounds into a portafilter (tamping optional), insert it into the machine, press a button and turn a nozzle to steam the milk. In most cafes, that’s exactly what you’ll find, which is why I didn’t wanna become a barista anywhere, I wanted a specialty cafe.

And as the name suggests, we look for specialty, we look for excellence.

That’s not to say only the perfect baristi get to be at the counter and serve drinks (hell, I’m there!), but it is to say that we are constantly looking to improve.

Did the shot take too long? Too little? Was my tamping even? Was it too strong or too weak? Did I steam my milk properly? How good is the microfoam? Is the latte art presentable?

Daunting at first to keep track of every single one of those things, it is what makes me wake up in the morning and wanna spend the day there even when I don’t have a shift. It’s the pursuit of the perfectly extracted 40g espresso shot from 20g of beans over 30 seconds. It’s the desire to train my taste buds to appreciate the nuances in the pour over cup.

Coffee motivates me to live better, ludicrous as it may sound.

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