When I first moved to Seattle, I was a youngling. I didn’t know much. But I did already know how to drink coffee. Once, a friend asked me if I was addicted to coffee, and I answered, not even trying to be funny, “No, but I’m trying to be.”
My parents drank loads of the brown sludge every morning. I believe at one point my father was drinking at least a whole pot by himself every day. When my parents were trying to have “quality time” they’d sit across the table from each other sipping coffee and looking into each other’s eyes. My mother and grandmother would drink a cup at night after dinner and still go to bed at a reasonable hour! And I’d drink several cups at Denny’s Diner with my friends whenever we got the urge to flee our small town in the middle of the night, just like that song, “Meet Virginia” that played on the radio so often then (“She only drinks coffee at midnight, when the moment is not right…”).
But Seattle is known as the land of coffee, and for good reason. This city alone is responsible for the upsurge of coffee drinkers in this nation and the entire world! (citation needed;)
And yes, I’m talking about Starbucks. Howard Schultz most famously popularized the coffeeshop for all of America and all those milky, sugary drinks newbies like me were trying to figure out how to drink. And now he’s probably running for President! But that’s for another day. (Oh, and I just found out last summer that the “1st Starbucks” that’s located in the Market, is not actually the first Starbucks! It’s a lie! The first one is gone forever!)
I remember when a Starbucks showed up in Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids. My dad pointed it out and then we went one night, not knowing what to order. We were used to mud coffee straight out of the pot, no milk or sugar. Starbucks was coffee for the masses, for people who needed their truth laced with sugar. And who doesn’t like a sugary drink to get them jacked up at all hours of the day or night?
Americans drink coffee–I suspect–mostly because of the Boston Tea Party. I’m not really sure. But it stands to reason. We were pissed at the British tax on tea, so we switched to coffee instead, as a kind of revolt, and of course after those colonists dumped all of the King’s tea into the river, you were practically siding with the British if you drank tea!
But I wonder if Americans began to drink coffee for other reasons. We are such puritanical workaholics in this country that maybe we needed it just to survive our hectic work lives.
Lately, I’ve started driving for Lyft so I can make my car payment (oh, yeah, forgot to mention I bought a car, more on that later) and, well, also to keep buying expensive groceries, and yes, coffee. If you must know, I usually buy my coffee at Trader Joe’s, the Organic Fair Trade Sumatra blend with low acidity. I’ve been getting up well before 7am so I can be just awake enough to drive people around who work probably way harder than I do at jobs that seem utterly meaningless to me and probably most other people on this planet. It stresses them out so much, but because of these horrible jobs whose importance no one is quite sure of and whose job titles remain ever more obscure, they can afford to order Lyft drivers to show up at their house and shuttle them off to work. That’s where I–as of last week–come in.
The other morning, this goofy older Amazon worker chattered away in the back seat–much to the chagrin of the other shared Lyft passenger–about this and that and a whole lot of nothing, and I chattered right back, because we were both blathering at 7am on coffee. At one point he exclaimed ever so cheerfully (in fact he called me a “cheerful Lyft driver!”) “Thank whoever discovered coffee!”
I seconded that gratefulness. If it weren’t for coffee, I would probably never get up in the morning. It’s the ingrained ritual I constantly utilize to break through the brain fog that plagues me every single day of my life. It gives me real joy and even charisma at times! Such as in the hours between 7-9am while tensing up through traffic and trying not to absorb the stress and fatigue of all these people running on the rat-race treadmill.
The rat-race treadmill kinda makes me think of the Relationship Escalator which is basically: meet, date, fall in love, move in together, marry, have kids, die. Like the Relationship Escalator, the rat-race treadmill seems to follow a similar pattern. After high school, go to college, get good grades, apply for lots of scholarships and internships, get lots of great skills to build your resume, land a good corporate job, work your way up through the ranks by building on each previous title you held before, such as project designer, HR administrator, marketing and project manager, and on and on. Keep building that profile, keep updating that LinkedIn. Keep moving up in the world to get that next big pay raise so you can buy a house and max out your 401K. “That’s not in my pay-grade,” people often quip(mostly men, though, if we’re being honest), but the truth is, they’ll probably do it anyway, especially if they’re a woman, but mostly because they want to keep their jobs and get that raise.
Last side note: I don’t remember Seattle being this business and corporate focused! It didn’t used to be all tech people working 60-hour weeks. Of course, it doesn’t account for the wealth of coffeeshops here in Seattle.
I’ve always explained it as a consequence of the weather. It’s so godawful grey here, that I think it drives people to drink more coffee. It’s a comforting drink, a soothing smell that makes people happy, and a much needed jolt back to the body when you need to focus and get shit done, especially when you’re working too much. Not that coffee actually helps you focus all that well, but it gives you that temporary jolt that makes you feel alive and ready to do stuff.
For me, the taste alone is enough to get me excited about going downstairs to boil the water and grind the coffee. I like pour over best these days. It’s less acidic with the filter and tastes cleaner; I don’t like drinking the silt you get with a french press.
I’ve also made coffee a handful of times over the years. I even applied for such prestigious places as Stumptown–whose coffee I thought I liked, but since then, don’t really care for all that much. They didn’t hire me anyway. I was probably too casual and colorful for their taste. I feel like, if you wanna work at Stumptown, you have to be really skinny, wear all black(or grey), have died hair, full-sleeve tattoos and piercings, and look a bit morose. I had the tattoos and piercings (almost) down, but that day, I rode my bike over in a sweaty teal tank top, armpit hair sticking out, bright pink shorts with hairy legs and floppy Converse, and I probably smelled like BO. I hadn’t been expecting an interview that day. I also told them that I was applying to grad schools all over the country. And I acted too eager about learning the ever perfect art of pulling a pristine shot when the guy showed me their secret training room in the bowels of the 12th Ave store.
But first, I started making coffee at North Hill Bakery on 15th(don’t look, it’s not there anymore, it got replaced by a gluten-free bakery, Nu-Flours, which is delicious, but soooo expensive!). I wanted the woman Margot that worked there to teach me how to be a barista. So eventually, after easing my way in (and for various other reasons), I quit my job at QFC for the coffee/bakery job making half as much and getting up at 5am. I know, crazy, right?
At North Hill, we served Batdorf and Bronson Dancing Goats coffee and I loved it. The name of their Dancing Goats blend is inspired by the legend of who actually discovered coffee. I was trying to remember the story when that obnoxiously cheerful guy intoned gratefulness to the coffee gods. I wanted to say, “It was goats, man!” But I wasn’t 100% sure. And most of the time, I like to be sure.
So this shepherd guy had a lot of goats. He took care of them all day, every day, taking them safely to pasture, taking them up into the mountains in the hot months, making sure they found enough grass to eat and a safe place to sleep at night. Then in the colder months, they’d come down the mountain again. One day, towards the end of Spring, just before they were about to leave for the mountains again, the shepherd was looking for a few stray goats that had gone missing. He didn’t have to look far, he saw them on the other side of the creek bed dancing! Yes, that’s right. A group of about five goats all dancing. He couldn’t believe his eyes. How in Allah’s name were they dancing? He waded through the shallow creek and came up the bank toward the bushes and noticed the bright cherry-red berries scattered all over the ground. He had seen them before but didn’t know what they were. Now he saw that his goats were eating them, and dancing!
It’s a good legend.
Eventually I got a job at Macrina Bakery as a barista where I received professional training at their coffee partnership location down in Sodo. There I got a little bit better at my coffee skills, but not much. My problem was precision and not having enough time. I often made crappy lattes because I wasn’t steaming the milk properly, and then getting all the bubbles out. (I just took a sidetrack and watched David Schomer’s old videos on how to make latte art. That guy is passionate about coffee!).
A few summers ago, I began making coffee again at Sunlight. They have a nice old machine that can get a little finicky at times, but it does the job. And I really enjoyed making coffee again. It’s nice to jump in there every now and then and give coffee slinging a try. Yesterday, I was behind the bar and by slowing down and really making the extra effort, I improved my latte art immensely! I even got a compliment from Momo, the good barista there. They said they always like when I barista because I do it right! Yeah!
Originally, I started this blog post to write down the places you can find a cheap cup of coffee in this town because it’s so goddamn expensive. But I’ll save that for another time.
For now, I’ll leave you with this story from my early days in Seattle.
One day I went into this hipster coffeeshop in upper Fremont on the way towards Ballard, you know it. I’ll tell you later. And I ordered a caramel macchiato. No lie. And guess what came? An actual, little goddamn macchiato with disgusting caramel flavor in it. It was absolutely undrinkable.
I hated it. And then, in my new short, choppy, dyed raven black hair trying to be like every other Seattleite in 2004, I complained, sent it back, and the barista said to me in a supercilious tone, “This is not Starbucks.” I could see it in her eyes. She knew actual coffee. She knew how to drink coffee. All I knew how to drink was diner coffee and Starbucks shit.
So I ordered a 12 ounce latte with caramel syrup and walked out into the rare Seattle sun, trying to hold my head high as my friend Julie laughed at me.
The funny thing is, 15 years later, now I really do hate Starbucks, just like most Seattleites.