My First Espresso, or…

Double Shot of Love

espresso double shot of loveEspresso.  That indulgent, rich coffee concentrate adored by coffee lovers, admired by the uninitiated, and admonished by everyone else.  Espresso–of all the coffee drinks–may be the most polarizing.  To be polite, it’s an acquired taste.  To be honest, most people just make it wrong.

Where I fall on the scale of lovers and haters requires a short trek into the past, back to an evening in the late 90’s when I ventured into a coffeehouse on Main Street with my friend Joe.  We were in high school at the time, too young to (legally) enter a bar, so we settled on the unassuming coffee shop.  I can’t remember the name, but it was probably something like Brewed Awakening or The Daily Grind.

It was the type of place that used word puns at every opportunity.  The espresso I ordered was probably called espresso yourself.  I’ll bet the cappuccino was named the Kappa Kappa Chino.  Walking into the place was an act of heroism, for at any moment your eyes could become forever lodged in an eye-roll.

The internal décor didn’t help matters.  There was a feeling that someone might approach to try and sell us a one of the kind sketch they doodled on a napkin.  Our feet stuck to the floor and made that peeling sound–like Velcro–as we took steps forward.  Instead of coffee, the predominant odor was that of clove cigarettes.  Truly, the only thing about the place that I found endearing was that the tables were chess boards, and you could get a set of game pieces with your coffee.

I approached the counter with more than my fair share of trepidation.  This story takes place after my first taste of coffee, but long before I knew coffee could be good.  I perused the menu and decided I should try something new.  Something I had at least a chance of enjoying.  Of course, I didn’t know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino, let alone what they were comprised of.

Then I saw it scribbled in white across the chalkboard that acted as their menu: espresso.

Yeah, I thought.  That sounds familiar.  And so I ordered.

The barista fiddled with a number of peculiar looking machines, none of which resembled a coffee maker.  Oh my, how exotic.  How fancy.  Steam escaped from somewhere; strange pressurized sounds echoed off the far wall.

The goateed twenty-something turned and handed me a medium-sized paper cup with about an inch of black liquid at the very bottom.  I peered down at it, then looked back at him.  Was this some kind of joke?  He shrugged and said, “Sorry, we ran out of espresso cups.  I know it doesn’t look like much–you want more?  A double shot?”

All I really understood was more.  And yes, I wanted more.  “Okay, a double shot sounds good,” I said.

He winked and said, “Double Shot of Love.”

Again with the puns.  I rolled my eyes, being careful not linger for fear of being all whites for the rest of my life.

espresso chess table

Another few minutes passed and he handed the cup back with double the amount of espresso, which still barely filled the lower eighth of the cup.  I paid what seemed an obscene amount of money and went back to the chessboard table where Joe waited.

“What’s that?”

“Espresso.”

He shrugged and began to set up the chess pieces.

I sipped the drink and had a déjà vu moment of the first time I tasted regular coffee, only this time the desire to spit out the liquid was multiplied tenfold.  It was as if someone took the nastiest cup of coffee I had ever tasted, then boiled it down on a stove top until only a pitch-black coffee syrup was left.

I tried salvaging the drink by adding milk and sugar, but there was so little espresso that all I accomplished was converting it into a lukewarm glass of sweet milk.  I downed it in one gulp and went back to the table.

Ten minutes later, I discovered the other reason people drink coffee.  As I inspected the board, trying to assess Joe’s last move, I noticed the entire table had begun to tremor.  The pieces shook and threatened to topple.

Joe said, “Tony, be careful.”

I held my hands up as if to ask what he was talking about.  He fixed me with a scolding expression then grabbed my knee. The table stopped shaking.

He let go of my knee, and my leg went back to galloping in place.  I had not been ready for the concentrated hit of caffeine the espresso served up, and my nerves were letting me know as much.  I took notice for the first time how fast my heartbeat was.  And I had begun to sweat.  I felt like running a marathon, but I also had to pee.

Double shot of love, my ass!  This was nothing but awful.

Over the years, in much the same way I finally discovered how good coffee could be, I realized there were many facets to making a good cup of espresso, and though I still consider it something of an acquired taste, I also consider it a luxury.  It’s not something to be ordered as I rush to work in the morning so I can get a quick caffeine fix without having to gulp 12 ounces of liquid.  It’s something to be savored, like your morning, like your life.

espresso yourself

It’s funny how we descry the swiftness of time only later in life, when we would most desire it to slow.  And yet if it were not for its passing, I could not have grown into the maturity of taste and objectivity I now inhabit.  I may never have reached a moment in time when a single shot of espresso and biscotti could make me smile, breathe deep, and relax.

I am so glad for this.

And though I fear I will never grow so much as to find humor in espresso yourself, I can at least find comfort in the knowledge that I will also never find humor in most other coffee-based puns.  I am glad for this as well.