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Delighted by Mediocrity

August 25, 2015

The Internet can be a dark and dismal place. I tell my kids not to click on links, unless they are absolutely sure about where they go. It only took one moderately disturbing YouTube video to really hammer that message home.

It would be nice if I could follow my own advice.

I don’t even know where I stumbled upon this link. Perhaps someone posted it on Twitter. But it took me to a corner of the Internet that I wish I could pretend didn’t exist. However, now that I’ve seen it, I can’t pretend it’s not there. Probably my best bet is to just talk about what I saw, and try to make peace with it.

As I sit and reflect on the matter, of course there are people like this out there in the world. In fact, some of you may engage in these kinds of deviant behaviors. And I’d like to say that I’m not judging you. But that would be a lie.

Do you want to know what the best culinary deal is in the universe? A well made cappuccino.

I’ll break it down for you. Coffee beans are grown a world away. They are picked, sorted, washed, and fermented. Once they are sold, they are shipped great distances to where they are painstakingly roasted on beautiful and shockingly expensive machinery by a trained craftsperson who is passionate about beans. At their peak of freshness, these beans get ground to order by another shockingly expensive machine which is finely tuned by a different highly trained craftsman based on the changing levels of moisture in the air. Another machine, which costs as much as a car and is just as mechanically temperamental, forces hot water calibrated to the degree under pressure through the grounds. The entire purpose of this is to emulsify the oils in the beans, expressed by the roast, in order to extract the essence of coffee in a glass.

And then you add the milk. Which is relatively straight forward, just so long as you use good cold whole milk to start, and pay careful attention to the steam wand. Catastrophe can strike if you let the bubbles get too large, and the microfoam goes from textured and silky to stiff and dry.

Ideally it takes a second person on the machine working the milk, so that it can be perfect the very moment the espresso is perfect. Then the two are combined with the flick of the wrist and an artistic flourish. And the whole thing is brought to you in a warmed ceramic cup for about $3.50.

Their are some crazy people who want to try this at home and they spend thousands of dollars on equipment. It’s never going to pay out. Ever. But God bless them for trying. In the end, they may make a mighty fine cappuccino. And it’s even likely that a passionate home coffee lover can make a better cappuccino on a serious home machine than a disinterested teenager could make on a La Marzocco without proper training.

What makes me want to put my head through a wall are the people who are happy with the cappuccino they make from their K-cups and battery powered milk frothers.

No.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

I can’t even.

Stop it.

Just. Stop. It.

Look. Maybe you like the coffee you get that comes from pouring boiling hot water through a little plastic cups. The world is a big place. Tastes vary. I get that. But no matter how little water you pass through that cup, or how concentrated the flavor, or how some brand manager may try to convince you that it’s espresso… it’s not.

And you can whip the shit out of skim milk that you scald in the microwave, and get it to form foam so stiff you could carve foam animals out of it. But adding that voluminous foam to your hyper strong coffee secretions doesn’t make it a cappuccino. It just doesn’t.

My worry is that so many people are delighted by the mediocrity with which they have surrounded themselves. And as trivial as it may seem, this is a real worry. In all seriousness, it’s an important thing to keep in mind for those who are interested in changing the food culture in America.

We’ve got our work cut out for us.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 26, 2015 3:55 am

    And… That’s a $3 tool they’re hawking. No, really.

    IKEA: PRODUKT Milk-frother, black $2.79
    Article Number: 303.011.67
    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/30301167/

    Love the post, Dan. Would love to get your take on flat whites – I can’t differentiate.

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