Once Upon A Time in Specialty Coffee…

I always love the start of the Star Wars opening title sequence with those big yellow letters that crawl out, saying “Star Wars – Episode III,” and the brief synopsis of what has been happening in the galaxy since the last movie. I feel that my specialty coffee story is similar at times because there are these big gaps between my significant coffee “ah-ha” moments, especially when it came to obtaining my AST (Authorized Specialty Coffee Trainer) license.

While that is another tale for another time, I always like to think back to when I first smelled and tasted specialty coffee. Like many of my millennial brethren from the early 80s, I started my coffee journey with the big franchise sporting the green logo in Seattle. I remember always going to the local Barnes and Noble with my parents and brother to enjoy a massive Venti Java Chip Frappuccino with extra whipped cream and an additional shot. It was my staple in the early 2000s, and perhaps the extra few kilos I carried around daily, but it was only a social thing for me. Coffee was never a necessity to wake up in the morning or something I needed to get through the next college midterm.

That’s why, when I went through a massive coffee dry spell from about 2009 to 2015, it didn’t really faze me too much. Then, things became a bit chaotic in my life due to some family situations that arose in 2015. I lost my father to cancer, and my family was preparing for a significant move that would greatly impact us. Like my father, I have a tendency to delve into different interests for a short while before moving on to something else. Over the years, these “piddling” pursuits have included baseball cards, metalworking, marathon running, comic book collecting, and countless other things.

However, in 2015, something changed when I was introduced to “specialty coffee” for the first time. In my mind, I wondered what was so special about it because coffee is just coffee, right? Well, in this case, the answer was a resounding “no.” My soon-to-be brother-in-law was one of those coffee enthusiasts that I used to mock. He insisted he wasn’t a snob, but rather an enthusiast. I remember visiting his house for the first time, and he was playing the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 Mix while having all these contraptions in his kitchen that looked like a chemistry set.

The coffee he was brewing that day was a bag from Blue Bottle Coffee called the Three Africans Blend. The aroma of this particular coffee didn’t smell like anything I had ever encountered in all my years of coffee drinking. There was a floral, berry essence that wafted throughout the room, blending perfectly with the music. He slowly poured water from a gooseneck kettle over this fascinating-smelling coffee in a Chemex for the next few minutes, and I was completely hooked. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but that experience set me on a trajectory that would inspire me to pursue specialty coffee and eventually become the AST that I am today.

When I reflect on that time with my brother-in-law, I am forever grateful for him taking the time to share something unique with me, despite my criticism and jokes. Since then, we have shared many exceptional coffees from around the world, and I have had the opportunity to inspire others on their coffee journeys. In the end, that is one of my favorite aspects of my specialty coffee story—the people who have inspired me and the relationships I have formed. So, thank you, brother, and thank you, specialty coffee!