City Defenders

I start my days with tiny sips of seltzer and espresso.

Usually I feel half-dead, having just rolled out of bed and into the nearest clothes possible. It is a lucky coincidence that all of my clothes have been reduced to classic slouchy peices inspired by the ever-so-hip people around me, meaning regardless of what I stumble into it probably matches. If not, since when can anyone tell whether or not hipsters intend to dress that way anyway?

I usually end up at work somehow, often forgetting how I got there or where I parked. I turn on the lights in the coffee shop and plug in some slow indie jams, just melodic enough to wake me up.

Fresh bagels are delivered as I dial in the day’s ‘spro. I eat one to fill my stomach, a barrier against all the caffeine I’ve yet to drink during my shift. I brew drip batches and check our cold brew on tap. My shift partner stumbles in and manages to ask, “Why am I here? What am I doing?”

“Coffee,” I mumble in reply, to which he nods in faint comprehension.

“I think I’ve heard that word before.”

It’s funny, really. We’re baristas. We pour hot water over grounds to make brown water. Sometimes we add milk.

That’s it, in essence. I pour hot water over stuff. People drink it. The end.

And yet…

We see ourselves as the over caffeinated unsung heroes that awaken the city. Stewards of community, stoking the fires of book clubs, college students, blossoming romantic coffee dates and headphoned hipsters with our steaming mugs of direct trade single origin brews. Walking into the shop may as well mean walking into my apartment. We are hosts, we are dealers (which I am sure makes my parents proud). We take care of all those weary souls that enter our squeaking doors.

Regulars will tell us about their days. Visitors will ask if we are on social media. (Which we aren’t. It doesn’t get more grassroots than that. Talk about hipster.) First timers will gush over our lead barista’s competition-worthy latte art.

We have a regular who is in his 90s. We comp his drink and pastry every day. He likes to tell us about the war and bring us peaches from the farmers market. He hobbles in on walkers so slowly but determinedly that we are all inspired to be like him someday, and we have his drink ready before he’s even in the door. Iced mocha with cinnamon.

We dose with precision and brew as though each drink were for royalty. We are guilty of occasionally babbling, “I’m personally fond of the Hama from Olympia Coffee Roasters out of Washington; it’s an Ethiopian heirloom varietal that just takes like insane jasmine and orange zest. Definitely one of our best… not explicitly dark roast, but full flavored and delicious. The Aeropress is it’s best iteration, but the v60 is also really killer.”

To which the customer sometimes looks at us blankly and says, “Um. Sure.” All the while wondering, what is an heirloom varietal from Ethiopia and what does jasmine taste like? 

It might just be coffee. At the end of the day, that’s all it is.

But to my group of baristas, coffee is life. It runs through our veins. We hardly feel the effects of espresso anymore, we are immune. We can taste crayon wax, Popsicles, swamps, rose water and singed turbinado wombat in Guatemalan single origins. We can patiently brew twelve hour coffee and pull 25 second shots.

We are overcaffeinated, unrecognized defenders of conciousness, battling fatigue with our portafilters and steam wands. And I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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