A slow start...

I was a weird kid with weird tastes. I remember my uncle once gave me a sip of his martini… whether it was supposed to be a prank or a valuable life lesson about the dangers of alcohol, I don’t know. I wasn’t yet a teenager, and I had a good boy’s inherent mistrust of alcohol; but I was curious, so I had some. Predictably, I didn’t love it. I mean, it’s just booze, for God’s sake, and I was, like, ten. Unpredictably, I didn’t hate it. There are precisely 3 foods I can name that I dislike. Malt balls, fruit cake, and cole slaw. Why? Who knows. Everything else is pretty good, and even the 10 year old me could appreciate some of the positives of a decent martini. This isn’t bragging, so much. I fully realize that I’ve done nothing to achieve this appreciation, it’s just a quirk of mine. My grandmother once told me that I had to grow up and be rich, because I had very rich, sophisticated taste. So, obviously I got a philosophy degree and started training to be a barista…

I’ve always loved coffee. The first coffee I’ve had was my mom’s. She liked it with half-and-half (God bless America), and no sugar. It was creamy, nutty, caramelly, and chocolatey. My palate was not so jaded, as of yet, to detect a roastiness to it. She bought decent stuff when she could, and often made it in a little single serve pour over cone. Some water, some coffee, some half and half. Yummers.

My first job was in a major US coffee and donut shop. I dutifully changed the coffee every eighteen minutes, as it was kept in a glass server on a hot burner. Classy. I worked the espresso machine at a few chains… always silently berating the other staff for their laziness when it came to coffee… but I was so ignorant.

I shudder to think back on my coffee sins of the past. Burned milk, rampant sugar usage, mochas, whipped cream, 15 second shots, bulk brewing… I just didn’t know another way. Truth be told, I still don’t think that there’s a single thing wrong with commercial coffee as a whole… it’s just a different world. It’s a different product with different standards and limits. I just wanted… more. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but I craved more.

I went to every café in town, and got an espresso shot. I wanted to love them. I wanted to taste a difference. I wanted my nostrils to rejoice and my palate dance and sing… but I felt nothing. I became a Coffee Master at a major international coffee chain. I kept a coffee journal. On every page I tasted a different coffee, and on every page my flavor-notes started the same: “Ash, wood…” maybe “citrus” or “floral” afterwards, a hint some something hidden within, but they always started with “wood” or “ash”.  Even now, looking back, I don’t know what I thought was out there. I was searching for something I wasn’t even sure existed. Through shear luck, my fool’s errand was about to be rewarded…

Jason Gonzalez

bath, uk