Never Brew Angry
Last week I returned to the US after being in the Philippines for the National Barista Championships. It was a wonderful time spent with good friends in the Philippine coffee community. This was my second year judging the competitions and I was once again astounded by the high degree of meticulous preparation that competitors put into their routines and the technical prowess they displayed. But this time around, there was another component that I was more attune to. I found myself especially perceptive of the emotional state of each competitor as they prepared their twelve beverages. Of course, because of the intense pressure that comes with competing, each competitor exhibited at least minor symptoms of nervousness. But the standout competitors where those who, in the midst of the pressure, exhibited a sense of quiet confidence and peace.
My favorite part of being back home is my consistent morning brewing ritual. These are fifteen precious minutes where I begin my day completely unplugged and focused on my art form of coffee brewing. We use a Kinto glass server at home and on the bottom it says "Slow Coffee Style." Each time this catches my eye, it is an invitation to step away from our fast paced world, slow down, and be quiet as I pursue a quality coffee extraction. A common characteristic of slow brews is how susceptible they are to even the most minor inconsistency or change in environment. As a passionate coffee brewer, I am constantly trying to create optimal conditions for my brew. The mineral content of my brew water, uniformity of grind size, consistency of brewing techniques, and even room temperature are just a few conditions that I am super nit-picky about.
Take a look at popular coffee blogs and you will often see a litany of brew recipes and techniques being shared with the hopes of helping readers up their brewing game. I have found these technical instructions extremely valuable in my own pursuit of delicious coffee, but there is another aspect of brewing that is far less talked about: the emotions of the brewer. I have heard it said that if you roast coffee while being angry, overly stressed, or scatterbrained, you will taste it in the coffee. I would like to take that concept one step further and propose that our emotional state while brewing will also have an effect on the end product. While I have not yet conducted solid experimentation to support this theory, I have witnessed it as I worked the bar at Narrative Coffee Company, Manila. I found that it was in the situations when I was not focused or not at rest that I would have more instances of needing to brew the cup again because I was not satisfied with the quality of coffee extraction.
There must be logical reasons for why our emotions have an affect on the taste of our brew. It could be that our emotions affect our workflow. Being more focused and relaxed could help us to be more organized as we work our way through each step of the brewing process. It could also be that we make better decisions regarding ratios, brewing temperatures, agitation, etc. when we brew from a state of rest.
There is a trend in the coffee world today to automate the brew process using innovative technology in order to produce a more consistent brew, so that our emotions wouldn't have as much of an effect. While I completely understand the logic behind this, I wonder if this trend is a double edged sword? What are we losing by removing the humanness from our brewing process? Is there a value added to the art of slow brew by preserving that humanness? How can we improve consistency and without sacrificing the human aspect?
So what implications does this idea hold? For me, I have been more conscious about creating a more restful environment for myself wherever I brew. This includes the right kind of background noise/music, a clean and organized workspace, brewing gear that I am comfortable with, and proper lighting. This also invites me to be more introspective as I brew; to think about how I am feeling and to create margin for myself. In this way, brewing has the potential to become both meditative and worshipful. This may seem difficult to accomplish in a busy coffee shop setting, but if you are a barista, what are some things that you can do so that you are not frazzled while preparing coffee? Brewing from a place of rest does not equate with brewing slower than is required for a slow brew. You can brew quickly and efficiently from a place of rest. I have found that efficiency and consistency actually help to create the conditions for a more relaxed brew.
The next time you brew, pause for a moment and think about your emotions. Take advantage of the invitation that slow brew extends for you to slow down and rest. And remember, as far as it is up to you, never brew angry.