Hi, my name is Christopher Pai and this is my story of how I got into coffee.
I remember sitting down in a Starbucks that was across the street from my Highschool, still wearing my running clothes from Track & Field practice, waiting for my parents to pick me up. To not feel bad about using the free wifi and taking up space within the shop, I decided I would order the cheapest drink on the menu so I could sit guilt free. Unfortunately, that meant that everyday after practice I would order that tall “freshly” brewed coffee with lots of room, adding in the proper amount of cream and sugar to make it taste somewhat palatable.
For the most part, this worked for me. I would order that $1.85 cup of dark oil and like magic, transform it into a new shade of light brown with a few packs of sugar and some creamer. However, as I became more serious into running and my lactose intolerance began to kick in, I had to slowly give up that mystical white powder (don’t worry still talking about sugar) and cream, and begin drinking the coffee by itself. Through this pain staking process of being too stubborn to pay for a better tasting beverage and not wanting to stink bomb the Starbucks with the gas that formed because of the dairy, I began to tolerate the taste of coffee. Like most others, this is the beginning of my journey.
It is this wonderfully weird phenomenon of, what many call, acquiring a taste or beginning to like a flavor that some may find offensive or different. A flavor that you yourself couldn’t stand that now for some strange reason you find rather pleasant. All it took for me was day after day to acquire this new flavor experience so that when I finally traveled all the way to Sydney, Australia, I was finally ready to fall in love with something I used to hate.
There is this small cafe that sits walking distance from the Sydney Opera House, in the Sydney harbor, that my family and I stopped at for a quick lunch. Trying to impress my family with my newfound discovery of drinking coffee black, I decided to order a drip coffee with no room. Wow, I can’t describe how fast my face changed from a smug prideful grin to one of utter disbelief and embarrassment, when my request to the waiter was met with,
“what is a drip coffee”?
I quickly tried to save grace trying to explain, “you know a regular cup of coffee”.
And, to no surprise the waiter responded, “I know what you said, but I don’t know what that is”.
As I sat there trying to understand why this man has no understanding of what a drip coffee is, racking my brain through the countless articles on the internet I looked at, to back up the new “drinking coffee black” me. I failed to realize that in true Australian fashion our waiter was messing with me and to my family’s amusement, trying to teach me that Australians don’t serve drip coffee. After finally reaching an agreement with the cheeky Australian waiter that I wanted, in his own words, “a coffee without the blah blah blah”, I was finally rewarded with my caffeinated beverage. Now for those of you who are aware with Australian coffee culture or their culture in general, you may be aware that I was not served just a cup of coffee, but rather an Australian beverage called a Long Black.
long black | (noun)A coffee style normally found in Australia and New Zealand, similar to an Americano, but stronger in aroma and taste. Often made by pouring two shots of espresso over hot water.
When I looked at this cup of coffee, it looked like whoever made it filled the entire cup with espresso, served with a side of hot water in a personal sized kettle. The crema that was resting on top had this luxurious and rich brown coloration, giving off the sweetest aroma of almost an almond croissant. Just by looking at it, I could tell that this was just, different than anything that I have had before. Even today, when I go about a cupping or buy myself a new bag of coffee, I still get those same sensations from that fateful day in Sydney. Drinking coffee that clearly from the moment that coffee cherry seed was planted in the ground, was looked after and cared for with intentions of preserving as much flavor throughout each process, to eventually being brewed carefully for a customer can be tasted. It’s undeniable. Time after time, I will brew a bag of coffee from a big named roaster and a bag from a specialty roaster for people who claim to not know the difference, and time after time again will they be able to taste the difference.
It may have been the combination that I was a bit jet lagged and still was only drinking at max a cup of coffee a day, but after promptly downing the long black, I felt like I had this out of body experience. I have never been high before in my life, but I swear this is what I had imagined it feeling like. Everything slowed down and my heart was beating a mile a minute, as I was riding one of the biggest caffeine rushes of my life.
Besides this “caffeine trip”, that cup of coffee signified to me that coffee is not something to just barely suffer through in order to make it through the day nor is it something that should always have the same flavor of earthy bitterness. It was on that day that I dedicated myself too, what has been so far, the five year long journey of trying to understand what made that coffee memorable, different, and in simplest terms special.