By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a coffee maker whose coffee maker was constantly sabotaging my morning brew, either by turning itself off before the coffee was made or by leaking all over the counter, I often had grounds for complaint. But because my wife has never had such problems, it was obvious that when it came to making coffee, I didn’t know beans.
That’s why I turned to the ultimate source for help and ended up being a barista for a day at Starbucks.
My lesson in Coffee Making 101 was given by my younger daughter, Lauren, who is the manager of a Starbucks store in Smithtown, N.Y. Lauren is, of course, smart, talented and beautiful, which means she takes after her mother.
Lauren began working at Starbucks at age 17, when she was in high school, and continued with the company through college. Now, at 25, Lauren has gone from being a barista to a shift supervisor to an assistant manager to a store manager. I’m not saying that Starbucks founder and chief executive Howard Schultz has to worry about his job, but when he retires, I know a good replacement.
Anyway, Lauren is a walking encyclopedia of coffee and can make it better than anyone I know. She also, it must be pointed out, sold us the coffee maker that had given me so much trouble.
"It’s not the machine, Dad," Lauren said recently. "It’s you."
So when she suggested that I go to her store for a crash course in coffee making, I jumped at the chance, probably because I’d had too much caffeine.
After I showed up for my late-morning shift, Lauren gave me a green apron, signifying my status as a barista in training. Then she sat me down and, like a parent teaching a child, told me everything I ever wanted to know about coffee but was afraid to ask.
I learned about the four fundamentals of coffee making: water, proportion, freshness and grind. I also learned to use two tablespoons of coffee per six-ounce cup.
Then Lauren opened three bags of coffee – Ipanema Bourbon from Brazil, Kenya from Africa and Komodo Dragon from Asia – and gave me a geography lesson while expounding expertly on the beans that are grown in each region.
She used those beans to make me three small cups of coffee, which she said I was supposed to sniff and then slurp. It was like a wine tasting, except that I didn’t need a designated driver.
Speaking of which, the Brazilian coffee didn’t contain bourbon, but it did have a touch of citrus. The Kenyan brew was slightly earthy with a grapefruit flavor. But my favorite was Komodo Dragon, which was very earthy with an herbal taste.
"That’s the one you’re going to make," said Lauren, adding that I would be using a French press.
"I can’t speak French," I replied.
Lauren, who thinks I talk too much in English, informed me that I have three French presses in the garage at home. Considering the mess in there, I’ll never find them.
Finally, it was time to go behind the counter to see if I could make coffee without either flooding the store or ruining the company.
Following Lauren’s instructions, I put 0.12 pounds of beans into a grinder. Then I poured the coarse grounds into the eight-cup French press, which I filled with 200-degree water. After waiting exactly four minutes, I attached the top, which had a metal mesh filter, and slowly pushed down to trap the grounds.
Next, I poured some of my coffee into a small cup and handed it to Lauren. She sniffed it, then slurped. "Wow, Dad, this is delicious!" she exclaimed. "You did a good job. I’m very impressed."
Then I filled a small cup and gave it to a customer named Nick, who had come in with some of his buddies from work. I told him I was a barista in training and asked what he thought of my coffee.
"It’s really good," Nick said after taking a sip. "Wanna try some?" he asked his pal Dominic, who emphatically refused by saying, "After your lips have been on that cup?"
"Well, I think you made good coffee," Nick told me. "I’m a satisfied customer."
Lauren, who runs a highly successful store and is well-liked and respected by her staff, said I am now certified to make coffee, not only at Starbucks, but also at home.
"What about that stupid machine?" I asked.
Lauren looked at me as if to say that it’s not the machine that’s stupid. She suggested that I simply press the "on" button and wait until the coffee is done. "It’s really not that difficult, Dad," Lauren said.
She was right. The next morning, I made a perfect pot of coffee without swearing at the machine or pushing the button half a dozen times.
"You did it!" my wife said after taking a sip. "You’re now a coffee master."
Too bad I couldn’t keep that green apron.
Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima