I know a lot of people start off hating the thing, or drinking it with copious amounts of milk and sugar to mask the taste but still get the caffeine. I guess I was fortunate in that regard, since I never particularly disliked drinking coffee black and never really did consume too much sugar and milk. For the longest time, I neither disliked it nor liked it, but I was always attracted by the ritual surrounding the beverage.
Nowadays, though, if you ask me if I “like” coffee, I’d probably answer that I don’t. At least not what is commonly regarded as coffee. You give me something that isn’t a somewhat fresh crop, fresh (and light) roast, fresh ground, fresh everything, and I’ll probably not manage to drink it. Maybe that means I became a snob. I’ll leave that up to you, I guess. But in the process of becoming a snob, I realized that coffee is much more than just coffee.
I’ve been living in Germany for roughly three years now. For two years I’ve been legally allowed to work. For a year I’ve lived in a city that’s big enough that I can actually have some choice in what to work with. I landed in a specialty café. In a place where coffee is, for all intents and purposes, celebrated. From choosing new coffees, to roasting, to brewing. When opening the shop, I’m spending anywhere from 5-15 minutes only in front of the machine making sure the shots are running and tasting as they should.
The reason is simple too; when I hand you a cup over the counter, I want you to taste jasmine, nectarines, and that slight hint of lime acidity instead of just something bitter and, well, coffee-y.
There’s a lot more to that beverage (and to taste as a whole, really, I just happened to find coffee first and that’s where I’m at) than meets the eye. There’s a certain beauty to knowing that what you’re drinking only tastes the way it does because someone cared for it from the moment of plantation to the moment of brewing.
And to me what just never gets old is that no two coffees ever taste the same. I’ve had the opportunities to drink two cups side by side coming from the same farm, but made out of different varietals and they couldn’t taste more different. One of them could be super caramelly, nutty and rich, while the other could have this incredible lime-like acidity with a deep chocolaty undertone and a tea-like body.
Ultimately, this is all not about coffee, even though I will obsess about every aspect of it. To me what still makes each of my days is whenever a guest comes up to the counter and says “I didn’t know coffee could taste like this” or any variation of that sentence.
Taste is amazing, coffee was my way to come into this world, but still the most amazing part are the connections that come out of it. It’s presenting someone something that’s gonna touch them in ways they didn’t know were possible. Coffee means connection, it means learning, it means digging deep into something to find the root of it.
You can use coffee to learn everything about anything. I’ll learn about taste by sitting down and deconstructing a cup, I’ll learn about soil biology by studying the terroir, I’ll learn about logistics by buying greens and shipping roasted beans to wholesale clients, I’ll learn about workflow by being behind the counter, and most importantly, I’ll learn about people by hearing what they have to tell (and ask). I’ll learn about hospitality by making them feel welcome and at home in a foreign space.
Any of those things are worth much more than whichever I managed to taste in the cup I just drank.