Moving toward best.

August 3, 2007

The other day I was over at 21st Street Coffee and Tea;, congratulating them on their relocation and their new machines. Lucas invited me to bring over some coffee sometime to try out in their new Clover, so yesterday I took over some of our Tanzanian PB Southern Highlands. It’s one of our lightest roasts, coming out a few seconds before the second crack starts, see, so I expected something a bit more aromatic than what came out of the clover. To be fair to my coffee, there hadn’t been any clover parameters set for this particular coffee, so maybe it would do better with a slightly lower temperature (lighter roast means a more delicate coffee?) or with a slightly coarser grind (to ease up on the mild bitterness I had on the back of my tongue). In any case, this was the same coffee that reduced me to blubbering coffee evangelism when I used it as an SO espresso. It was like somebody had punched me inside the mouth with a raspberry lemonade concentrate. And that’s what I was looking for again from the clover.

All that to say I’ve been thinking about whether or not I wish I had the time to really do my best at coffee. If I was doing my best, I’d be working late hours, charting more roasts, cupping daily, and generally keeping better records while at the same time developing an exhaustive concordance of the coffee knowledge in my brain for the next person who takes my job and has to learn everything from scratch like I did. I compare myself to the most recent World Barista Champion, or to any number of others who seem to be “doing things in coffee,” and I tell myself I’m really not entirely unique in the world of coffee, let alone the world itself. I’m not pushing any envelope because I’m hardly in the envelope to begin with.

Before you think I’m just beating myself up here, let me go a bit further. I’m not sure many people at all do their best at anything. Doing your best means knowing your limits and then conscientiously stretching yourself to those very limits. At least I think it does. What’s more, doing your best requires an environment in which such efforts are rewarded or appreciated. It seems like people thrive and push towards their bestwhen goals exist in a supportive atmosphere. Like it’s easier to do your best when those things are around you.

I’m not making excuses, understand. I’m simply attempting to discover how I can be better at the work I do and the things I’m passionate about. Because I think that being alive is worth more than drifting along. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that my best includes sitting on stoops and drinking beers in the summer. But that shouldn’t be everything.

You’re also lucky my train of thought escaped me; I was about to ramble on about something sociological and there would have been absolutely no stopping that.

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3 Responses to “Moving toward best.”

  1. rich said

    Phil,
    There was great coffee before there was a Clover. Look at it another way – you might know as much or more about coffee than anyone in Pittsburgh at this point (ok, maybe not Ryan, but #2 isn’t too bad).

    If I’m reading what I think I’m reading, there might be something that address the third question in the third bullet in your post from yesterday…

  2. tmcclearinghouse said

    Exactly, Rich: when we respond to one another based on perceived or communicated need, then we can grow and then we can feel better about where we are as people and what we are doing. To be specific, you have just replied to “what do i want to be doing” with “how can I help you get there?”

    We apparently grow through dialectics.

    Thanks.

  3. […] Everything is important. Everything deserves to be done well, and if it’s not being done well, it’s not being fully respected. I’m guilty of this disrespect, too, but I would dearly love to see people, myself included, in any environment doing for that very environment what people are trying to do with coffee. Trying to remember who got these beans to my roaster and trying to do justice to the work that’s already been put into this coffee by the people who grew it and carried it and shipped it and bought and sold it. They deserve my best. […]

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