He laughed as he said “I’m a living stereotype”.
Just a day ago I was nervously peeling back the packaging from an espresso machine that we’d received on a freight shipment a week before. I’d never know much about these things, and the price tag alone was enough to keep me at arm’s length from it.
Now, our technician stood before us with the task of setting it up. He displayed a boatload more confidence than any of us had.
“I spent a few years in the peace corps before landing in Seattle and working as a barista there.”
“Cliche, for sure” I admitted with a laugh.
“I loved the coffee business and just moved up through the supply chain; buying green coffee, and sourcing beans from around the world…I’d always tinkered with espresso machines and eventually just dove in, fully”.
My nerves about the machine melted away with every minute I spent with this dude.
As a young kid I remember long drives in the morning darkness, down frozen Greeley county dirt roads. The early morning wake-ups at Grandma’s house were always bolstered by the smell of coffee in the kitchen and the excitement of deer season in Nebraska. My dad would fill a thermos for the road and then try and duplicate a cappuccino for me; improvising with whatever coffee didn’t fit in his thermos, powdered hot chocolate mix, and whatever other ingredients seemed fitting in grandma’s fridge.
It never tasted with worth a hoot but it was warm and I liked the idea of drinking “coffee” enough that I’d slurp it down from the frozen front seat of dad’s pickup, watching weary cottontail rabbits scurry down the ditch away from the headlight beams and the roar of the road.
By the time my college years rolled around, I’d acquired a taste for coffee. My many road trips to and from my hometown were accompanied by gas station coffees sipped out of cheap styrofoam cups. Once in a while (though I don’t know when or where) I’d have what coffee people referred to as “real coffee”. I never cared for it, and much preferred the cheap variety that came from within the many convenience stores that speckle rural Nebraska’s roadways.
Chalk it up to aging taste buds, a wiser worldview, or simply the increased energy expenditures of raising kids…but the dad years have definitely shifted my preferences yet again. These days I find an enhanced appreciation for the many varieties of coffee and the many ways to brew it; though, admittedly, I’ve only lightly dabbled in the vast arrays of information out there.
Regardless of the finer details, it’s safe to say my evolving journey through the intake of coffee has been full-fledged, and is likely still somewhere mid-arc.
Imagine, now, the abruptness with which said journey might have changed direction while I stood with a proper and bonafide coffee nerd as he fine tuned my newly acquired coffee spaceship.
He rattled technical jargon off at a pace I almost couldn’t keep up with as he finagled with this setting or that at nearly the same pace. As he dialed nearer and nearer his target, his pace slowed. Once, he pulled a shot of espresso and his entire demeanor changed: “There we go….” he muttered, almost inaudibly. The creamy drip from the filter contraption was, admittedly, quite beautiful. It felt like some sort of finish line had been crossed and we’d arrived at a destination. The self-proclaimed coffee nerd ran through a few more shots to verify everything was just-so.
It was pretty incredible to watch his technical expertise slow and then stop completely, as the muscle memory of countless thousands of reps took over; he almost had an artist-like demeanor. His hands and movements were unconscious and his focus was, very apparently, coming from a different and more creative area of his brain.
“You guys want to give it a try?” He looked right at Matt and I, and we stood there with dumb looks on our faces.
That was the moment; the minute that Italian mystery machine turned into something I knew a little about. It became fun.
As days turned into a week, and then a week into two we put the espresso machine through its paces. Trial-and-error. Youtube university and phone calls to a network of coffee nerds. Many shots, lattes, and repetitions and I began to build an understanding; not so much of the machine, but of the ways in which a coffee drinker becomes the proverbial “coffee nerd”.
This machine, all on its own, has what it takes to convert me. It’s beautiful….the craftsmanship with which it’s very obviously built...the fit-and-finish, it’s fun just to look at; and we haven’t even talked about performance yet. All the bells and whistles. All the lights. The chrome. The foreign sounding noises of steam and squish and swirl. It’s an exciting experience just making a cup of coffee…not to mention it’s very apparent why the manufacturer of this piece of equipment is synonymous with world-class.
The ways of the high-end coffee world are fascinating. There’s a lot there. I’d be a fool to believe my journey through the appreciation of coffee was even close to complete….and now I’m aware of the road-more-traveled by all those who consider themselves nerds of the best kind…and I’m starting to feel like it’s all downhill from here.
We’re learning. We’re keeping it simple. We’re learning to do coffee extremely well, and we are beyond excited to share a cup with you soon at Handlebend.
Stop by. Sit down, slow down, and sip a cup of Joe. We’ll be happy to nerd-out with you.