A Brush With Death, A Taste of World Bean
24-D, aisle seat, on the smallest airplane currently flying in the North American slipstream. They’ve shrunk her with an x-ray discombobulator, some miniature unseen hand screwing and rutting teensy tiny rivets in the wing bolts. Tiny! This hollow craft, this hunk of junk, this vessel of incomprehensibly precious moldings and nuts, a thousand moving ghastly parts…ventilators and stabilizers and flak repellents and prêt-à-porter oxygen masks and pay-to-play beverage carts. How profoundly unnatural, this beast, this metallic osprey, gleaming albatross, aluminum coated carrier pigeon. Terrifying! The slightest slip! The smallest functional malfeasance and we’ll all wind up as atomic-orange crash site flags, identifiable only by our charred passports, the rest reduced to smithereens and nuclei…
Down through the cloud cover…our monstrous miniature iron maiden compressing us smaller, while all of us, her precious coach cargo, busy ourselves with the dissonant disconnect weeble-wobble dance, “ignoring” the turbulence, jostling to and fro, sliding, doing the seat-bound bunny hop over endless tenement warehouses. That’s where I’ll wind up! I’ll become one (in the cosmic sense) with some Jamaica, Queens brownstone, my core atoms heat-blasted into the brick mortar block. How are there still conversations and laughter going on around me? Don’t these people realize – we’re all going to die! This plane is tiny! Turbulence! Weeble! Wobble! Who are we? What are we doing here? Get me off of this thing! What am I doing with my life?
And amidst the rush and hum and terror, a life raft….
“I can’t wait to have a shot when I land.”
LaGuardia Airport’s Delta Terminal doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s drab, gray, boring, forgotten, very much the “other airport”, the chunky little brother on the New York airport scene (well manicured JFK surely gets all the girls). But inside LGA…inside that Delta Terminal…it’s a foodie wonderland bonafide, a taste bud nerd’s Valhalla. Real brick oven pizza, nouveau-Parisian bistro, bonkers burgers, a wine cellar steak joint, and snacks and chips and organic fruit packs and chocolates to rival the fanciest market in the poshest neighborhood of any city in the world. But the crown jewel…the reason why I’m here…
World Bean is an airport coffee shop. It’s also a top-notch, multi-roaster, working specialty cafe of a caliber you’d be impressed to find in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Portland, Chicago, Capitol Hill, Silver Lake, the Mission District, Victoria…. let your boggled cognitive mind work through layers of disconnect. When I visited the tableau looked like this:
2 three-group Slayers, 5 distinct offerings from the likes of Barismo, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture Coffee, V60 pour-overs, mannered dress, proficient demeanor, an intense dissection of the espresso roasts vis-a-vis the aforementioned Slayer (“single out the 2 bean blend!” “a new lexicon for coffee shops!”), and a studious, joyful outlook on World Bean’s unique role as specialty coffee ambassadors. The layers of airport terminal juggling that go on are truly astonishing: Bourbon varietal washed 70/30 Guatemalan espresso, from Fincas El Trinidad and El Bosque, sourced directly by Barismo; some incongruous man, a rather large and sweaty fellow, who approaches the bar with his 4-cuppa container from Dunkin’ Donuts, on the hunt for pastries; 5-6 offerings on a rotating menu, focusing on micro and micro-macro alike, soon to feature espresso blends custom-designed for World Bean; a pronounced, operational, and occasionally frustrating commitment to not scaring off “the 82% of people who put cream and sugar in their coffee”. The space welcomes all, and I mean all, the tens of thousand of souls who make their egress and ingress out of LGA each and every day. The cream and sugars, the coffee snobs, the Dunkin’ cuppas, each and every one treated (ready or not) to shockingly good coffee en route to the cab stand.
And it’s a fascinating space, to be sure, placed square in the middle of OTG’s foodie future food court. One comes wob-wobbling off the plane, jellied, past the baying abattoir crush of the crowd, past the put-out Delta loudspeaker madame curtly intoning yet another delay for Flight 3726 to Hartsfield-Jackson (“It may not be realistic, but I still need your cooperation”)…around a soft curve in the terminal, and then…a V-60 pour-over bar! mega-modded grinders! top notch baristas! a Mies van de Rohe-lookin’ espresso machine out of “War of the Worlds”! Triangulated cuppings on the back bar, shots that ring consistently clean and bright (Matt is my barista on the way in, Jack pulls me shots on the way home), a brewed cup of stand-out fruity floral soft lavender Barismo Finca El Bosque, as good as anything you’d get in Chelsea or Williamsburg, only you aren’t in Chelsea, you are in a goddamn airport terminal, somehow, drinking fantastic coffee.
They’re as proud of the Slayer as anything else. For Jesse Kahn, Director of Coffee for OTG and World Bean poobah, it’s part and parcel in lockstep with his overarching mission statement: extolling the virtues of exciting, innovative companies, using products that tell stories, and giving himself and his staff the freedom to decide, each and every morning, “what do we want this to taste like today?”. Learning curves and new employee training quickly melt into a “a consistent, fluid cadence”, as daily work on a machine that “de-error proofs coffee” forces baristas to demand more from themselves behind bar. I ask Jesse, “is the proof in the coffee?”. He nods, smiles, and tempers his enthusiasm with a modest “…I hope so”. Allow my humble opinion to confirm these hopes.
Back on another airplane, only slightly larger this time, and the terror returns unabated. Surely we’ll all die this time. Surely this will be it…some freak snowstorm over Minneapolis, or a flock of migratory geese in engine #2, or a UFO intercept…disaster will strike, we’re sure to be felled. I pray and fidget, begin re-reading my novel, wait for the aluminum foil trickle of adrenaline to creep down the back of my throat as the engine roars… but it never comes. My palate is only minutes out from a Barismo Zone 10 Wabi-Sabi shot, one of those long finishers still flitting like a changeling on my tongue well after the last sip, pleasantly distracting me from my certain imminent doom. A brush with death tempered by a Taste of World Bean.
I swear an oath to worship this distraction for all it’s worth til we’re safely at cruising altitude.
Photo of World Bean by Liz Clayton.