Grind Wait

Coffee making equipment. Can we think about this stuff and the lives of growers at the same time?
Coffee making equipment. Can we think about this stuff and the lives of growers at the same time?

Just over two weeks have lapsed since I got off the plane from Colombia. And every day has reminded me why not very many people have read my blog over the past 9 months: there’s not enough mental space to do it.

As I was sitting up in up in the coffee mountains, connected to weak wifi, watching the “loading” bar creep slowly as I crossed my fingers, I was often frustrated that people- even my closest coworkers, friends, and family- weren’t reading or responding to what I was writing.

Every day I was finding out something totally mind blowing and cool; I was overloaded with new information and interactions that were constantly reshaping how I thought about not just the coffee I drank, but all the food and beverages I consumed.

And I seemed to be doing it alone. Why was it so hard for people back home to follow along?

It’s hard to follow something so removed because the mental space that we have left over once we’re done doing what we need to do to survive our daily lives does not afford us much room at all to think deeply and critically about what we eat and why. That’s the sad truth.

Just 3 days after I got off the plane I was offered a job with Brooklyn Roasting Company as part of their wholesale team. Suddenly I was doing what I had often considered trying to do at some point: actually work in coffee. I had spent so much time (like, every day for 9 months) talking with people whose daily grind centered around coffee in some way, and a part of me wanted to do the same, to actually be the kind of person I was interviewing.

And before I could really decide whether or not that’s actually what I wanted, someone offered it to me, and I took it. So just days after ending my odyssey through Latin American coffee lands I was uploading google drive files, memorizing maps of delivery routes, calling clients, mastering QuickBooks, staring into the guts of Marzocco espresso machines, noting the steps to filter changes, planning meetings for new wholesale accounts, and tasting at least 10 espresso, cappuccinos, cold brews, French presses, and brewed coffees daily.

I was also battling a stomach bug and a sore throat, sleeping on friends’ couches, and looking for an apartment. There was no time to even start to think about the source of the lettuce in my salad or the flour in my scone.

Friends and I often joke that, “you can’t be in New York and not be busy,” which was proven to me in a huge way. All of the sudden I was thrown back into the New York grind of long work days, running rushed errands, catching trains, scarfing saran-wrapped sandwiches while doing all of the above, and trying to find a free moment to see all the people I’d been missing while gone. Someone could be writing the most eloquent travel journal ever about the lives of Ghanaian cacao growers, and there was no way I’d ever have a minute to glance at it, let alone read it in depth and really think about it.

I was submerged back into the city’s fast lane so quickly that I had to keep asking myself, “wait, did I really just do that? Did I really just live and work in the coffeelands, spending my days outside and at processing mills, in mountain towns and with coffee growers?” I did. But as I hurried through the West Village to catalogue model numbers of clients’ coffee grinders and hot water heaters, it certainly didn’t feel like it.

My instantaneous and drastic change of pace demonstrated to me why people had a hard time really paying attention to what I’d been doing on my odyssey: when you spend your days organizing spreadsheets of equipment serial numbers or coordinating delivery routes, it’s time consuming and difficult to then shift your thinking to wonder about the lives of people you’ve never met.

There is no space in our day to do that kind of thinking. No one is asking or telling us to mull over those kinds of questions. Bosses are telling things, family members are asking things, and friends are expecting things, and all the mental energy necessary to respond to those demands doesn’t leave us with much (if any) mental space left to wonder about things and people so far removed from our immediate lives.

Because it’s not something that’s a part of our daily grind, we have to put our feet down and say, “wait, this is important. I want to think about this and I’m going to.” When mental space isn’t readily available, we have to carve it out.

One of the biggest luxuries of my coffee odyssey was that I wasn’t working for anyone. I accomplished so much so quickly because I could work according to my own rules. I made the choices I needed to without having to justify them to anyone or abide by the dictations of a fat SOP manual.

When I wanted mental space, I took it. When I needed mental space to work through something difficult, confusing, terrifying, or complicated, I had it. And I used it.

The challenge now is for me to find ways to reclaim the thinking room I had while travelling. It’s been tough, and I don’t see it getting any less so.

But I’m getting over being sick, I’ll hopefully have a place to live next week, and I’m determined to wrestle everything into some sort of equilibrium.

I met incredible people who do incredible things. They trusted me with their stories and my promise that I would share with the world who they are what they do.

I now know the real value of having mental space, and I see what I can get done when I have it. So even though mental space is now harder to come by, I will have it anyway, no matter whom I have to fight- or how hard- to get it.

So now I’ll be selling coffee by day and writing about it by night, digging out the mental space, spoonful by spoonful, that I need to turn the pieces of When Coffee Speaks into a final product. It’s not going to be easy, but I refuse to hand over both my time and my mental energy to someone else’s grind at the expense of what I deem valuable too.



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