I recently celebrated my one year anniversary at the coffee chain I call home. As I contemplated that auspicious event (and graciously allowed my coworker J.L. to take the one year pin that had been left for me), I realized it’s been one hell of a coffee journey for me.
I don’t write about coffee much, in spite of the title of this blog. If you didn’t know any better, I’m sure you’d expect this to be a blog all about the different types of coffee in the world, and the different methods used to prepare them. However, I’m a flagrant narcissist, so this blog is essentially a platform for me to whine about work and people being mean and my thoughts about the state of the world. But after spending the last six years of my life slinging the stuff at the fine people of Toronto, I’ve learned a thing or two about coffee and the people who serve it.
In light of my coffeeversary, allow me to share.
I was maybe ten years old when I tried my first cup of coffee. My sis and I got into my mother’s Nescafe instant coffee jar and mixed ourselves up a cup. Have you ever had instant coffee? It’s basically liquefied shit. Ash and I had been lifelong tea drinkers (and when I say “tea” I mean Tetley, with four pounds of sugar and a shitload of milk mixed in), so we had no idea what we were in for. Bitter, hot, and no matter how much milk and sugar we added to our cups, the taste refused to not linger. It was gross, but I got a definite thrill from the fact that technically we weren’t allowed to have coffee. We were such little rebels!
After I drank it, I promptly fell asleep. I was not impressed.
When I was a teenage miscreant creating drama all over Uxbridge, there was a cafe that sprung up on Main Street called “Beanz”. Whenever I had extra money (which wasn’t often), Ash and I would go there and buy fancy blended drinks. As I watched the folks behind the counter work their magic, I longed to be like them. They were cool, edgy hipsters long before the word became part of modern vernacular.
At nineteen, my misguided little wish came true.
When I moved to Toronto, I’d had very little notice or time to prepare for such a big change. I was flat broke and in need of a job. I knew I sure as hell didn’t want to work for McD ever again, and I remembered loving the atmosphere at Beanz, so I applied at a coffee shop. Before long, I found myself lost in a sea of fancy espresso drinks. I was overwhelmed. At that point in my life I had no idea what espresso was, I’d never heard of or tasted a latte, and I thought I was going to lose my mind.
I worked at the Second Cup on Bloor and Avenue, conveniently located across from the Royal Ontario Museum and directly beneath the Park Hyatt Hotel.
For the first month, I completely avoided being on bar. I did NOT want to be responsible for creating my own brand of liquefied shit and having Yorkville’s finest bite my head off with their perfectly white, capped teeth. I would yell for a coworker every time someone ordered something other than brewed coffee — which we ran out of more often than not during my first couple weeks. I remember my boss yelling at me, “IT’S UNACCEPTABLE FOR US TO RUN OUT OF COFFEE. WE’RE A COFFEE SHOP. IT’S LIKE MCDONALD’S RUNNING OUT OF HAMBURGERS.”
As if I’d needed a reminder of my former source of income.
In any case, I discovered that most of my coworkers were just like me, creative types who needed to cover rent and bills. Unlike me, most of them were pursuing post-secondary education, but none of them judged me for being full time workforce. Two of my former coworkers, Alex D and Alex B, became fashion bloggers (among other fabulous things), and another of my former coworkers is a runner and blogs about it here. I’ve lost touch with a few others, and recently reconnected with a couple.
It’s one of those things.
When my sister joined me in Toronto, she also ended up working at a Second Cup location. It’s become a running joke that we’ve had all the same jobs since we were teenagers. Once Ash and I had moved to our own place in the St Clair W & Bathurst area, I quit one Second Cup and switched to another. For several years, I worked at the Second Cup right on the corner, the very same one mentioned in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. I found a new home there, with new coworkers who quickly accepted me as family. I even managed to make friends with many of the customers, one of whom eventually became my roommate for a short time.
A friend recorded a few of my songs there one night after we closed. My poetry reading for Black Coffee Poet was filmed there. For a short time, we were happy. One night, as we were closing up shop, a regular customer pointed out that what we had wouldn’t last forever. As I sat there, surrounded by some of my closest friends, I took a moment to appreciate everything.
Soon afterward, everything changed. The owner sold the store, management changed, and all my coworkers quit. I was the last one standing, but eventually I had to throw in the towel for many reasons, mostly personal ones. I quit in November 2011 and moved up north soon after. I recently passed by the Second Cup I called home and was a little shocked to see it had been closed. I joked about it with my new coworkers, but to be completely honest I was kind of sad. Working there with so many amazing people had a huge impact on me and every time I walk by in my mind’s eye I see Louise and Mark behind the counter waiting for Julie and I to show up and take over the closing shift. It really was a family, but we all scattered to the wind and most of us don’t talk much beyond a Facebook “hey” once in a while. But life went on, and I ended up finding a brand new coffee family all over again.
It was in Newmarket that my coffee journey truly began. I was hired by my current employer and although I had several years of coffee history under my belt, the training for this company was a lot more comprehensive. I learned about coffee beans, pull times for espresso, the different tastes of coffee and how to describe them… the list goes on. I also discovered a taste for darker roasts (I was an avid americano drinker in my Second Cup days). I learned the finer points of steaming milk and how to pour the perfect cappuccino. Most of it came fairly naturally to me because I’d had so much practice before, but I enjoyed the challenge of learning to use a completely different espresso machine.
But no matter how much I learn about coffee and fancy espresso drinks, the truth is that the friendships I’ve fostered during my various coffee shop jobs are some of the most important ones in my life. Folks who sling coffee are my kind of people, no matter what kind of personalities they have. When I look back over the last six years of my life, it’s not so much the coffee I remember, but the people with whom I served it.