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Lessons from the coffeeologist

Linda Boyne

I stumbled upon the most fascinating thing the other day. A few weeks ago, I wrote about people who love their jobs. And then I met the perfect example of one of those guys.

It’s no secret that I spend a little time at Loaded Joe’s. It’s actually one of my favorite places to write, and I’m frequently fueled by lattes. So when I saw an unfamiliar face behind the espresso machine one day, I asked who it was. Turned out he was a rep from the purveyor of their beans, in town training their baristas on the correct technique for making their coffee drinks.

“In town from where?” you might ask. Well, only the coffee mecca, Seattle, the birthplace of the American coffee craze, a place where they take their coffee very seriously. The coffee guy knew a lot about the science of the latte and there’s a lot more than you can even imagine. So let’s just call him the Coffeeologist.

He was passionate about his work, which is a trait I admire. I was mesmerized. I sat listening when I should have been writing. I had no idea so much thought and technique went into my little drink. And I have to say, the latte that the Coffeeologist made me was delicious.

The training was extensive. The Coffeeologist worked for hours with each barista over several days improving their skills and consistency. But he didn’t just tell them how to do it right, he told them why it makes a difference. Their primary goal: to make the perfect shot, because the perfectly balanced shot is the foundation for building a fabulous drink.

So in the journey to achieve their goal, they started with getting the right grind. Apparently, our little friend the coffee bean is very fickle, changing with every shift in the air pressure, moisture, light, heat and probably whether or not it feels good about itself at that moment.

Then they moved on to the mechanics of getting a consistent shot from each barista, every day. They worked on the correct technique and pressure of tamping, how long to pull their shots so they’re not metallic or bland, and the importance of tasting any leftover shots to check their quality. I firmly believe that all the espresso testing is partially what gives the Coffeeologist his positive, upbeat attitude: He’s perpetually over-caffeinated.

Next came the proper techniques for steaming milk and the right way to pour the goods into the cup. And there was a whole segment on foam art alone; it’s all about micro movements and finesse, by the way. Since the training, I’ve had lattes that looked like an atomic mushroom cloud, a lovely leaf and one that looked like a butt (hopefully nonfat).

I asked some of the baristas what they thought about the training. They said it had reinvigorated them, especially the guys who’d worked at Loaded Joe’s for a while, and added a level of professionalism to their jobs. It reminded them of the good things about the industry and why they worked at Loaded Joe’s in the first place.

All this information was delivered with such enthusiasm, it made me want to jump behind the bar and try it myself. Well, not quite. But I found it all highly entertaining and was fascinated by the nuance and minutia. I have a newfound appreciation for my beloved latte and all that goes into making it. And it’s all because a man loves his job.

Linda Boyne is an Edwards resident and a regular columnist for the Vail Trail. E-mail comments about this column to editor@vailtrail.com.


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