At a train station in Copenhagen, I beg my phone to turn back on. Maybe if I press every button with my fingers while simultaneously putting out killer vibes into the universe it will forget that I didn’t charge it on the plane? Phones never forget.
“Awesome,” I say to no one.
I’ve been traveling for a while now and I’m beginning to spiral.
When I first started this trip, I couldn’t believe all the wonder I was finding out in the universe. I was connecting with coffee professionals from every country and walk of life, sharing half-true war stories about customers who demanded cookie-dough creamer in their single origin pour-overs and that one time you had to make a decaf, half shot, iced americano for Scott Rao. This morning, I’m about to hurl my Barista Handbook into the Øresund sea just to get rid of the increasing weight of my luggage.
At first, I would walk every new city with the same sense of awe as if I had never before seen color, and then, suddenly could. Now, my legs feel as though they’re actively trying to murder me and the creases in my arms burn from carrying a heavy roller bag around cities that seem to be made almost entirely of misshapen pebbles.
At first, I was enthralled by all the language I’d hear on the trains and sidewalks, marveling at the pre-babble world we live in, where I can hold up my phone to anyone anywhere and have a conversation, even though it should be impossible. Now, I want to hold my hands against my ears in the airport, just so I can have a break from all of these strange sounds raising at such increasing volumes.
At first, I loved never staying put. Now, all I want to do is sit down.
I don’t know where a single coffee shop is, so I just start walking. The city feels the way a lot of Nordic cities have felt so far, almost anachronistic in the relationship between its storied past and forward reaching, near utopian present. It’s as if a civilization from a bright and shiny future time traveled to begin a colony in the 1800’s. The first place I serendipitously stumble upon is the famed Coffee Collective, and from there I get sent all over the city— lovely coffee after lovely coffee absorbed by my jet lagged body.
This trip is a precursor tour of Oslo and Copenhagen before the games begin for the Re:co and the World Brewers Cup, Latte Art, Cup Tasters, Roasting, and Coffee in Good Spirits Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. Nordic coffee is a thing in Specialty Coffee, so much so that the word Nordic has become synonymous with light roast styles, a descriptor adopted and flaunted by many a third-waver. But these countries influence us in quiet ways above just cinnamon colored beans. Nordic design, the sparse homeyness found in an increasing amount of U.S. shops, and the disciplined, head down focus on quality that these countries are celebrated for are values found deeply engrained within our industry.
In two days, Gothenburg will become an epicenter, a veritable whose who of the international coffee scene. The city will be descended upon by the world’s greatest latte artists, coffee brewers, roasters, good spririters, and all the many fans, vendors, manufacturers, and power players that call the world of specialty coffee home. It will be, as most coffee events I attend, exhausting in the best of ways. After long and demanding days on the trade show floor, we’ll put in another eight hours of parties, a near manic amount of socializing, late night bar hoping, and all the business-meets-pleasure ridiculousness of being in a new place with a thousand people that all share a core interest. You may be even able to call them all friends by the end.
And when I finally get on a plane back home to Los Angeles, I will have consumed over a hundred different coffees, ranging from the rare neither-Arabica-nor-Robusta varietal from the U.S. Brewers Cup Champ, Sarah Anderson, a straight up god shot from Castle Wendelboe, a bakers dozen of frothy convenience store monstrosities from the self serve machines that liter the Nordic nations, every single competitors coffee brewed on our Seraphim bar for the World Brewers Cup, and many a quiet, solitary cup of simple black coffee made for me by strangers who quickly become travel guides, confidents, and colleagues.
Back in Copenhagen— just hours before I’ll run into the guys and gals of Alpha Dominche and spontaneously drive up with them to Sweden in a big rowdy van— I settle down at a place called Lil Bror cafe. It’s a quaint corner cafe, not far from a cemetery where famed writers and existentialists finally get some rest. I’m starving and exhausted and the very kind and English speaking Barista pours me a Kenyan from Koppi roasters with a side of toast and eggs. In a subtle way, it saves my life; not in the way a doctor or hero dog who rescues someone out of a frozen lake collapse saves lives, but more in the overarching, existential, David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” sort of way. It’s the kind of coffee and meal that is so focused, so wholesome and good and true, that it makes one suddenly aware of oneself and those all around us. After the noise and confusion and stress of traveling somewhere new, I’m back, feet firmly on the planet. This to me is the real beauty of food, service, and the interactions we have with those who care deeply about something. It makes us suddenly and wholly aware.
When the cafe crowd thins out and the energy dims a bit, my Barista friend comes over and we start talking, perhaps too deeply, about the state of specialty coffee— a common conversation I wind up having.
“Let me ask you something, man.” I say, suddenly sleepy even though this is technically breakfast. “Just to play devil’s advocate: why work so hard for something so elusive? What’s in it for us through this pursuit?”
In two days, Gothenburg will become an epicenter. People will throw massive amounts of money, time, sweat, and heartache into porcelain cups and then we will pack it all up and do it again somewhere new. In this particular moment, I’m second guessing the “why.”
He pauses for a good long while, his body still as his mind churns, and then simply shrugs. It’s as if he were about to take a long, winding road towards a far off destination, but then quickly turned to the scenic route and headed for the beach instead.
“I think we just want good coffee, all the time.”
I nod my head. Maybe that’s why.