I love coffee. I love making coffee. And I love learning more about coffee. So when I finished work and still had two more weeks before my travels started, I asked Vishal Patel, owner of the The Happiness Lab in downtown New Haven if I could apprentice under him to learn the ins and outs of making espresso. I have been brewing and sometimes roasting my own coffee for several years now and few things make me happier than an elaborate preparation of the drink. Espresso has remained a bit elusive to me since I had yet to invest in my own equipment so the opportunity to work at T.H.L. for a while was a dream.
Vishal was extremely gracious in coaching me during my unpaid internship over the course of my final two weeks. I got the chance to learn all about the fundamentals in getting the right blend of beans, adjusting the proper grind settings, and dialing in all the external factors for a perfect double ristretto. All the new things I learned brought me and added facinsation for coffee and respect for the baristas that make a really good cup of it. For example, I did not realize that once you “find” your grind in the morning, one that will allow you to pull a shot in 26-28 seconds, you will likely have to adjust this setting many times throughout the course of the day depending on the ambient temperature and humidity.
In addition to the espresso fundamentals we did work on all different milk containing drinks too and how to produce and pour the correct foam from lattes all the way down to macchiatos. While my latte art is still nothing to brag about, I definitely got the hang of producing foam in the right proportions by the end of my days there (with lots of credit due to Jes for teaching me a far simpler way to orient the steam wand).
So all in all, a great way to spend my last several days around New Haven. It saved me about $1,200 and a lot of wasted beans since I would have eventually broken down and purchased my own home machine and upgraded my home grinder to learn on my own. And if having this skill that I’ve always wanted wasn’t enough to validate my decision, on my last day of work I had one of my biggest fanboy moments when Andrew Bird came into the shop and ordered a double shot of espresso. His concert was in New Haven that night at College St. I already had tickets to the show that night and it would be my 4th time seeing him. Somehow I held it together until he already had his coffee and was paying when I told him that I was a big fan and looking forward to seeing him that night. He said “That’s great, see you at the show. And thanks for the coffee.” Ha! Andrew Bird thinks I’m an actual barista. But then, after getting paid in tips, I guess I technically was.