“How did you get into coffee?”
I think that is one of the most common questions heard by coffee lovers, whether from those in the industry or the general public trying to figure out what this is all about. When asked, I rarely have time to go into detail, at least to the level I’d like to share, so thank goodness I have this blog! What follows is a three part series on my journey into coffee. Enjoy!
My Coffee History, part 1: The Consumer
The first part of my introduction to coffee is the longest, at least thus far. It spans nearly 10 years of my young life, and consists of more mochas than I could count. I grew up in central Florida in the 80’s and 90’s, not a major center of coffee culture during that time, and my introduction to coffee came from my dad, one late night in high school. Having failed to prepare a major assignment, he dragged me out to the office and proceeded to teach me about “pulling an all-nighter”, which began with brewing a pot of coffee.
Ugh, it was nasty! Commodity grade, pre-ground and bagged office-coffee-service brew, the sort of pot where the fumes alone would wake you up. He doctored it up with a healthy dose of sugar and creamer just so I could choke it down. One thing was for sure, that first cup didn’t make me a coffee lover! If anything, it confirmed my youthful, 90’s opinion that coffee was weird and soda was the best source of caffeine available.
Then I grew up, went to college, quickly left college to spend a year in Norway, grew up some more, and was introduced to coffee with Bailey’s Irish Cream by a friend from Dublin during a kitchen-party late in my year abroad. Probably my first coffee since that agonizing night at the office, and my first alcohol on top of that, is it any wonder I was hyper all night? Fortunately this first experience was followed by a more subdued french press, and I found that coffee had its own flavor, it’s own place alongside tea as a hot beverage to be shared between friends.
I returned from Norway a different person, and once a good friend introduced me to our local coffeehouse, Mitchell’s, I started to slowly drift into modern coffee culture. Still chasing my dreams with music, I played guitar and sang in Mitchell’s and another shop in Tampa, hanging out for open mic night, swimming in the coffeehouse culture that was popping up all over at the turn of the century. I tested the waters with regular coffee, drank some bitter espresso under the mistaken assumption that it was loaded with caffeine, eventually tried a mocha, chocolate lover that I was.
The next 10 years are a blur. A lot happened in my personal life that had little to do with coffee. I got away from music, got into anime, started working full time, moved to Houston, went back to school, met the woman I would eventually marry, moved back home, finally start to get settled in my hometown. Coffee was always there in some form. Heck, this was the age of Starbucks, and I had 6 different Starbucks locations less than a mile from my apartment in Houston, so coffee was everywhere!
I blended into the coffee shop crowd, lugging my laptop and headphones, ordering my usual mocha because I didn’t like coffee quite as much as I liked milk and chocolate. Sure, I bought a coffee pot for the apartment, enjoyed that familiar sound of an auto-drip dispensing hot water, but I knew nothing of specialty coffee. Coffee wasn’t a beverage so much as a culture, and I was still years from realizing its true potential.
Fortunately, those mochas had me hooked, and I started looking for good coffee when traveling. My first visit to Seattle in 2006, toward the end of my time in school, led me to Seattle’s Best, a brand I was aware of but one you didn’t see often in Florida back then. It may be just another big chain, but to me it was “something other than Starbucks”, something new to check out. Oh yeah, I ordered a mocha, and it even came decorated with a stick of chocolate that I could use to stir the drink. I thought it was the coolest mocha ever.
I fell in love with Seattle just as I fell in love with Norway. It became my “happy place”, a beautiful and diverse city I could traverse on foot, and living at the time in Houston, I had never been happier not to be in a car. The next year I would get married, move back to Florida, and within a few years return to Seattle for a true vacation with my wife. It was May of 2010, I was yelping my way around the city, looking to try as many local coffee shops as possible, and my world was about to change…
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of My Coffee History: The Enthusiast!