Welcome to Weekend Sprudge Reader, an occasional foray into short fiction, memoir, and / or gonzo from the Sprudge global creative network. We hope you enjoy Weekend Sprudge Reader.
The following is excerpted from “The ABCs of Coffee”, Mike Ferguson‘s forthcoming full-color children's book, subtitled “A Guide to the Most Critical and Fundamental Issues Facing Specialty Coffee Professionals as Explored Through Images from SCAA 2015, Seattle.” We've paired these vignettes with original cartooning from Thomas Putman, who served as Sprudge's Cartoonist-At-Large at the recent SCAA Event in Seattle.
A is for Apparel
Few decisions, these days, are as important in the morning routine of a specialty coffee professional and a barista in particular as the decision about what to wear, including choice of accessories such as watches, jewelry, eyeglasses, and sashes. Please note that neckties, socks, and footwear are considered clothing. Unlike the necktie, a sash is considered an accessory because it is almost always optional whereas a necktie can, at times, be mandatory or at the very least, obligatory. A sash rarely rises to the level of compulsory, with two widely accepted exceptions: If you are a beauty queen you may be required to wear a sash. Also, if you dress as a giant coffee bean in the color brown from head to toe, an explanatory sash is highly recommended so that people do not mistake you for a giant turd. Do not neglect your accessories even as you must set aside any fragrance other than coffee because this is our world. The need to properly balance comfort and style when choosing shoes cannot be overstated and is the second most common apparel fail among baristas after the pocket square.
B is for Better Mousetrap
If you build a better mousetrap, the old saw goes, the world will beat a path to your door. Setting aside the fact that few of us live in homes or work in manufacturing facilities to which a path must or could be beaten, the idea that something truly new and innovative will attract attention in the form of revenue, if not profit, remains an attractive piece of perceived low hanging fruit in an industry where the elements of extraction are well understood while the methods for achieving it seem like a delta full of many paths to the brewing sea. Which is to say, build a better cup of coffee and the coffee world will stalk you until Starbucks buys your company. Mice, in general, are incompatible with any specialty coffee environment and cannot be tolerated.
C is for Champion
It has been nearly 40 years since Freddy Mercury wrote the rock ballad, “We Are The Champions“, and we have learned two important facts in that time. First, scientific researchers have determined (and we are not making this up) it is the catchiest pop song of all time. Second, we have realized, most of us, that we are not the champions. And yet, within the coffee universe at least, there are multiple championship opportunities, the preeminent being, Word Barista Champion. Despite the fact that many baristas believe the best barista in the world is likely toiling away quietly and anonymously on a 20 year old Linea in a coffeehouse and a town they’ve never heard of, there is little doubt that the best competition barista is crowned each year at the WBC event, though, oddly, Queen is never the crowning soundtrack. Yes, there are many awards awarded each year but none ascend to the drama of the WBC ceremony when only two competitors remain without a trophy. If it was a foot race this would be the finish line and the winner displays all the incumbent emotion of having just swept the tape by mere inches. The crowd goes wild, mostly in celebration of the champion but also out of sheer relief over not having to listen to any more sponsorship recognition.
D is for Delivery
Coffee can be and is delivered, repeatedly in its life, via every method of locomotion and container imaginable. From donkeys to dinghies, coffee is moved from one place to another over and over again from the day it is picked. Baskets, bags, buckets, busses, barrows and bikes, coffee is always on the move. Carl Diedrich, the story goes, used to drive his Volkswagen bus from southern California to Guatemala to retrieve green coffee for his store front roasting operation. Roasters in large cities use bicycles to deliver small orders to local wholesale accounts. To date, however (and we are still waiting for surveys to be returned), we have yet to hear of coffee being transported, for any reason, via surfboard. We’re not saying it doesn’t happen, it’s just that the route seems never to arrive anywhere. You’ll remember, of course, that when Carl Diedrich returned from a trip to Guatemala and roasted the coffee in his small storefront roastery on a roaster he built himself, you could come in and buy beans from him but you were not really invited to hang around and have a cup of coffee. Like the original Starbucks and the original Peet's locations, Diedrich was operating a “bean store.” There was no seating and the only reason any of them brewed coffee was so you could sample their product.
E is for Extraction
Soluble material. We are, all of us, miners trying to extract gold, soluble material, from ground coffee and do it in a way that makes people grateful we did. Those who are the business of delighting others become addicted to it in the same way that our customers come to depend on what we do and how we do it in all the good ways people depend on things, if not for good reason then for reason enough. Every brew holds within it the potential for disaster and worse, disappointment. The target is surprisingly small within the range of possible outcomes but getting there has been an open secret for so long the challenge now is a war of inches. Delightful. More delightful. Most delightful. If there is a point of diminishing returns chances are we will not recognize it until it appears in the rearview mirror but in the meantime we dig deeper.
Original illustration by Thomas Putman for Sprudge.com.