It is probably too late for coffee, now at 11:00 pm, but that doesn't seem to be stopping me. "Normal" people, this time of night, might curl up by the fire with a mug of tea or a glass of wine. Coffee people unwind with a mellow roast, resting in the ritual of preferred brew method, and the peaceful sense of slight superiority that comes alongside the horror of their "normal" roommates, who may have wandered into the kitchen to turn the kettle on for herbal tea, only to find it already in use for a pour-over. Now, sitting by this depressingly urban, electric replica of a fireplace, I find myself marveling at the thick, rich complexity of Kuma-roasted Ethiopia Kochere, and considering the many inaccuracies of the press pot which brewed it.
Early this morning, having scraped all the frost off of my car and (consequently) running late, I stopped in at Diva Espresso for some quick caffeination. Though I often speak on the value of viewing coffee for its art, history, and quality, the truth of the matter is that there are plenty of mornings when convenience simply wins. On those mornings, Diva often finds its way into my routine - gluten-free scones, locations which all seem to be on the way to wherever I'm going, rice milk, and: fundamental predictability. Today, come to think of it, was the first time in a long time that something out of the ordinary happened to me at a Diva Espresso.
As I ducked out of the cold and into the overly-crowded morning rush at Diva's front counter, I found myself standing uncomfortably close to a perfect stranger. Coffee shop lines are notorious for this. Few shops, particularly ones built more than a year or two ago, are really designed to manage the volume of customers they see in a morning. Lines are confusing, and awkwardly cuddly, often forcing those trying to get in the door to squeeze by multiple other customers before they can even find their place at the last of the line. In general, we all stand in obedient silence, waiting for the barista to indicate that it is our turn to speak. But this morning, for whatever reason, the gentleman in line ahead of me opted to ignore protocol, and chat.
"This is my favorite cup of coffee in the whole city," he mused confidentially. (Still un-caffeinated, I debated whether to even acknowledge him, but curiosity won out.)
"Really?" I asked. "What is it that you like so much?"
"Oh, I've been pretty much everywhere in Seattle, and this is just always good," he replied. "It's the perfect blend of... roasty flavor, but fresh. You know?" And with that, he stepped ahead in the line, ordered his mocha, and disappeared out into the cold.
Reflecting on this stranger's surprisingly accurate assessment, I reached the front of the line Diva, and placed my own order. It wasn't what I really wanted, but then again, it was. Because all I really wanted was coffee. I didn't think it was the best coffee in the city, but it was predictable and decent. (There is also a category of predictable and bad, which is entirely different, and unacceptable -- even in airports.)
I once spoke with a coffee importer who explained to me that every coffee "has a home." Nearly every coffee crop will be perceived as "exactly right" by some consumer's palate. Aside from this, no matter how good an imported coffee is, or how well it is roasted, almost no coffee sold in a shop will be brewed to industry standards when once its new owner gets it home. It is a very small minority of coffee consumers who have the time, tools, or inclination to brew to industry standards. (Or much of any standards at all, if we're brutally honest.) And, even when we may have the tools and the training... sometimes, we're just too tired. And it is late. And all we want is for those beans in that bag on the counter to be already ground and already brewed, already in our favorite mug, and already filling the kitchen with the soothing, familiar smell of coffee.
Tonight was like that for me. Spoons, scales, grind adjustment, timers... all of it was too much. I would have has a predictable espresso in a heart-beat, if it hadn't been too late for all the coffee shops nearby. Diva closed hours ago. So lazy home-brewing it is. This cup of Kochere is purely a guesstimate. The funny thing is, it is easily one of the best cups of coffee I (personally) have made in a long, long time. Effortless, careless, and just about perfect. A beautiful moment for something unpredictable, but artfully sourced and roasted, and apparently very forgiving.
Sitting here now, watching the timer tick down on our "fireplace," I think about the gentleman who left Diva Espresso this morning so content with his extra hot, extra large beverage (to last through a long drive). It makes me feel like a terrible person to admit there is a temptation to look down on his preference. But truth be told, the coffee in my hands -- however excellent -- has merely hit upon my own list of preferences by luck.
All I wanted was coffee.
He, however, wanted exactly what he got.
Perspective is a peculiar thing.