Whether it’s good or bad, it’s all good.
I love good coffee, the kind that takes five minutes to brew with a precise pour over and a steady hand. I love it when the beans are ground so fine, and so fresh, they’re basically illegal. I love the ritual of preparation. It’s a peaceful, focused time.
I love bad coffee, the kind that you buy in drive-thrus and rest stops, the kind you gulp down so fast it burns your throat. I love the quiet waits in line and the gentle small talk at the counter, the contemplation over the perfect accompanying donut. It’s a peaceful, frenetic time.
Coffee culture is a mess of opposites and dichotomies, of loud voices and vested interests, of tiny upstarts focused on quality and enormous subsidiaries of even bigger corporations that answer to investors. And despite the end goal being seemingly the same — the caffeination of a nation — for many people the journey couldn’t be more different.
I try to sample every type of coffee, and the places it’s served. I want to understand the reasons people drink it quickly, sip it carefully, or savor it. I want answers to why someone is willing, on one side of the spectrum, to microwave two-hour-old swill or, on the other side, spend ten dollars for an ounce of something rare.
Coffee culture is loud and opinionated and stubbornly loyal. Sound familiar?
Coffee is a drug; it’s a source of energy for millions, and income for millions more. It’s complicated.
And yet its success, its intense scrutiny and fascination and loyalty and drawn ire alike, all derives from its simplicity.
Some tech companies understand this simplicity better than others. Acaia makes a smart coffee scale that talks to an app while brewing to determine weight, time and, most importantly, flow rates for different kinds of preparations. It’s an understated and beautiful scale that, at $150, is far too expensive for the average drinker. So too is Ember, a smart coffee mug that keeps the brew at a particular temperature through a small heating element inside the container. Some smart coffee things go a little too far in their desire to be all things to all people.
My favorite coffee equipment has nothing to do with a Bluetooth signal. It’s as manual and as painstaking as it comes, and by the end leaves you feeling like you’ve earned that drink. I’ve had a similar realization about my job, which puts me in front of a screen for most of the day and well into the night. A pad of paper and a pen; a good real book. A freaking newspaper. Every once in a while, especially during this time of year, I like to remind myself that there’s more to this life than wireless signals.
Have a healthy, happy and fruitful Fourth of July, and to my Canadians who celebrated — thanks.