So this is a little embarrassing to admit but until last week, I never knew much about coffee.
That’s actually an understatement. I knew almost nothing about real coffee. I never grew up with a coffee-making machine or any coffee products, unless you count 3-in-1 coffee powder mixes. Yes, I know… no one does.
I could never tell the difference between different kinds and grades of coffee. I never even knew how to order coffee properly—I didn’t understand why there were so many options. What the heck was the difference between a latte and café au lait? Or a cappuccino and machiatto? And why were they so much more expensive than just regular ‘coffee’ on the menu? Whenever I went to Starbucks or some other coffeehouse chain, I always got whatever their seasonal flavored special was (e.g. pumpkin spice) because it was the easiest to order and I would know exactly what to expect. And also because having a distinct flavor meant it actually tasted different from the other types of coffee. There, I said it. All coffee used to taste the same to me, the only difference being whether milk and/or sugar was added.
It’s not that I dislike coffee; it was just another beverage to me. I drank it if it was available but I was never addicted the way people tend to be and the only effect caffeine had and still has on me is the laxative sort. It doesn’t keep me awake any more than, say, orange juice does.
Once, someone gave me a bag of coffee beans as a gift. It looked fancy and expensive and smelled so delicious, I wanted to make a cup of coffee right away. Except I didn’t know how to exactly. I lived with a roommate then, and he happened to have a basic drip coffee maker which I had often seen him use. I figured whole coffee beans could not be that different from grounds so I set it up, switched it on and waited. Of course, my amazing gourmet coffee never appeared. You can imagine the look on my roommate’s face when I later told him what I did.
The absurdity of my ignorance is compounded by the fact that I currently reside in a place where everyone seems to be a connoisseur… or at least has an opinion on how to make the best coffee.
So last weekend, Gani and I went on a coffee tour organized by an international student association on campus. We visited a roastery together with around 12-15 other students and were schooled by the extremely knowledgeable, non-judgmental, enthusiastic and patient owners of Café Allegro, which is one of the oldest coffeeshops in Seattle.
* Fun fact: Starbucks’ coffee products were designed by the founder of Café Allegro.
And wow, what an enlightening experience that was. I finally understand what the hype is all about, somewhat. While I doubt either of us will ever be really obsessed or anything like that, we definitely have newfound appreciation for coffee, from its pretty cool history and production, to the various ways in which it is brewed and served in different cultures around the world.
Oh, and we even learned how to order the sort of coffee we can both agree on—a simple latte with coconut/almond milk: