Some of my earliest coffee memories are of me as a little kid. I would hang out on the patios of friends of the family in a small town in west Texas where I grew up. These friends gave me this mostly milk and a hint of coffee concoction, that from what I remember was soothing and cozy. Then fast forward to my first real job, I worked in a grocery store and some days I had to go in at 6:00 am to help unload the truck. “Just pour some sugar and creamer into it and just drink it.” Is what I remember the grizzly old workers telling me when they poured me a Styrofoam cup full of this dark black tar from an old Mr. Coffee brewer that was probably 30 shades of brown to black. It wasn’t great but it warmed me up and gave me the caffeine boost I needed at the time. I am transported to sitting around IHOP, The Kettle, and Denney’s with my friends, laughing and drinking the endless pots of whatever was in those carafes. Those were the best of times. Then came my introduction to large chain coffee companies and what came to be my starter espresso beverage, the white mocha. I was hooked, I knew that I wanted to learn more, try more, and maybe one day work in the coffee industry. I found myself working for a very large chain corporate coffee company and that started a journey to learn more about coffee.
Am I a coffee guru or expert? Nope, I call myself a coffee enthusiast. So, when I think of the question What does coffee mean to me, the answer is multi-faceted just like coffee. It’s complex. And it’s more than that starter white mocha from earlier in my life. Coffee is a nuanced drink that can be as complex as wine or other fine spirits. Unfortunately, most people haven’t been introduced to what coffee can be by itself – no cream, no sugar, no fancy, just the natural flavor from the bean. Coffee can have a flavor profile that stretches from one end of the spectrum to the other. From a natural blueberry in a perfectly roasted coffee from the Guji region of Ethiopia to a smooth earthy profile from an Indonesian, each growing region imparts a different flavor to the bean – more on that in a later post. The same coffee can have a completely different profile depending on the roast too. Too dark and it will lose this or that, too light and the flavor profile may not develop. For me, exploring coffee is exciting. Tasting a new origin country or blend to determine the flavor profile is fun and educational, and when you do that with friends or others that appreciate coffee, it’s even better.
Coffee is a huge part of a lot of people’s daily routine and it brings people together. I am lucky to have worked in several coffee shops in my lifetime and in each location, you get to know your regulars. You learn their names, their favorite drink, and in some instances, like with some of the regulars at The Lounge, they become part of your extended family. If they don’t show up a day…you worry about them, you get invited to weddings and parties, you learn about their families, you share stories of joy and you hold each other up when times are tough, you are just as a part of their daily routine as they are a part of yours. All because you work in a coffee/tea shop.
At the end of the day coffee is about people. The people in the coffee growing regions that pour their all into producing a quality product. Roasters that use a balance of art and science to ensure each bean is roasted to bring out the best flavor. And in specialty coffee shops, like The Lounge, where I take pride in bringing the best cup of coffee to the neighborhood. Where, when I can, try to educate people about flavor profiles, brewing methods, and how to brew a better cup of coffee. Because after all of the above mentioned “coffee industry” people have done their part, it’s our customers that get to enjoy that cup of coffee and hopefully tell their friends about us. From bean to cup, I do what I do, because I love coffee and I love what I do.