Opening Day Part 1

Today is opening day at the craft school for the coffeehouse. What this really means is that all the work-study students arrive, hauling their duffels up ancient flights of cottage steps into their simple, mountain living quarters. Some have traveled from as far away as Germany or Japan, others just from BigCity, NC, and plenty more from all over the country. For the next two months, they will pour their blood, sweat, and tears into the work of the school and advancement of themselves as artists.

Since work-study students are by nature frugal, Jill (the new manager) and I cover opening shift and have plenty of time to get to know each other. I explain the ins and outs of stocking the refrigerator and the sandwich bar. We discuss the pros and cons of Tupperware storage for open-but-not-empty bags of our Mountain Roasters beans. She puts Soul Coughing on the CD player and we practice making shots.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Jill says, raising her reddish-brown eyebrows distinctly, “I’m a coffee whore.” We both laugh and I notice that her smile is wide and open, almost jolly. “You’ll notice it anyway, so I might as well just confess it to you now. I’ll do anything for caffeine, for coffee – it just kills me, right? I love it.”

Even though her hair is brightly dyed a youthful reddish-brown, I had estimated her age at about thirty. But the smile, and the flash of eye shadow when she closes her eyes to laugh, drops this down a few years. She tells me later she is twenty-six, just slightly younger than I.

We begin to debate the finer points of espresso beverages and find a point of contention over the definition of a breve.

“There’s a guy here, tall, skinny, sometimes has a mullet, owns a nine-foot long giant snake, great sense of humor…He comes in and says, ‘I’d like a breve.’” I tell Jill. “And this always throws me off because ‘breve’ just means with half and half. So I always have to ask him, ‘A breve what?’”

“Ok, when I worked the industrial machine at Borders, they told us a breve is a latte made with half and half,” Jill says, curious about my sources.

“I learned this from Bob Parish, owner of the Backstage Bistro in downtown Walla Walla. He’s a latte artist, oh the foam he can make, Lord!” For a moment I am back in college, begging for shots at the bar from Bob, making small talk about the gig I had with the local paper, dreaming up plans for the ultimate nutmeg-spiced espresso beverage.

I follow Jill back to the computer room and we Google, “espressso drinks – definitions.” Within a few minutes we discover that my definition of breve is more traditional and perhaps original, while the Borders definition of breve is now commonly accepted by the mass-espresso crowd that appreciates a good drink (but often sees no value in the history or art of the beverage itself).

But as we search online, we also come across an entry titled, “espresso porn” and cannot help but click on the link. Following the cues for a slideshow, we sit back and watch the display of 38 images of “polyphasic colloidal foam” (espresso shots being extracted). The crème is divinely hazelnut in color (the ideal), thick, and almost foamy. The body of each shot is nearly black and consistent in color, balancing the crème on top with perhaps the same grace that a Frenchman wears his beret. Jill and I are in stitches, giddy with the evidence before us: Indeed, there are other people out there who enjoy espresso snobbery just for the fun of it. In fact, there are people out there who take it seriously, and really know their shit, and document it for all the world to see.

For a moment, it dawns on me that nowhere else in my life do I give myself permission to be a comedic snob about anything. Espresso is the perfect can’t-hurt-anyone gig to be a snob about. It’s simply pure fun. There is a lot to learn, there are creative opportunities, there are gimmicks, and there are real deals. No harm done, much fun had.

The slideshow ends and a message box appears on the screen, asking if we would like to see it again. The suggestive nature of this question sets us off again and we are lost in laughter at the thought of more espresso porn, just when Tom, the assistant manager arrives for the afternoon shift.

Raising his eyebrows slightly, his scalp moves and his grey-speckled black hair shifts a little on his head. He smiles, freckles condensing at the corners of his mouth.

“What’s up, guys?”

(To be continued tomorrow)

  • Ryan

    Alright, man, this is totally random, but I found your blog while searching for a true definition of a brevé. After having read your post about it, I am inclined to think that you are one cultured individual, well-versed in the usage of the English language. And also coffee. Way to go! Not often that you find anyone actually interested in the history, origins, and finer points of making good espresso shots and all the associated culinary creations.

    Your post was definitely helpful in my quest. 🙂 Have an awesome day!

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