August 16, 2012

8 years and 14 minutes and 25 seconds*

Time is peculiar in that you can spend a lot of it just by thinking about it. I think about it in terms of minutes and seconds. I think about it in terms of days and years and lifespans. And I think about it in terms of gravity and speed. It's always moving forward, at least in our current state. And I count its passing, as I rely on its lubrication of gravity pulling the water through my bed of ground coffee. "Time is of the essence." And fortunately for coffee brewing, it's fairly consistent. Imagine if, not only were time a variable in measuring the length of a coffee brew, but time were a variable in that we could change its speed. Maybe we can and we just don't know it.

Time is important in brewing coffee. Not just time, but timing. Listen to the deep, haunting, harmonic rhythm of the song "Abdication And Coronation" by Jan Bang. Listen to it real loud in your car with the windows up, so you can feel it in your diaphragm. Think how this song would be different if you let the Beastie Boys perform it in their stop-and-go style of Brooklyn hip-hop.
It's the difference in the taste of a presspot of Sumatra Aceh Gold versus a pourover of Colombia Maduro.

Maybe if I stand next to something massive, like the Burj Khalifa, I'd be able to brew coffee sideways. And maybe time moves faster inside the building than out and I could brew a presspot in 3 relative minutes. Maybe not.

I think about time when I read about Colombus crossing the Atlantic and finding a bunch of (soon-to-be-exterminated) Indians in the Dominican Republic and Honduras and Venezuela. And when I read about Lewis and Clark crossing the continent and finding a bunch of (soon-to-be relocated) Indians on (soon-to-be-confiscated) land in mountains and prairies and on rivers and deserts. It only took us 200 years and two coffee revolutions to pave the entire west coast. And shortly after Colombus populated the Caribbean with Europeans, the French would replace the dead Indians with African slaves and build coffee plantations on their backs until a bloody rebellion saw the "masters" in the unstable ground beneath the feet of the oppressed. It wasn't that long ago. How many Haitian Bleu coffee beans have been roasted in Portland coffee shops over the past 200 years? Not enough, I tell you.

And when will the Maduro be back in stock at the DoubleShot Roastery? It's been far too long. I can't agree more, but patience (the virtue my mother warned me never to pray for) mixed with anticipation is a healthy use of this time. Oh god, I wish I were more patient! No no! Patience comes with trials. Damned the answered prayers. And to hell with that Garth Brooks song too. As far as I know, Maduro landed in the U.S. two weeks ago. There is always time spent waiting for Customs to clear the container before we can get the coffee. It will be here soon, I'm confident. And it will be better than you remember.

The last few seconds of a roast, especially of a new coffee that I don't know very well, is crucial. It's sort of like when I was a kid and I loved cinnamon toast. And my mom taught me how to make it: spread butter on the bread, get the brown plastic bear with the perforated top and generously shake the cinnamon/sugar mixture in a snake-like pattern across the bread, turn the oven on broil, put the bread on a pan and get ready. Because you know there's a perfect done-ness to cinnamon toast, and those final seconds are heart-wrenching. You can't keep opening the oven door, but if you let it go too long it's not very good, and if you don't get it done enough you might as well have not wasted your time putting it in the oven at all. It all happens so fast and a few seconds can mean cutting the crust off the bread, or worse (smoke pouring out of the oven, setting off the smoke alarm, climbing up onto a dining room chair, fanning it with a dish towel, heart pounding). You have to get it right. Just right. Right second. Right done-ness. I'm that little kid with my cinnamon toast Roaster, fretting over seconds and coffee beans. Because it's really hard to trim the crust off a coffee bean.

The DoubleShot is now 8 years old. Its' birthday passed Monday in relative workaday routine. It's actually somewhat remarkable that the DoubleShot is afloat. People say different things about it, and I have my thoughts. And I remember a lot; less, though, than I don't remember. It's a place where I call the shots and I respond to every need. A place where several years have passed fairly quickly, but not as many years as it has felt like. And maybe it's time to revisit the reasons I opened the DoubleShot to begin with, 8 years ago on March 5, 2004 (when my baby had just turned 38). I had a dream.

The day I roasted the first batch of coffee in my kitchen with a fluid bed roaster I bought from Coffee Project online, I had an epiphany that would change my life dramatically. All at once, the coffee exploded onto my palate, which I remember in vivid colors and emotions, and I remember looking out the arched window, across the street to a small field of dormant yellow grass, frosted with white winter dew, shaded by the IDL, smiling, puzzled. Where had this flavor been hiding? Where did this vibrancy and complexity come from? It was as if I had been drinking coffee in that cold, scratchy, yellow, overcast field my whole life, and I'd just tasted Summer mountain wildflowers in shades of blue and purple Columbines, red and orange Indian Paintbrush, white and pink Elephant's Heads. It was like the first time, at 23, I drove through the Colorado Rockies, after spending my entire life in the cornfields of Illinois and the red dirt Crosstimbers of Oklahoma. It's the monotony of sameness over time that lulls you into being okay with mediocrity. And at some point I decided that I should share this discovery that I found hiding inside coffee beans with the people around me. Because I wanted everyone else to have the experience I had there in my apartment in 1998.

And I hope you have had those moments. I hope the toil and my paying attention to time and detail has paid off for you. I hope you have had explosions in your mouth and smiles across your face because of the coffee we produce.

This week, on our anniversary week, give the coffee a little time. Pause for a second. Take the lid off and sit down. Inhale the aromas, aerate the coffee in your mouth and swish it around on your tongue and exhale through your nose so you can catch the smell before you swallow. Enjoy the coffee, and explore the difference in the cup that is inherited from our years of experience and our attention to minute increments of weight and forces and seconds.
It's all for you.

*how long it took to gain the experience necessary to roast and pull that delicious shot of single-origin espresso you drank on the sidecart Tuesday morning.
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