I sort of skipped “Go” with the launch of Coffeegeek and jumped right into an article. Let’s back up a bit...
I come from Southern Ontario. My first cup of coffee was from Tim Horton’s (an ubiquitous Canadian donut shop chain). Prior to that I never touched the stuff. I had spent the previous 19 years of life telling my parents that coffee would stunt their growth.
When I first tasted coffee I was desperately looking for something that I could call my own. I’m half Italian. My grandfather made wine, my father makes wine. I hated wine. My heart ached when I couldn’t share in their enjoyment of wine. I needed my own thing. I wanted to be a connoisseur of something... anything. To know something intimately. To appreciate its nuances and subtleties. So began my love affair with coffee.
The book by Timothy Castle called “The Perfect Cup” opened the door to the enticing, and exotic world of coffee. I read everything on coffee I could find. There wasn’t much. I went to every place that called itself a coffee shop. I sought to divine the truth from the depths of dark liquid in each cup. Coffee became a true and constant companion. Coffee wrote my thesis, provided endless hours of over-stimulation, and exciting conversation. What’s not to like?
At the time my main focus was on drip coffee. I dabbled in espresso, but mostly I was just disappointed in the vile liquid that arrived in my demitasse cup. The espresso always needed something that was pecan pie sweet to go with it.
This dabbling took place on the cusp of the Specialty Coffee explosion. I was riding the wave ahead of a certain coffee chain’s cancerous expansion throughout North America, which brought with it the redefining of coffee culture as we know it. You can’t just order a simple cup of coffee anymore. There is no such thing. Many of you have foolishly tried. “Light or dark? Short, tall, or grande? Winy African or big, bold and earthy Sumatran?”
Along came the green aprons with mermaid crests.
Starbucks and I met when they opened their first store in Toronto. It was all the rage. It was “the” place for coffee. The coffee was black as sin. Unlike anything I had ever tasted. Initially unapproachable. The only reason I kept trying it was that I was told I was supposed to like it. It was supposed to be something special. Yeah, whatever. When your piss starts looking and smelling like coffee, something is not right.
Starbucks and I met again a year later in Vancouver. I got a job with’em and my very own green apron with a mermaid crest. My tour of duty was an intense but short 8 months. I was the in-house coffee expert. As such, I sucked the very marrow of their resources. There was nothing in their books that I did not know.
Ironically espresso remained a mystery. I could not understand the laudatory descriptions for espresso I had read in light of what I had tasted at work. Although I prepared it daily, an appreciation was lacking. I drank lattes or black coffee. Forgive me, but I even crossed over into Hazelnut cappuccinos for a short time.
Finally, a trip to Commercial Drive (the local Italian neighbourhood) introduced me to espresso that tasted the way it had been described in books. I was blown away. I had two shots just to be sure of what I had tasted. This still remains my standard for espresso. With great espresso I find myself saying, “Aaron, that was so good you should probably have another.”
Since then it has been all about espresso.
I burned out at the ‘bucks’ and ended up as an apprentice roaster and barista at JJ Bean. I have since then roasted coffee, managed their flagship store, burned out, quit, and come back in my current position. I’m now a coffee apologist, soft sell expert, trainer, service tech, cupper and quality control guy. I’m a Coffee Missionary. Imbuing baristas (disciples) with desire and passion for great coffee. These disciples are then released into the world. Sent forth to convert the unwashed, baptizing them with carefully crafted espresso. Amen to that brother.
Sounds great eh? You might think that in a city the size of Vancouver, with a voracious appetite for coffee that there would be a lot of people to talk coffee with. You’d also think that the level of discussion would be of a world class caliber. There aren’t, and it’s not.
Next week I’ll give a little insight into the wasteland of Vancouver. “Coffee shops are everywhere, great coffee is nowhere.” You can’t teach people what they think they already know. Welcome to my life.
Where coffee trainers go to die...The scene in Vancouver.