I know almost nothing about coffee. I don’t know how it works, I just know that it does. I know that when it’s coursing through my veins I feel like a million bucks, like I can smash through walls and power through Monday meetings like a champion.
I know that when I catch a whiff of java I’m taken back to early morning soccer tournaments, all-nighters in college, and my first 9-to-5 job.
I know a little about the health effects of coffee, that some people say it will make you work harder, and live longer. I know that some say coffee cures cancer. I know that some say it gives you cancer. And I know that there’s a little truth in all of that.
But like I said, I know plenty about the effects of coffee, but I know nothing about it. Dark roast? Light roast? Peruvian? Americano? French press? These terms mean nothing to me. So when I need a great cup of joe, I need help.
I need a barista.
Baristas have been the butt of many a joke in recent years. That’s more or less inevitable when they’re wearing a shirt that looks like it’s worth less than the cup of coffee they’re drinking,1 but when did we stop admiring the skill of a deft-touched barista?
Wine connoisseurs, craft brewers, barbecue pitmasters — these professions aren’t just admired, they’re revered, and as much a part of our culture as artists or musicians. Why not the talented roaster?
A good coffee jockey can suggest a blend tailored from your other preferences, or advise how finely you might need your beans ground, depending on the brew method, and the million dollar question: when and when not to freeze your coffee.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Maybe we need to be reminded how hard it is to find what satisfies our taste.
In a TED Talk on the psychology of humans and taste (or more specifically, extra-chunky spaghetti sauce), Malcolm Gladwell explains how Dr. Howard Moskowitz pioneered (and basically proved) that humans don’t really know what they want. “The mind knows not what the tongue wants,” Moskowitz would say as he informed millions of Americans that they had for years been secretly craving tomato sauce with increased chunkiness.
The result of Moskowitz’s work was America learned that it wasn’t a perfect recipe of spaghetti sauce that they wanted, but lots of different recipes to choose from.2 The point, is that we sometimes need help figuring out what we actually want even if it’s right there in front of us.
In fact, if you ask the average American their favorite roast, they’ll probably say they like a “strong” cup of coffee. The only problem with this of course is that Americans overwhelmingly prefer a weak, milky cup of joe — proven by the millions of gallons they drink every year.
Sometimes we all need a little help. Maybe we all need a barista.
image via jake liefer