This past week I was required to write a paper on half an hour of observation at a location of choice. Because of close connections with many of the coffee shops in the city, I chose the shop I knew the least: Hava Java.
I chose to compile it as a narrative to make it more interesting. It is mainly focused on ordering espresso. Here it is, with attached dictionary at the end.
“ Espresso by Night, Cappuccino by Morning ”
Since I have been very young I have had an extreme fascination with coffee. Naturally, I eventually ended up getting into espresso, roasting coffee and more. I even went on to work in a coffee shop, working my way up to the trainer of the shop. There I taught techniques, theory and more. Even though I have moved on, I still have a deep love for coffee, and the ‘café scene’. Since I have been given the opportunity to explore a folk group, I would like to be one of the first to dig into this rather new scene developing, especially while it is still somewhat underground.
Below is a one-hour observation at a local coffee shop called Hava Java. In order to accurately represent it I split my hour into two halves: the first in the evening and the second the following morning. All data was collected on January 26th, 2010 from 21:00-21:30 and then on Jan 27th from 8:30-9:00. Please note that because of the terminology involved I have included a small glossary explaining the terms at the end of the paper (they are underlined). Also, because of the massive amount of elaboration I wanted to do, I had to stop and only include part of my morning analysis; the bulk of this paper is on the nighttime observation.
It is almost nine o’clock at night, it has been a long day and of course I am stood in the line-up at a coffee shop yet again. This is definitely not new territory or a new principle to me. These days just about everyone are fuelled on caffeine, especially the university population trying to squeeze every working hour out of the day. To be entirely honest, I am pretty tired walking into this place, and it is only when I am asked my order I even remember I am supposed to be critically observing everything around me.
As I approach the cash, I recall walking down the side of a pastry display case (the room is orientated longer than it is wide, relative to the street). I pay no attention to what is in the display case, as I have nothing but coffee on my mind up until this point. The barista is leaning on his back, across from me when I get to the counter. I am not angry and I am not surprised because it is not a lazy lean, it is more of a relaxed position he has taken during a break in the line-up. You see, that is the thing about different coffee shops; they can take on their own ‘personalities’. Have Java has been well known for being a little more laid-back and lackadaisical.
Anyway, the guy pushes off the counter and leans towards the cash while he lets of a cool, “Hey”. This is another thing, the shop is informal enough that his simple one-word greeting means much more. The single word utterance is suggesting I give him my order, and I go ahead and do so. Espresso is a complicated process, and since I am well aware of this I am always very careful with my ordering description. In a very simple manor I can almost quiz the barista without directly asking questions about his technique, I use his terminology, body language and how he worked on the machine before my drink.
As this point I can see there is another barista (female) working on the espresso machine, and stop to think for a second why I took my eyes off the guy taking my order. A wonderful sweet floral aroma fills my nose which now turns into a coffee scent as I begin to recognize the smell is coming from the espresso grinder. I bring my eyes back to the counter where the guy on cash is, and decide that the coffee smells good enough to order straight espresso.
I say aloud, “I’d like a double espresso please, and short.” I would normally use the term ‘ristretto’ (meaning short) instead of saying short depending on the setting, but I did not want to come off as pretentious. My (and I say my VERY loosely) barista holds a demitasse out in front of me and he says, “about halfway full, like this?” I agree with a nod staring at the small think walled mug in a deep shade of blue. This is the part I really love, just letting it go. Now the drink is in his hands, and I let him work his magic.
I grab a seat and take off my jacket. Because I know the technique behind the art of a great shot of espresso is so extensive, I purposely sit where I cannot see him making it. I take my attention off of him working because at this point in my life I can judge technique by the noises behind the bar of the portafilter and tamper (and I could even write another entire paper on the subject alone). I being to look around, but before I can start jotting some notes down I hear the clackity-clack sound of the little espresso cup dancing around on the saucer. The barista is on his way over to me with my drink, a nice gesture of him and an interesting aspect of a local shop versus a chain. His stance and motions are quite neutral and he throws me a half smile as he sets the coffee down. My immediate reaction is, of course, speaking up with a “thanks, that’s great”.
I now get down to business, and turn my eyes downward to the demitasse half full of espresso. The first thing I notice is the modest amount of crema on the top, but it is dissipating quickly. Espresso is very volatile and degrades rapidly after it is brewed, so I expect this to happen, just not this quickly. I deduct that this is due to an imperfection, most likely that the coffee beans are not very freshly roasted. I grab the cup awkwardly and bring it up to my face and take a sip. The initial sip is good, fairly round on my tongue, and I can even find some sweet and chocolate notes in the cup. The next sip, not quite as good, and in the next I begin to experience some sour notes. Not only did the shot not cool down very well, but something also went wrong in the extraction process. Sour usually means too low of a brew temperature or too quick of an extraction, but from what I remember about the crema it was most likely temperature issues. The crema was dark before if began to dissipate, which is a good sign.
All in all, it was a fairly pleasurable experience. The shot of espresso was mediocre and the service very humbling. I grabbed my hat and put my jacket back on, heading towards the door. Like I always do, I made sure to carry my cup and saucer back to the counter. With a simple thank-you I headed back out into the cold and wintry downtown street.
The Morning After
The first thing I notice is the lack of hustle and bustle this morning as I walk into the coffee shop at just after eight thirty. A new group of staff are on this morning. Between my walk from the door to the cash the one person in front of me has finished and sat down, I must be in slow motion this morning I think to myself. In a blur I murmur that I want a small cappuccino without even considering who might be making the drink. I find a seat and put my jacket and hat down returning to the counter to wait for my coffee, but the male barista tells me he will gladly bring the drink to me.
Unfortunately I had to stop here because of the restriction lengths of this paper. I wanted to include some of ‘the morning after’ because I will talk more on time periods at a later time; I have SO much to explain and talk about I just can’t include it all here. I will be expanding on these ideas more significantly in my next paper and will include all of the data in my final paper. My field notes are attached as reference [not for this blog post].
Glossary of Strange Terminology
Barista – a ‘server’ of coffee and espresso beverages. Usually the require special training in coffee talk and technique.
Double Espresso – about 2oz of espresso from the double spouted espresso portafilter (coffee holder).
Short – shortening the espresso pull to a smaller and more concentrated volume with less caffeine.
Demitasse – a small mug, typically about 3oz in volume and designed for straight espresso.
Crema – a product of the high pressure brewing process involved in espresso making. Often describes the freshness of the coffee beans and signify (generally) a good shot.
Cappuccino – a drink made of espresso and steamed milk. It is usually about 6-8oz and has about 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foamed milk. Essentially it is a drink of thirds.