NOTE/WARNING: this post is almost not about coffee
Some kids came into ERC BU recently while I was working a bar shift. We serve a lot of college students at that location, but these kids were younger teens, and kind of stood out. It seemed to be their first time in our shop. They took a while to read through the menu, and were amazed at latte art.
One of them ordered two espressos for himself. I’m not sure exactly how the exchange went down at the point of sale, but I think he might not have known what an espresso was, and I’m certain he wasn’t expecting two drinks (maybe he thought he would be getting one double?). I think he realized his mistake when his two espressos were served in two demis with two saucers and two spoons and two glasses of water.
I only realized what had happened when I saw him get back to his table staring down his many cups. When I asked if he got what he was expecting and offered to make him something else, he refused, which I felt bad about until I saw how much fun he and his friends were having, laughing about the espressos. Also he finished both of them, which was awesome.
Before the group left, one of them came over to tell me how cool they thought our shop was. I almost didn’t know how to respond. Before I started doing the coffee training for Pavement and ERC, I worked in ERC BU for a long time as a barista and before that slingin’ bagel sandwiches. At some point, a lot of us who work in coffee get so wrapped up in coffee or business or just working our asses off that we forget how we started with it.
I still love working there, just now I love it because I love coffee and get to talk to customers and trainees and managers about coffee all day every day; but when I started working in that store, I loved it because it’s a place where people come to hang out and talk about their social lives and politics and what they’re reading or writing.
And of course it’s still is that place; those kids could see that. It’s just hard to remember to look around at the rest of the cafe when you have a bar to work or a training program to run or other stores to get to.
coffee shop scenes
My coffee shop hangout in high school was Hava Java in Allentown, PA. The coffee was terrible, but it was a true “penny university.” For the price of a cup of coffee, you had access to book recommendations and writing advice and political commentary and philosophical debates. I still haven’t seen another community built around learning quite like that.
The first time I remember seeing latte art, I was probably 18 years old at Java Monkey in Atlanta. I don’t remember how my cappuccino was, but I thought the place was really cool, and there was live music (bluegrass or something?). Everyone individually was convinced the barista had a crush on them because he was pouring hearts.
My first cafe job was in Flagler Beach Florida at a beachside coffee shop called the Java Joint. I think we served some weird Kona blend or something and I was thrown on bar with very little training, but it was a real neighborhood joint, and it was the only place in the area I know of that was explicitly super LGBTQcetera friendly.1 Also, because of our location on A1A not far from Daytona, we were something of a motorcycle hangout, and it wasn’t totally unusual to serve members of 1%er gangs.
What these places have in common, other than the word ‘java’ in their names, is that they are all pretty cool spots to hang out for reasons other than the coffee. We’re going to be renovating our Gainsborough St. shop soon, and I could not be more excited – not just because there’s going to be a manual brew bar and some changes that will make workflow easier for me and the other baristas, but also because there will be at least a week or two when I’ll be able to look at that store in a totally new light.
I’m calling this post “part one” because I’m certain I’ll have more to write about this as the renovation gets underway.