Following my last post, How to Lose – I wonder why we do things, or if life is just dealing with the fallout of decisions. Can we even call them decisions?
I encounter this idea as my health dips and swells, as my hopes for my future morph nightly, and as my relationships surprise me. It’s certainly better than a stagnant life, and as Heraclitus (and my MySpace page at age 14) said, “The only constant in life is change.” I feel time, and I’m starting to comprehend how it is possible to live as long as my grandmother and feel like there wasn’t enough time. This mental state is supposedly normal for a 22-year-old, a post-grad, and millennial – It’s why we have a group of people called hipsters, and why as a generation we pin our hopes for saving tradition on them. I care about locally sourced vegetables, hand thrown (by me) pottery, and most importantly craft coffee.
Marc Maron said it best at Oddball Comedy Festival last August when he said how painfully self-aware he feels each morning as he angrily waits for his water to boil, then slowly pours it over fresh coffee grounds. He’s angrier than most, but I feel similarly. My not-yet-caffeinated brain does not want to wait for its morning coffee, but something inside me insists on taking the time to go through the ritual. Now that the process is habituated, I revel in the wondrous scent that fills the kitchen while the coffee grinds, and the beauty of the coffee blooming as the first stream of water falls from my kettle. I realize it’s a luxury to revel in the slowness, but I also feel like I am absolved as I push aside my stomach rumbles and my head starting to ache to honor the process.
Lets not glamorize it, I’m a lost 22-year-old looking to the past for answers. What better way to fill a sense of self than a pilgrimage…so a coffee pilgrimage we did take.
It’s almost been a year since I graduated from college in New York, and since then I’ve felt like the further I get geographically, the larger the force field that repels me from the northeast grows.The force field repelling me coincidentally was also keeping me from the larger half of my family that live up there, and I couldn’t not see them anymore. I decided to travel up for the annual Greek Orthodox Easter shebang. There’s nothing more slow and traditional than the Orthodox church service followed by the slow roasting of a lamb. Before I even realized it was decided, Steven, Zoe, and I found ourselves packed into the car. We had an ambitious list of stops to make along the way – from Florida to Maryland we were going to stop at a handful of craft coffee roasters in each state. Here’s what we did accomplish on our great american #eastcoastcoffeetour.
Florida to Maryland Coffee Road Trip.
Weird logos, delectable baked goods, quirky hipsters, gentrified neighborhoods, warehouses, caffeinated politicians, and so so much espresso.
Home base. Where I go to get coffee when I’m not feeling adventurous. They always get the foam on my cappuccino right, and the baristas are always willing to chat. I regularly made the drive to Tampa until they opened up a location 10 minutes from my home.
Heard great things from people all over Florida about this spot. Very polished feel. Local art that I really liked. Cool people. Small town feel on the street. I feel a Florida coffee shop needs to have a perfected cold brew to beat the heat. I enjoyed their’s but not overwhelmed. Cappuccino was quite pretty, but not amazing.
Perc Coffee Roasters
Drove up to a warehouse with a faded black door. Just kinda walked in and was immediately in the middle of the coffee production process. Where they could have asked us to turn around and get out they instead offered to make us a pour-over of their Colombian — sweet, tropical, heavy, and roasted just that morning. Jonna, Perc “hustler” qualified that they may drink their coffee a little too fresh there. She patiently answered my steady flow of overly personal questions, explaining how she came to the world of coffee from the world of wine.
She embodied their mission to “make and share damn good coffee.”
Charleston, South Carolina
Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer
Very hip. Outdoor garden embodied the simple charm of Charleston, with green vines covering the low stone walls. Doubles as a bar/ local music venue. Outstanding latte art.
Simple clean decor. Fresh feeling reinforced by the free cucumber water. Fun and friendly baristas. Self described “minimalist.” Most coffee shops try so hard to be inviting with plush seats, overflowing bookshelves and board games. not here.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Another warehouse we awkwardly strolled into. Something about being in the South makes this feel okay. A 21 year old company, they distribute to cafes, and markets throughout NC. Joel poured us a cup of their Frankie’s Blend, gave us a tour of the space and chatted with us about everything — from Coffee to Hockey to his dog walking business on the side. His favorite coffee by Larry’s is Fire in the Belly. Our favorite was the cold brew they rolled out last year – slightly sweet with a hint of orange.
Cafe de Los Muertos
A little over a year old, they have a lot to offer. Sticking to a strong theme. They have wi-fi, a kid’s corner, gluten-free baked goods. Mexican colas next to American ones. Lofted seating above. It was here that I gave in and bought a bag of their floral Yirgacheffe, roasted only 2 days before.
It was a gloomy day in Richmond but VCU students were still walking the streets and Rostov’s bright yellow walls were refreshing and welcoming compared to the usual contemplative gloom of cafes. The narrow layout forced us to walk past rows of coffee barrels and entry-level equipment for the at home coffee connoisseur.
In existence since 2009, and at the location we visited in the museum district since 2012. Clay isn’t hiding any part of the process. They roast where they serve and cater mostly to grad students. Most popular drink? – the dirty chai, and I can attest that it was the best one I tried on this trip. Probably ever.
Swing Coffee Company
Roasting since 1916, it’s a classy joint. The wood paneling and business men dressed in suits almost make you feel like it’s an invite only coffee secret society, until you get in the long line. The employees were patient and friendly despite how busy it was, and it seemed like they genuinely enjoyed making our drinks. A simple coffee was tasty and crisp, that’s all I could ask for if I was a DC business man on a lunch break.
Chinatown Coffee Company
Winner of strangest compliment – “Thank you for not being on your phone while ordering.” Apparently genuine human interaction in a DC coffee shop is a rarity, as are bagels after 11 am. Also a winner of best Cortado – very smooth.
A traditional coffee shop front slowly starts to feel like you’re in someone’s home as you move toward the back. There’s an outside patio in the back that embraces the traditional Baltimore backyard feel.
Almack’s Coffee (F/K/A Tribeca)
One of the most lively places we stopped at. Chairs were filled with young professionals having halfway decent conversations over coffee that baristas carefully guide you to select. We stared at the options listed on the board behind their heads for an uncomfortable amount of time, but they resiliently answered every question we threw at them. It seems this is an important factor on our journey.
So did I learn any big life lessons on my trip? Initially, my biggest lesson was that it’s not that hard to get addicted to espresso, and it’s not a cheap habit. But. It’s taken me 2 months to sum up our trip and process the pilgrimage. Traveling is definitely tiring and it’s taken me this long to recover. Taking boundless energy puppy Zoe along definitely didn’t help on that front either.
Looking to the past and tradition for answers only taught me to look forward. That hope and faith in the future is what makes decisions what they are. Whatever we choose to have hope in, we just need to keep our eyes and hearts open. The future is a live concept that fluctuates with or without us, until our cup is empty.