Coffee Cup
"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2022 - All rights reserved

Coffee Cup
Sometimes Knowledge is Cumulative. Sometimes.
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
all text and photos unless otherwise noted ©2022 - All rights reserved

    The nature of knowledge is that it is cumulative; it builds. Like a child's building-block set, each block is a small part of what is to come. The child learns through trial and error that there are stacking methods that work and others that lead to tears. The failures lead to discoveries as valuable as the successes. If you draw lines back through history, linking past events to current ones, we could say that we were able to put a man on the moon because of the discovery of smelting bronze which replaced stone tools.
    Coffee is the same. Regardless as to whether a man actually saw hyperactive goats eating some special berries which led to the first cappuccino or not, we have come a long way in regards to coffee knowledge. The science of roasting and the art of roasting and both the art and science of making a cup of coffee multiplied by the subjectiveness of tasting coffee has created a mass of information that is nearly infinite. In the past I said that if you ask three roasters about the best way to roast any given origin you will likely get at least four different answers. So much to learn and so much which should be ignored. It takes knowledge to learn which is which.
    A thread on recently discussed “How do you talk to a barista?” How, indeed! Let's add yet another imponderable to the previously mentioned conundrum. To define or even understand what a barista is today you will have to encompass a very wide range of knowledge beginning with none. It can refer to a PBTC (person behind the counter) whose knowledge is limited to which button to press on a superauto espresso machine and how to use the cash register, and even that may be stretching things a bit. Towards the other extreme we will find a person who knows the roast and blend they are using, when it was roasted, the farm on which it was grown, whether it is a natural or washed, the best temperature to brew at, how long of a pre-infusion, the size of the burrs in the grinder, and much more. For many reasons, you are most likely to find a person closer to the first example than the second. It is the same difference as it is when comparing the person who asks, "Do you want fries with that?" with whom you have little to talk about and a 'Head Chef' at a fine restaurant (who likely wouldn't talk to you anway).
    I added a couple of posts to the thread which from the various participants combined sage advice, comments on the current state of the economy, and management styles. But the answer to the question is much like that of many other cultural skills and services: sometimes you can talk to the person and learn, sometimes you can't, and there will be times that if you try you may as well try to teach a cow how to ride a unicycle. But the thread reminded me of an early incident in my coffee-life which I share with you now:

    There was a coffee shop that advertised in my newspaper back in the late 90's. Whatever the date may have been, it was before I considered making coffee of any sort at home. We stopped into that shop to pick up the payment for their advertisement. We each ordered a cappuccino. Keep in mind that in that period I had no knowledge of the making of coffee beverages of any kind. The 'barista' was the shop owner. He was stretching the milk with the steam wand of the espresso machine for my beverage. I watched with interest and then asked, "What is the thermometer for?"
    He answered, "It's to make sure the milk gets hot enough to kill the bacteria."

    If I only knew then what I know now. I might have have shared with him the relationship between the protein and fats, about the best maximum temperature to keep the microfoam from collapsing, and how to judge that without a thermometer. But back then I was unencumbered by the thought process as well as the applicable knowledge. I assumed that he knew what he was talking about (refer to my blog Chapter 130 - False Authority - Teaching How To Make Bad Espresso). Of course, I should have known commented that if there was bacteria in that milk which needed elimination, the milk should not have been used in the first place. My most sincere apologies to Louis Pasteur for not brining him into the conversation at that time. Maybe there is some health law governing that, but it matters not.
    Before I posted my message in the Home-Barista thread I read it to my to my wife and we discussed since that incident. She said, "You had to build your knowledge."
    My reply was, "Some people show up to work without a toolbox."
    Keep that story in mind next time you order a drink at a coffee shop, and feel free to open your toolbox and share your knowledge. But please, do it after your beverage has been handed to you. You know why!

Coffee Cup
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