Spices

“You have to try this!”

She passed me a tumbler, a third full with brown foggy liquid. A dry film of spices flecked the sides, indicating that she had very slowly drained some of the original pour, but email had captured her attention more than the drink to be sure. Her thin black laptop still glowed behind her.

“It’s a cardamom spice coffee with Brazilian chocolate.”

My attention had been on her. Her face. She was striking, but her features were welcoming. “Accessible” as some might say, but definitely more refined than the word suggests. Her teeth flashed white against milk chocolate skin, and her eyes were keen. It was her smile, though, that caught me. It was effortless and beautiful.

Not in the way that some smiles are. Some smiles are more like an Olympic ice-skater’s triple-axel: effortless only in appearance. Behind them is much rehearsal and even more self-awareness. On the other hand, the smile in front of me could be produced as it was only because the relevant facial muscles had been frequently called upon by laughter and consistent joy amidst good friends. It was a happy smile, and it was infectious. My fatigue and stress–already having started to melt away from the invigorating walk from the BART station to this Mission café–were utterly banished.

I took the beverage, trying to bring my thoughts back to the now, and to stop being so damn awkward. I didn’t know how to sit in this barstool after spending two stiff and solitary days in a car. “Where are my arms suppose to go?” I thought. If I leaned against the little counter, I was pitched at far too steep an angle–practically falling over. If I sat up straight with my arms at my sides, I looked like someone was pouring ice down my back. “Do I just slump?” My foot groped for a footrest on the stool. It found nothing. I made an attempt to cross one leg over another, almost fell off my stool, and resigned myself to cycling through three or four similarly unnatural body positions, and hoped she wouldn’t notice how this industrial café furniture could completely unmoor my composure.

But what struck me next, aside from the tasty coffee (ill-advised though it was at 9pm) was the memory that suddenly came to me as my senses were pinged with nutmeg and cacao.

Middle school
Friday night
Summer
Sun setting
Downtown
Starbucks?

I had tagged along to the town square with my brother and his buddy Ari for a “hack session” – hacky sack.

It wasn’t long until beverages were desired. Being a 21st century suburb and we all being under 21, Starbucks was the obvious choice. I was the youngest (the other two going into their last year of high school), so I was on gofer duty.

“Ari, what do you want?”

He looked up at the sky just above my head, squinting in his goofy faux-thoughtfulness. Then his eyes widened and he threw his hand out as if to reveal something. It was that classic Ari gesture which often preceded a terse, nonsensical utterance. His fist landed between us and his fingers opened, palm up, in rhythm with the first word of what he said next:

“I….would like…a mocha chai”

“What? Is that a thing?”

This was not a rhetorical question. At 12 years old, I was a far cry from the coffee snob currently tapping out memories on a laptop (the kind of guy who fusses over the perfect pour-over technique, looks at the roasted-on date of coffee beans, and typically takes his coffee black, or plain espresso). Back then I was about as experienced in coffee culture as I was in anything else. Which is to say, not very much.

Confused but undaunted, I set off down the street toward Starkbucks to attempt the order. It was a few minutes later that I was met by a young and almost equally inexperienced Sophomore barista who was equally confused and equally undaunted in her attempt at the alchemy requested of her.

Now here I was, almost a decade and a half later, sitting awkwardly in the hippest of hip cafés. So hip and gourmet in fact, that they didn’t even have tracking information on their next shipment of Brazilian chocolate because it’s so rare and fancy (or at least that’s how one of the baristas explained it). And I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that one of their most popular drink innovations had already been conceived in the mind of a goofy high school junior.

The pretension of it all faded from my perception, and as my mind returned from memories punctuated by small sand bags on shoe leather, my posture relaxed. The black laptop beside us fell asleep, and my conversation with the smiling girl fell into a comfortable cadence.


Spices.grind({nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, ginger})
|> [coffee grinds,  chocolate powder, dash coconut milk] 
    #=> heaven
                        (
                          )     (
                   _...(-------)-...._
               .-""       )    (          ""-.
         .-'``'|-._             )         _.-|
        /  .--.|   `""---...........---""`   |
       /  /    |                             |
       |  |    |                             |
        \  \   |                             |
         `\ `\ |                             |
           `\ `|                             |
           _/ /\                             /
          (__/  \                           /
       _..---""` \                         /`""---.._
    .-'           \                       /          '-.
   :               `-.             .-'              :
   :                  ) ""---...---"" (                 :
    '._               `"--...___...--"`              _.'
     \""--..                              ..--""/
       '._     """----.....__.....----"""     _.'
          `""--..,,_            _,,..--""`
                        `"""----"""`
 
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