Monday, January 21, 2013

An Anarchist Makes A Latte

My father drank a lot of coffee growing up. The morning would begin with a brewing pot. The cheap, lightly browned beans were preground and would sink, flushed by water further into the paper thin filter of the automatic coffee machine. A pot would be gone by the end of the morning, before we left for school. I didn't think much of it and I just enjoyed the smell of the brewed product, my father's consumption was a mere drop compared to the 2.25 billion cups drunk each day.

Chinese character for failure
Over a decade later I've found myself surrounded by coffee, the devil juice of capitalism. Originating from the Arab world, the first recorded writings of people consuming the caffeinated beverage hail from the Sufi monasteries in Southern Arabia. Sufis would keep themselves alert for their devotions through drinking coffee. Despite having the first coffeehouse in the 16th Century, Constantinople, wasn't considered hip at the time, but perhaps that is because the past wasn't presented with the presence of hipsters.

With continual trade occuring between Europe and Northern Africa, England got a hold of the morning time drug. The British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company were able to secure regular shipments for the country and in the latter part of the 16th century coffeehouses began to open in England. The houses were centralizing points for discussions over politics, religion and other stately, manly matters.

Coffee first came to the Americas in the 1700s and after the Tea Party dumped the shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773, coffee drinking came to be a sign of independence.

Drink Coffee and Remember to Vote Often
During WWII in an effort to give factory workers a brief respite, the coffee break was invented. General Eisenhower during his presidential campaign used the "coffee break" as a time for socializing with voters. Since that time the United States has become the world's largest coffee consumer, while the  South American countries of Brazil and Columbia have been the main producers.

In the 1970s the mega corporation Starbucks was created. With the emergence of the large coffee company there was a shift from cheap lightly roasted coffee which was less expensive to produce to more qualitative less acidic darker roasted beans. This shift in quality over quanitity has also coincided with the "foodie" movement and other food movements; slow food, organic, free range meat, etc.

In the last ten years coffee consumption has become increasingly specialized, as consumers want not just coffee but coffee from certain areas, of certain varietials; Arabica and Robusta, shade grown, bird safe, free trade etc.

Now most restaurants, bars, and coffee shops will have some qualitative bean variety, at least here in the bay area. Despite the growth of coffee culture I've remained happily ignorant. It was only recently when I went to a friend's coffee shop that I cared at all. It wasn't because of the taste of the latte that got me, but because of the swirling pattern he made with the steamed soy milk.

The perfectly steamed milk
masks the terrible flavor
Latte art is a relatively new phenomenon. In making a latte, an espresso drink composed of eight to ten ounces of steamed milk and one or more shots of espresso, the barista pours steamed milk over the espresso. Correctly steaming the milk allows the barista to pour a design into the coffee. Notable designs are the rosetta, the heart, and the tulip.

When I first saw my friend's rosetta design I decided that I would try to do the same. In the past I'd made shitty espresso drinks. I never drank coffee, and never cared about making someone else a very good looking coffee drink. Its taken me about two weeks to make decent looking coffee drinks.

I am not sure why I became interested in latte art. It serves me no purpose, as stated before I don't give a fuck about coffee, it is just waste. At work, where I am making these lattes, those that aren't consumed by customers are dumped.

 "I am pretty sure Matt has wasted an entire cow's yearly production of milk," one of my coworkers said to me after looking despondingly at one of my latte art abortions.

Having been in the restaurant industry for so long and not desiring to move up in the industry has limited my creative drive. There is no desire to expand, to get better at my job and so I feel alienated from my work. Having extra creativity, obsession coupled with boredom I make crappy latte art.
Swirling clouds of cow puss

In Georges Bataille's theory of the Accursed Share, an organism has an excess of energy to it, this is unlike classical economic theory in which organisms are always faced with finite amounts of energy. The excess energy according to Bataille, or Accursed Share, is a luxury and this luxury is spent according to the form of society.

I am not sure how much longer I will pursue this ultimately wasteful activity. It offers me little to nothing, it wont get me a raise, I don't drink coffee, it all seems like some perverse vanity project, besides there's a certain satisfaction in burning people's milk, perhaps that's why I was doing it for so long.

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