Tag Archives: preparation

Coffee is a Four Minute Novel

Customer Number Nine at Blue Bottle

Brewing coffee is a four minute novel.

Pulling a shot of espresso is a mere fraction of that.

You grind, you heat, coffee blooms, and then it dies. The novel, the ceremony, takes on the seriousness of a game.

For example, coffee is like a game of pinball. Pinball, like brewing coffee, is random, encased in glass, and an event, once the ball is launched, almost entirely beyond the player’s control. We have this human desire to beat the odds by telepathically imposing our will on the ball or shaking the machine. In coffee, especially, espresso we are all players. We have a history of loss, and the occasional high score.

Daily, every morning in fact, the thrill comes from not knowing whether your efforts will produce a good cup, a good shot, or something destined for the sink. As people, our strong suit is reflection rather than prediction. We are better at mourning than prophesying. Since we seldom see the end result in our mind’s eye, we have this deficit that gives us hope. We hope to just keep the ball in play, hope to brew the cup, and hope to extract the perfect shot.

Pat

© all photographic and literary rights reserved 2009 Pat Riggs

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Just a Handful of Beans

A handful of Beans

He stood for a moment-a child, alien and lost in the green and soaring gloom of the markless wilderness, then he relinquished completely to it. It was the watch and the compass. Getting rid of the gun wasn’t enough. He was still tainted. He removed the linked chain of the one and the looped thong of the other and hung them on a bush and leaned the stick beside them and entered it.”

William Faulkner The Bear

Every time I read The Bear, in the collection Go Down Moses, by Faulkner, I am reminded of coming of age. The young boy who is only 10, experiences that, to truly participate in life you have to abandon those tools that are mere devices of measurement. The colors, the alphabet, and fractions, — like the gun, the compass and the watch; these elementary things have to be discarded to truly create, to see the bear that no adult has been successful in hunting.

Often, we get so caught up in knowing, we forget to experience. We become so dazzled by the equipment; we forget how to become “caught up” in the enjoyment of the creative moment. We loose, or worse, never experience the pleasure of the simple act of creating something.

In the case of coffee, the tools available to us range from the Slayer Espresso Machine, to the simple hand cranked roaster, and the burning coals of a fire as used in the religious coffee ceremony in Ethiopia. I have been told that both these methods produce satisfying coffee. The fact that I have experienced neither of these extremes will have to be corrected someday, but in the mean time I use them as examples for the idea that no matter what the tools are in the creative process, they are not the focus. Some day I want to arrive at that place where I can sense what the temperature is, what bar of pressure is best or know when four minutes is up without the use of tools.  I don’t think I am writing out of turn when I say that we would all like to be in that place where our creative acts are no longer retarded by awkward and primitive struggles. I want to get beyond paying dues, and doing homework.

So…I find myself on this path to experience pulling the ultimate shot. Up ahead I see the learning curve and the path is steep. I am learning the vocabulary, training my sense of taste, aroma, cupping discipline, roasting, brewing, extracting, and becoming one with my lever pull machine. Some of you will mock and laugh, and already have. Echoing in my memory are the taunts of my friends, “It’s just coffee dude!

To which I reply, “you are right it is just coffee, but come and experience what I can do with this handful of beans.”

© 2009 all rights reserved Pat Riggs

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Man on Trial For Coffee Snobbery! Cafe or Kafka?

Razor wire fence claybank jail

“At the end of the day we are likely to be punished for our kindnesses.”

Michael Lonsdale as Jean -Pierre in Ronin.

I represent a client who loves coffee. He was arrested the other night for coffee snobbery.

The cops told his family that he needed help. The policy in these types of domestic criminal cases is one of zero tolerance. They claim he had a secret life. His coffee moniker is “Snobby.” The prison exposure is pretty bad. There are coffee priors. He is a registered offender.

After his wife paid our firm the retainer, I met with him for the first time. I reviewed the reports, and gave him my advice. I explained that he would never get a fair shake with the mass consumers in this town. He called me a dump truck lawyer, and shouted from behind the glass that I was in bed with the coffee chains, and super markets, and all those who market Coffea Robusta. He wanted a real lawyer, a lawyer who knew how to brew coffee.

The facts in the police report were pretty tough. I read that his wife was the one who first called the cops, and she wishes now she never dialed 911. Most mornings she sits alone in the kitchen. It is especially hard for her. He’s not there for her. The family La Marzocco Linea is cold, and sits idle. She misses the espressos, and the tiny ristrettos that stained the milk in his wonderful macchiatos.

I reminded him that a police report doesn’t have the veracity of the Old Testament. Cops make mistakes, but the first officer to arrive on scene witnessed the whole thing. My client stored his coffee in air-tight apothecary containers, away from the light and heat. He ground his beans just before pulling his shots, and he used a conical burr grinder modified to 325 microns for espresso. I looked up from the report that I was reading, and explained that a jury wouldn’t like that because it’s kitchen spec for coffee snobs.

The cops found his water filtration system; they even found the auxiliary tanks with the European waters. He had a library full of handbooks on cultivation of coffee plants, and other books detailing both the wet and dry processing of coffee cherries. The evidence tech seized some color photos of the CNC’s machined 58mm naked portafilters he used to pull what he called “Godshots.” These photos were found on the computer hard drive in the bedroom. Next to the computer the tech also uncovered some videos of the World Barista Championships. They found scales with coffee residue which is indicative of specialty coffee sales. They found thermometers for brewing and frothing. And last but not least, they found his espresso tamper set for 30 psi. He tried so hard to pull off the perfect tamp and grind.

All of this beautiful equipment was seized per the search warrant. The warrant, signed by the judge for day or night service, was supported by a damming affidavit penned by the under cover officer. The facts presented in the affidavit traced an elaborate plot of deception. My client would take a trip to the super market chain in one of his vehicles, and browse the coffee isle as if he was going to buy some Folgers or Hills Bros or Taster’s Choice. We watched the surveillance videos together as he loaded up his cart with vacuum packed cans. These videos were in real time, and it was so sad to see him attempt to sneak away, abandoning his cart in produce, just before exiting the store. The parking lot cam caught him driving away in another car. The police followed him to cafes like Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Verve. During the search they also found crude but effective accounting notes and receipts from the cafes called pay-owe sheets. These detailed his fondness for coffees from a region of Ethiopia known as Sidamo, a region of the world where the beans produce a citrus attribute, and creamy mouthfeel. Heavy stuff. Impossible to defend. When extracted as a single origin espresso, it’s deadly.

When I turned to him, and said he had no defense; he told me that I needed to hire an investigator. If I wouldn’t do this he would file a Marsden Motion to ask the judge to fire me for ineffective assistance of counsel. He would represent himself. He was adamant that his supply chain was transparent. Anyone could easily trace his coffee all the way back to the very farm where the beans were harvested. It would be easy to tell the jury the benefits and payback to the farmers, their families, and co-ops. Everyone in the supply chain benefited from his fair trade and direct trade principals. The farmers were implementing organic farming methods; so in addition to all of the above, the environment was benefited by the restoration of the indigenous rain forest trees, allowing the coffees to be shade grown and pesticide free.

I suppose that if the consumers ultimately convict him of snobbery, he will appeal the conviction. He will be one of those guys who file writs, habeas petitions, and the like. Only after a short time in custody he has become a real coffee house lawyer. The correctional officers tell me that he spends all of his time in the coffee section of the law library. He has asked for his cupping notes, and the reams of graphs that plot the home roasting profiles of his favorite beans. He can be found copying all the ads and claims of coffee chains. He distributes these to the inmates in his section of the jail who are the kitchen or mod workers.

We hired a cupping expert to review the notes, and reenact the roasting profiling and brewing as outlined. However, after testing we found the lab results worked against us. The coffee was too good, and worse, it was consistently too good. On the coffee calibrated scale — like rating wine, the brews were spot on 85 if not higher.

My closing argument will remind you that the defense or the theory of our case is one of Necessity. The judge will instruct you on what you need to find in order to make that decision. Remember, my client is not a coffee snob. He denies that he is a coffee snob. He states he is only concerned with brewing coffee the right way. Yes, his method of brewing was not consistent, you heard during the trial that he bounced back and forth, and experimented with every method: French press, Chemex, Syphon Brew, and the wildly addictive espresso double shot. He only expresses remorse for his behavior in that he meant to be a guide to those who brew drip, to guide those who think Mr. Coffees are the only way, to guide those who drink from Styrofoam cups, and to guide those who mindlessly pump stale coffee from Curtis Airpots day after dreary workday.

In his defense, he adhered to the law. He was not a transgressor. He followed the principals of organic chemistry in the roasting of his green beans, and the frothing of his milk. He followed the laws and principals of botany, weather, and world commodity markets. He never meant to offend, he only meant to help. He only meant to save the lost. He only meant to protect his friends, and family from the harsh and bitter extractions that so often passes for coffee.

And as you retire to your kitchens or your favorite cafe to deliberate I am sure that you will come to the conclusion that acquittal is the only option for my client. You will say to yourself, but for the grace of God go I.

Thank you

© 2009 all rights reserved Pat Riggs

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