Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Passion for Coffee - Fuel for the Soul

As of seven o'clock this morning I had already notched two hours of productive morning under my belt. As I stepped out into the waning darkness, the crisp air that accompanies the first snow of the year slapped my freshly shaven face like a forgotten lover in an old Cary Grant film. I drove to work in the chill of a sluggish car heater, surrounded by commuters who looked similarly drowsy and equally frozen.

At the office, my brittle fingers fumbled with cellophane-wrapped pouches of dark brown grit that had been forgotten in a grimy drawer. As the pathetic brew percolated, I was reminded of a coffee shop that sat nestled beside my first apartment.

They Call it "Redband"

When I first saw the simple red sign in the window of the vacant store next door to my building, I was excited to have a local alternative to the Starbucks' that littered the landscape of our riverside town. When Redband Coffee Co. roasted its first batch of beans next to my old sandstone building, I realized that the shop was so much more than a place to snag a latte. In my memories, the aromatic scents of exotic coffee beans caught the errant river breezes that floated up the bluff and wafted savory dreams of caffeinated bliss across the alley. Dark forbidden secrets of South American jungles and Far East customs lay locked inside the tiny treasure chest that roasted in the darkness of the mysterious building. Before they opened, I saw a man hauling burlap bags with stamps denoting locations of origin such as Ethiopia, Columbia and Sumatra. I wanted to stop him and ask him about his decadent-smelling venture, but I held off. There would be time for learning more soon enough.

Is this heaven? No, it's Red Band Coffee Co.

After what felt like months of being teased by the mouth-watering odors of slow-roasting coffee, Redband Coffee Company opened to the public. I went in and, as I'd done in corner stores and diners a million times before, I requested a cup of coffee.

The man looked offended by my request. Looking at the menu, I realized that my order was akin to waltzing into a Pizza hut and asking for a pizza. That I wanted coffee was expected. His expression prodded me to revise my request.

"Tell me about what you've got available today." I didn't necessarily know much about the various ethnicities and roasting techniques, but I could pretend. I'd worked at Starbucks for two years, after all. I had no idea what I was asking for.

The gentleman behind the counter looked as if I had asked him the question of he'd been waiting to answer his whole life. The gleam in his eye was that of a fond devotion not found but in a mothers adoring gaze. The corner of his lip curled up in a quivering smile that showed the humble graciousness of an artist who could not wait to share his work with anyone who would show an interest. So when I asked to know more, he was all to eager to share what he had accomplished.

"So I've got this great Sidamo that I've roasted, right? I put it in a few weeks ago, and slowly turned them to really get that rich flavor." He emphasized the word slowly with a lyrical quality and winced face that drove home the painstaking process of crafting this cup of coffee I was about to enjoy.

After about fifteen minutes of explanation, I chose my brew. He ground the beans with tender care, then sifted them into a small paper cone that sat gingerly in a porcelain funnel. Below the funnel was my cup.

"Each batch is different, right? I might get two bags of raw beans from Peru, and depending on how they were grown, when they were shipped, or how I roast them, I get a completely different cup of coffee. Each roast is an exciting new experiment." His eyes were wild with discovery, as a child who had just discovered the explosive powers of baking soda and vinegar. My coffee dripped with a growing frequency that matched the excitement of its masters energetic tone.

The band is red. The coffee is black. A perfect combination.
 "Some people are always going for consistency, right? But why strive to be the same all the time? Every little nuance is deliciously different. Every change brings new ideas. I know I can make a consistent cup of coffee. But why not teach my customers to enjoy the thrill of a new cup? Why not educate the Starbucks culture out of its boring daily routine?" The dripping slowed as my anticipation for this piping-hot, passion-filled cup of coffee increased. The mere joy that spilled forth from the owner of this operation made me salivate with expectation of the coffee that I'd soon taste.

I paid for my joe and affixed a plastic lid to the top of my white pasteboard cup. A plain red sleeve slid up from below, a bold scarf that proudly displayed the namesake of its contents. Allowing it to cool afforded me a few more minutes in the presence of the jovial excitement and product pride of the shop. Finally I took a sip and rolled the liquid around my mouth, allowing it to coat every taste bud and reach every flavor receptor.

It may have been the coffee. It may have been the wait. It may have been the pure joy that came from the creator of this cup of coffee, but it was probably the most delicious cup of coffee I have ever tasted.

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

To this day, I measure all passion against the owner of Redband Coffee Company. My memories of this first encounter are muddled together with the dozens of other meetings I had with the man who roasted the beans. Every conversation shared a little more insight into what drove him to craft these delicious beverages. Passion is one of the most commendable virtues I have witnessed, and this man exuded passion as freely as you or I expel carbon dioxide.

It does not matter if you are a plumber or a physicist, passion is a necessary part of survival in our society. Without it, life becomes dry and unbearable. What examples of passion do you see in the people you meet? What drives you to get out of bed and do the best job you can muster?

Next time you're in Davenport, Iowa, check out Redband Coffee Company. In the mean time, check out their facebook page.


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