this is the best coffee.

At an interview recently I was asked what I thought the best coffee was.


The interviewer was a specialty coffee expert, though, so I had to come up with an actual answer. I said Guatemalan coffee: partially because I had a vivid memory of one of my former colleagues who always brought some Guatemalan coffee grounds to the office in a shady tupper, the way the best food is shared, almost in secret, almost illegally; partially because there was a map of Guatemala on the wall. Cognitive bias at its finest.

But that was a bogus answer to a bogus question. Finding the best something is always a suspicious exercise bordering futility. Subjective, circumstantial futility. Is what we’re proclaiming the best actually what we think is the best, or what we think the other person will be impressed by? Is it even the best, or what our supremely limited experience has dictated the best? How can we even know the best? Has anyone actually tried all the coffee in this world to claim one is best? What about extraterrestrial coffee, hm? How can we be sure there is a best coffee at all when we are not even sure we exist and instead are 1s and 0s in a computer simulation? #lifeaffirming.

Here is the truth:

The best coffee is the one you order from a hole in the wall, literally, next to a Greek church in Vienna that you share with your mother who lives several countries away from you, mere minutes before you part ways yet again, not knowing when or where you would meet again.

Or the €0.20 coffee from a tobacco shop on the street where you grew up that you only discover after growing out of Starbucks and of your snobbishness enough to get a coffee precisely from a tobacco shop. The coffee that you get every morning before wandering off into the city that raised you and that you are now truly seeing for the first time.

The coffee from a super, super snobbish specialty coffee shop that you share with the one you love on the morning when you decide to give each other another chance. You would write in your journals that the coffee tasted like orchids and pineapple and summer rain (whatever that means) most probably because he makes you see colours where before you only saw grey.

The best coffee is the one you share with your best friend, hungover as hell, after a night of drinking until the morning, laughing at your idiocy and planning to forget it and repeat it all over again.

Or the one you drink with one of the greatest people you have met who turns even a simple coffee break into an adventure. He spills his coffee on his crisp white shirt as you walk through a cemetery on a sunny Scottish summer morning. You laugh like a lunatic and sip your basic coffee, surprised that it now tastes like gold.

But perhaps the best coffee is the one you drink all by yourself on a cold and humid winter day, when all your doubts and fears have crept up on you like dirty sewage water that drowns you in its obscure filth. It is actually bad coffee, a stale batch of filter brew from the green siren that is not even hot but it is coffee and you chug it with abandon, wondering if it will give you a stomachache or the jitters or both, but it still tastes like near-burnt caramel and hazelnut and the better times, and at the end of your bucket you hear it: This is fine. You will be fine.

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