Until recently I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker. Coffee visits with my friends in the past consisted of their spouting off elaborately titled espresso drinks complete with specific details like “half-foam” or “double shot.” I’d slip in covertly, murmuring a sheepish “tall hot cocoa please.” I loathed myself for hating this coffee that smelled so amazing. Just the thought of the luscious sounding caramel macchiato caused my mouth to water! But the taste … I tried sips here and there throughout my life, and I just couldn’t get past the bitter darkness of the drink. That deceiving scent! The torture was unbearable. But to call it just a drink—dare I believe it?
Chris Lockhart, loyal employee of The Cool Spot, a small coffee shop in downtown Staunton, Va., will tell you matter-of-factly as he presents you with a beautiful bowl of steaming mocha: “Served with a teaspoon of love. ’Cause after all, coffee without love is just brown water.” From the professional’s mouth: Coffee is more than just a drink. It’s a subculture, and I wanted in. I wanted to be like the coffee snobs I admired. I wanted to curl up in a plush loveseat and read some clever novel by some clever author, glasses perched cleverly upon my nose, a steaming mug of the dark brew cupped in my experienced hands. To me, this image was it—this was cool! We love our coffee—it’s everywhere.
The National Coffee Association’s survey notes that in the U.S. 52 percent of people over the age of 18 drink coffee daily, which comes to 107 million American coffee drinkers every day. We all know that the Europeans originally brought coffee to America, but Too Much Coffee Man magazine tells the whole story. According to legend, an Ethiopian goat herder noticed his goats were becoming “unusually frisky.” He traced this hyperactivity to a bush of berries that the goats were eating, which he sampled and found that he too was now “unusually frisky.” News traveled, and soon these amazing energy-boosting berries were being shipped to Yemen and then to Turkey where the berries were roasted, crushed and boiled into a drink similar to our coffee of today. When coffee found its way to Europe, the Catholic church tried to have the drink forbidden, thinking it was a “drink of the devil,” but made little headway when the Pope, a coffee snob himself, ordained it a “truly Christian beverage.” As coffee’s popularity spread across Europe, great thinkers drank coffee to “heighten thought and creativity,” thereby causing the association between coffee and intellectualism.
It seems that coffee still remains the favorite, not just for Americans, but also for the world community. According to the Too Much Coffee Man website, “With over 400 billion cups consumed every year, coffee is the world’s most popular beverage.” All that coffee, and yet I was still stuck with the inability to stomach the stuff. That is, until I met the new delight of my life that opened doors of promise to my coffee-inexperienced self: the Frozen Mocha. I had seen signs for a new coffee shop in town, The Cool Spot. The place sounded interesting, and when it finally opened, I wandered down after class for a glimpse. The place was small, the fire code stating a stingy 14 people for maximum occupation. Lester, its owner, had long curly hair in a ponytail, a dingy gray hat and an unreadable expression. The counter had barstools, so I took a seat. I was happily taking in the feel of the place when Lester asked what I’d be having. Oh no … here we go again. I wanted to branch out from my bland chocolate existence, but I hated coffee! I couldn’t just dive right in and make a fool of myself in front of Strange Lester. I tried a new approach. I told him of my dislike for coffee and espresso drinks, that I preferred the taste of chocolate. Could he help me? In an amused businesslike manner, he suggested I try something cold instead. This was a new idea. I decided to trust him and agreed to try the foamy, cinnamon brown shake in front of me. A Frozen Mocha. It looked incredible, but I was wary.
But this time, when I took a sip … it was as fantastic as it looked. I loved those frozen mochas so much that I returned almost every week, sometimes more often. I made friends with Chris, Lester’s employee, who became determined to get me to branch out from frozen mochas to something closer to coffee, calling me a mochaholic-coffee-skeptic. It was from him that I learned to see coffee as an art. He reads books about coffee: the best way to blend and the different varieties.
In my opinion, what makes The Cool Spot truly great is that Lester roasts his own coffee. As Too Much Coffee Man will tell you, roasting and blending are the two key elements for snob-worthy coffee: “a good roaster must be part artist, and part scientist, to maintain quality and consistency.” By roasting his own coffee, Lester can control the quality of the coffee he sells, rather than depending on a manufacturer. Coffee snobs like Chris have problems with coffee chains like Starbucks for the main reason that the art of coffee is lost in a mess of fast-food tendencies. Chains buy their coffee pre-roasted and have simple espresso machines from which shots pour into paper cups with no need of individual blending. The point is for the customer to be able to run in, place an order and leave with a steaming cup a few moments later. But the coffee snob knows that this is not the way to enjoy coffee! The art is in the amount of time and care put in to create a quality drink. Nowadays Chris pushes a gleaming white mug toward me across the counter, and I respond with my own method for enjoying a well-made mocha. In my journey to reach an enlightened state of coolness as a coffee drinker, I have learned to appreciate coffee for the drink itself, not just the atmosphere I once perceived to surround it. While wandering lost amidst the pretension and trendiness of the “coffee lounge experience,” I found a jewel in the actual drink. I believe in the art of its making.
As with most things, good coffee takes time, patience and precision of hand. Mind you, I have not become so much of a coffee snob that I refuse to partake of some nasty Folgers brew when the occasion calls for a quick caffeine fix. But I now know quality when I taste it, and I like nothing so much as to spend an afternoon at The Cool Spot, waiting patiently for a mocha, served with a teaspoon of love, just the way I like it.
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