August 26, 2020
I didn’t really drink coffee growing up. Despite being born and raised in Brazil, in which everybody, including kids, consume the dark liquid every morning. For most of my life, drinking coffee was an unpleasant experience: I couldn’t understand how swallowing a bitter, charcoal-taste thing was a good idea. In order to be drinkable it required enough cream and sugar, but at that point I would simply jump on the hot chocolate wagon anyway.
It was only in my mid-twenties that coffee got me, when I randomly ended up with access to a professional espresso machine. Although I wasn’t a coffee drinker just yet, there was something about steam, valves, and pressure being used to produce milk-based coffee beverages that just fascinated me. Learning how to use the machine and make lattes was fun, despite having a cup of coffee that had to be consumed in the end.
And consume it I did. What once was unpleasant became tolerable. And the tolerable became a routine. However at that point my daily dose of coffee was due to its energizing effect and familiarity, and by the fact that I enjoyed preparing the cup. The drink wasn’t objectively good. Like most people, I was drinking bad coffee every day.
A few years ago I discovered specialty coffee. Luckily Montreal has a growing number of independent coffee shops that serve high quality coffee. And I was blown away. Good coffee was unlike anything I had ever tasted. The cup had a delicious, complex aroma, and it wasn’t bitter like my previous experiences. I savoured hints of chocolate, caramel, nuts, and much more. I wanted to sip it ever so slowly in order to extend the experience. And I was tossed once and for all into the specialty coffee rabbit hole.
I was thirsty for good coffee and for knowledge. Why is that kind of coffee so different? What make it special? I devoured any resource I could find. I learned about different coffee origins. Varieties of Arabica. How coffee is processed, roasted, and brewed. And how complex such fruit (yes, coffee is a fruit!) can be in terms of tasting experience.
Most importantly, I learned about the reality of how coffee is produced. Sadly the big coffee industry still reflects practices inherited from centuries of colonialism and exploitation from wealthy imperialist nations imposed on small communities in tropical countries. Producing coffee is a very hard job for which farmers and their families get incredibly underpaid, and the result of that labour ends up exported to the top consuming countries, mostly in Europe and North America.
Specialty coffee attempts to reduce this inequality by recognizing the producer’s work in the achievement of high quality beans and granting them a better pay. Like wine, coffee is a product of terroir, and the estate, region, altitude, and practices employed in its growth is what makes it special and delicious. I find much joy in tracing the beans’ origins, the country, region and farmer, which is possible with specialty beans, and to know whose hard work I should be grateful for my cup of coffee.
Today coffee is more than just a morning ritual in my life. Coffee is the discovery of flavours, the pleasure of learning new techniques and breaking the rules. It’s about enjoying the company of loved ones, having great conversations, and meditating over good memories. Coffee is about travelling long distances, experiencing different cultures, and making new friends. Or simply embarking on a trip without ever leaving my place, sipping the tropical flavours of a beautifully brewed cup in a cold Montreal morning.