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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

I have a coffee fantasy, vol. 1

I have a coffee fantasy, vol. 1

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by Josh Rivera, The Graphic Designer

Like every self-destructive creative type, I don’t get much sleep. This is probably in part because I drink a lot of coffee. Its aroma inspires me, its taste drives me, and its memory haunts me. You see, scent and taste are allegedly the human senses which imprint on memory the strongest, probably because they’re so ephemeral. Coffee is a life affirming substance, the giver of will if not life, and today I want to pay it tribute.

Pilon, espresso brewed with ground cinnamon, topped with condensed milk.

I used to work at a convenience store in New Jersey called QuickChek. I was hired for the graveyard shift from 10 p.m. till 6 a.m., and even after leaving the job in 2010, it was only last year that my internal clock finally recovered. I lived with my father and stepmother in a house along the beach, and remember waking up at night to the ocean colliding against rocks. My father was usually in bed by the time I’d leave for work but he’d dutifully leave me a cup of coffee on the kitchen counter. He used condensed milk as creamer, keeping unopened cans in the pantry so we’d consume them lukewarm. He used Pilon, a brand of finely ground coffee brewed in an espresso machine. The cinnamon was a habit he picked up later in life. The resulting coffee was viscous, hot, earthy, aromatic and soothing. Almost like liquified snickerdoodle. At first this was a curiosity. Then it became a ritual.

It was sometime after things deteriorated between his wife and I that Dad stopped leaving me coffee. I would learn to make it on my own.

QuickChek dark roast, drip brewed with ground cinnamon, chamomile, star anise and lavender, topped with foamed milk.

I expected to man a lonely cash register when I first signed on for the job, but I soon found out that preparing sandwiches and other food was going to be my other primary responsibility. At first I was miserable, ruining hundreds of dollars worth of bake and other product in a night, getting berated by elderly women in the morning and my livelihood dangling along the razor’s edge. I was lucky to even hold onto this job; it was 2008, the housing market just crashed, unbeknownst to me, and the promise of more work and better wages in Texas was long gone. So, in desperation, I turned to Jeanne, the woman who trained me for the overnight shift. She was formerly a baker and cake decorator, and her husband was a trained chef. She admitted that she only ever expected me to last a week, but she was tired of training new hires so she’d help shape me up into competence. I was willing and desperate, so I listened.

She taught me from her experiences in bakeries and restaurants, and I soon saw the job as an opportunity to be creative. Cooking was an art, and food service was the practice of the art. I would make unauthorized wraps filled with buffalo wings and french fries, cheese burger subs with mozzarella sticks and chicken pot pie, before finally taking my art to the coffee pots themselves. After a year I was consumed by the mysticism of foodie culture, traveling far and wide just for new herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables. On my birthday, Jeanne gave me a box with a couple recipe books, a bundle of cinnamon, a jar of chamomile, and a bag of star anise. In a note inside, she wrote “make me something with this! =)”

I immediately took the spices and threw them into coffee grounds. This was… a mistake. Star anise is very powerful, while chamomile is very subtle. Star anise is also a very pungent, very peculiar warm spice, so its loudness drowned out even the flavor of coffee itself. I had to re-proportion my ingredients until I finally added a bit of lavender to the grounds. Then, something happened. The aromatic burst of lavender actually amplified the floral notes of the chamomile, further elevated by the slight hint of star anise I allowed into the grounds, with everything finally mellowed out by the cinnamon bark. This coffee became my valley, whisking me away from my job and my tumultuous home life. Of course it was; I made it for her after all.

Then came the Inkwell. But before that, Grace.

To be continued.

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