"Serious Coffee Here"

I was meandering along Madrid’s Calle de Santa Isabel on a splendid Sunday morning when I chanced upon a sign that seemed to softly beckon me from across the street.

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SERIOUS COFFEE HERE.

Naturally, I went in. What transpired over the next half-hour left me with a serendipitous smile stretching ear-to-ear, and served as a welcome reminder of one of the fundamental reasons I got into the coffee game in the first place.

After serving me up an exquisite long black on a washed process Kenyan, Rumen – the Bulgarian-born barista on the tools this morning – set about brewing himself up a V60 pourover.

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“Here, try this, is same bean you drinking on long black, taste as pourover,” Rumen said to me in his beautifully broken English (far superior, of course, to my scratchy Spanish). He handed me a generous sample from out of his beaker, and from there we digressed into a wonderful stream of conversation – coffee, of course, our favourite types and origins; the beauty of various languages; the way of life in different parts of the world. Rumen had lived all over Europe – Bulgaria, Greece, Britain, Denmark, Spain – and as he shared with me a litany of anecdotes from his life, I was struck by one comment in particular.

“Where has been your favourite place to live, Rumen?” I asked him.

“Spain, definitely. Denmark I could make big money. Is not so hard to do. People there have lots of money, they spend big money, so can make more. But the people are not smiling so much. Always you hear that this are the happiest places to live – Denmark, Norway, you know and these kinds of countries. I say, ‘but have you been to Spain?’ Here, people in general, not so much money. But still they drinking beer on the streets, they are friendly, they are smiling. Is better. In Denmark, life is just going. In Spain, life still going, but the people are also smiling.”

You see, contained in Ruben’s assessment of the differences between various places he’s lived is, I think, an important lesson for us all. Life either just goes, or it goes with a smile.

Anthony, you were telling us about why you got into making coffee, what’s the point of all of this?

Yes, sorry, I digress.

In the days before we all got too busy, before ordering a strong flatty from that annoying hipster behind the machine was just an inconvenience to juggle with preparing for your meeting first-thing at work, responding to an email from a client and organising your Saturday afternoon barbecue, making and drinking coffee was an incredibly social activity. The Italians who brought the world the art of espresso would order their coffee, sit up at the bar by the machine, and yarn the morning away with those around them. Ironically, it took a chance encounter with an endearing Bulgarian to remind me that the opportunity to converse with people from all walks of life over a cuppa was what drew me to the game in the first place.

After a few short hours, the caffeine wears off. The joy found in chance exchanges with those whom we cross paths lasts much longer.

A.