Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coffee - Elitist Cups of Arrogance or Culinary Art Form?

Let's talk coffee. I love the stuff, and in the last few decades have learned much about the types of roasts available and techniques for making it. A few years back a friend foisted a glass of iced coffee on me and at first I sneered at it, but after tasting it, I caved in and admitted It Was Good. But only God could protect you in some coffee shops if you don't order correctly.

Yesterday a tiny but powerful storm was whirling across the Internet due to an annoyed customer who posted on his blog about how a barista would not serve him iced espresso the way he wanted.

The customer is also a member of MetaFilter and once that group got into the fray, hundreds of comments flowed out. Who has authority - the customer or the person making the coffee?

First of all, I have to say that the entire idea of calling someone a "barista" annoys me for reasons I cannot explain. I guess it is just this notion that in order to get some coffee served I need to know a whole new language - barista, latte, crema, cortado, microfoam - and at the uber-popular Starbucks website they provide a host of pages under the title Coffee Education. It sort of implies I may be too uneducated to even enter the store.

If you Google "coffee schools" you'll get millions of responses. Millions.

Don't misunderstand - I like all the varieties and tastes which one can find today. But it all starts sounding kinda snobby after a while. And then on the other end of the spectrum there are these machines I've seen in some mini-marts which claim to provide cappuccino and what comes out is kinda like drinking hot chocolate with a couple of shots of vanilla flavoring. That's just not coffee.

So I'm pondering on the Rise of the Barista. And no, I was not aware there were World Barista Championships. There are. You can even order DVDs of past competitions. Countries hold their own Barista competitions, or Latte Artist contests and folks line up to watch the creations. The following video of one competition is so jittery and frenetic that I think the maker had way too much coffee in their diet.

I can make my own espresso just fine, thanks. I suck at steaming the milk though. Never have been able to do it like a Trained Barista. And that alone means I will never be allowed into the hallowed ranks of Coffeedom. It is my shame, but I'm learning to cope.

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