Words I wish we’d all stop using

Millennial: Why on earth would you generalize an entire generation of people based on the span of years they were born in? I was born in 1993, and to a lot of people, that means all my hands know how to do is hold my phone. My hands clearly know how to type words — even important words sometimes. People born a decade or so before me and my cohorts are just obsessed with pointing out everything that’s wrong with our generation. For goodness sake, a New York Times search for “millennial” yields way too many results.  But we are individual people. We are not defined by the era we were born. That’s just really silly. And thank you for the “apology,” I guess.

Hipster: DEAR GOD WHAT IS A HIPSTER??? Seriously, define it for me. The fact that this is an actual word is absurd. Okay, let’s say it’s just someone who is eclectic or ahead of the upcoming trends … call them that! Why use an obscure, annoying, dumb, pointless word like “hipster?” Tell someone they think differently or they have a unique style. Calling someone a hipster just puts them in a group of people that no one really knows exactly how to define. Hipster is actually really lazy. Instead of taking the time to individualize someone, we just call them a hipster, laugh, and move on. And while media like The Guardian have tried to write about the ever elusive hipster, they fail. This article starts off okay, but then it goes right into generalizing a group of people and trying to identify them with a single word. Dumb, just dumb.

Very: I used “really,” which is basically “very,” three times in the last two paragraphs. That fact and Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society (“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.”) are enough to prove my point. Not really, but I’m very lazy. Anyway, language is fun and words are practically infinite and there’s no reason not to use the most specific one we possibly can. Seriously though, this is probably the hardest thing to stop doing.

 

I thought I would have more words to add to this post. I do not. But these bother me enough. Goodbye.

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Please, be sensitive

The night of the shooting, a midnight candlelight vigil was led by students. I’ve said this a million times, but it was humbling to be there.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve found myself wanting to scream, “Pay attention to me! I’m grieving!” But the reality remains that no one else is grieving anymore. When it first happened, “SPU” and related phrases were trending. And they stayed trending for about a day. But no one seems to know that we are still so hurt.

When I leave to go to the store, no one is on the same level of sensitivity as I am. They ask me how my day is going and I have to say, “Okay” because I can’t say, “An innocent student died and others were injured. I’m not okay at all. A shooter defiled my university and the community. Please, grieve with me.” It seems everyone outside of our campus has moved on. And that’s okay. When these things happen at other schools and to other communities, I pause and feel their pain, and then I move on just like they have all moved on.

But right now we are our own world. As soon as I cross onto campus, I feel it. It’s incredible to know that we are all feeling the same way. And it’s just understood that this is how we feel. And it’s how we’ll feel for a long time. Every day when I wake up, I feel it all over again. The tragedy and pain are still fresh. The campus is clouded with somber hearts. But there is also hope.

This is my third and final year at SPU. And I never really felt like I was part of the larger community. Being an introverted nonevangelical who’s not even sure if she believes in God has pushed me onto the outskirts. Of course I’ve found little niches, met wonderful humans, and made precious friends. But I’ve always felt detached from the community. And this isn’t a complaint, I’m okay with that. It’s just how I am, and it’s just how our school is. I don’t regret coming here at all, not even a little bit. I’m glad I’m here.

And right now I’ve never been more happy that I chose SPU. Because while I don’t know if I believe in God, it’s amazing to see all the people who do. It’s amazing to see all the people who are rejoicing and who continue to worship Jesus. It’s amazing to see that their faith has not been shaken as easily as mine would have been. So truly, I am so happy that I am here with these people who have reacted in such a natural, inspiring way. And I don’t know if prayers are doing anything, but I know that it gives me comfort to know that so many people are praying.

I have a unique role in this, I guess, because I’m one of the editors for my school newspaper, The Falcon. We had officially put out our last issue of the year last week, a day before the shooting. And since the shooting happened, we’ve all been covering the events that have followed. And I think this is the first time that I’ve felt the weight and importance of being a journalist. We’re just trying to bring comfort through providing information. And if anyone at all has found comfort in the information we have tried to provide, then we have done our job.

I didn’t know any of the victims, but one of my good friends did. And I can’t imagine what anyone who knows the victims is feeling right now. But you should know that we are all feeling as much pain as we possibly can. And while the rest of the world has already forgotten us, we are still grieving.

To the rest of the world that is currently going on without us, please, wait for us. Be patient. Be understanding. We’re not going to be over this anytime soon. Please, pay attention to us. Be sensitive.

—Kelly Pantoleon pantoleonk@spu.edu

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Dear,  

Remember when we saw the sticks and flames make love

Red and orange and blue folding over and through.

They twisted and tangled and threw sparks to the black.

 

I can’t remember if it was that night

or another. You slept with your mouth open, gurgles and drool

spilling out, preceding the growling hum of your snore.

 

I listened as the DVD’s menu screen started

and started and started. And the wind slid in and kissed my toes .

 

I picked at my nails to the beat of your rising and falling chest in the dark

and left “Charcoal” nails and dead skin in your grey bed

and I turned and turned and turned.

 

Your mom cooked, and I ate the salty eggs

and the pavement was a deeper

dark as the rain stomped

on it all night long.

 

—KP

 

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Baby trees

 

The trees rise from the roofs of the house,

lined up in their places like thieves

on the hunt, leading the rest into blood,

relying on their spears as shields as the rest

hide in the depths of the crowd of pines,

drowning in blood from the pricks and shards of wood.

 

But what is hidden is the birth of that wood:

The roots stretching like skinny legs in the house,

not just sprawling and sticking to the ceiling, but the pines

dig into the floor like hair on a man’s arms, a thief’s —

and it seems like an accident caused by too much rest

and then it spills and spills more and more blood.

 

Down to the basement it goes, searching for blood

and spilling down the stairs, joining with the house’s wood

and plastering the dirt-covered spines to all the rest

of the ground and walls, painting and haunting the house

as the children’s mouths whisper sleep, as the thieves

are searching to find the babies covered in the pines.

 

And while they hide, on a journey go the pines,

searching the boards and the walls for blood,

but looking for the babies, not the thieves,

and they find themselves still attached to the wood

as they search all through the house

for the souls that have found no rest.

 

And as the limbs crawl into bed with the children at rest,

they tickle and spread their ribs, leaving pines

sprinkled on their skin and a trail through the house,

careful not to wake them with dripping blood

and finding solace in the bodies, not the grains of wood,

just like end of the searching of the thieves.

 

But slowly, with choosing between becoming thieves

and flowering into spear-headed trees, the children rest,

and they become molded with the branches and the wood,

allowing their hearts to become soil for the pines

and their flowers to be watered with green blood,

standing tall upon their own house.

 

While the thieves hid in the pines,

the children found no rest and lost blood,

becoming the wood house.

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Walk not

 

 

 

run past

me wheel past

me jog past

me spin past

me kiss past

me

me

 

 

 

Purple single open fan petal in the green bush

brush.

Wee pink babe lips, big pink dog nose

meet.

Square teeth in the dark jut out and

boom boom laugh

to fly with the birds.

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The Show

Being seven years old, I couldn’t see much from my spot in the back row. But I knew where everyone sat. We always sat in the same places. Uncle Manoli was driving because it was their van, and my father sat in the passenger’s seat because he was the other man. My mother and Auntie Marina sat in the middle row, like sisters more than sisters-in-law. And the back row was us: me, my sister who is a year younger than I am, my cousin who is a year older than I am, and his sister who is the same age as my sister. The back row was ours. Made for only three people, the four of us always sat together. In the green van and in the other cars our parents drove, we always managed to fit all of us.

Even though I wasn’t the eldest, I was always the one to make sure we were all safe. I made sure we all had our seatbelts on. I asked if they wanted their jackets on or off before we left so they wouldn’t have to adjust later. I made sure we all had the snacks we needed and a couple of water bottles to share. It was a two-hour drive from Bellingham to Seattle, so I just wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable.

This time we were going to our first baseball game. Like with all the other car rides that took more than an hour, the four of us fell asleep. Dimitri’s head on his sister Andreana’s shoulder, Andreana’s head on my sister Lia’s shoulder, Lia’s head on my shoulder, and my head against the window. I liked that the window was cold against my cheek and still let the sun warm my face.

I only slept for about twenty minutes. That’s how it always was when we went on road trips. I could never sleep. I would try, letting myself just listen to the music of our parents’ conversations or watch the trees turn to a green blur outside the window, but I never managed to sleep for more than half an hour. So when I would wake up, I would just listen to my cousins’ and sister’s breathing slowly match up and continue as one rhythm.

When I saw the Space Needle, I knew we were in Seattle. It was one of my first times seeing it in person, well, driving past it, but it meant that we were almost there. After two hours of driving, passing building after building, tree after tree, the Space Needle meant that we were in Seattle. I would always see the water first, and I would be scared that we had already passed the landmark and I had missed it. But then it was there, and I would eagerly look it up and down, admiring how it stood apart and away from the other buildings, claiming its own space in the sky. After we drove past it and it was moving away, I would turn around and keep my eyes on it until it was too far behind us. I waited patiently for the rest to wake up.

At that time, we didn’t know anything about the Mariners except that Ichiro was on the team. But we did know that we were going to Safeco Field, the new home of the Mariners. Dimitri led the chants.

“Okay, guys, I’ll say, ‘Safe,’ and you guys say, ‘Co,’” he said as he looked at all of us, making sure we heard his instructions.

“Why?” Andreana asked, her voice high-pitched and truly curious.

“Because that’s where we’re going,” I told her.

“Ready?” he waited a second before starting. “Safe!”

“Co!” we girls yelled back.

“Safe!” Dimitri said again.

“Co!” we responded.

We went on like this, Dimtri yelling from his end of the row and us responding, for a few minutes. We were all looking forward out the windshield where our fathers were sitting, too focused on our own part of the chant to look at each other. Uncle Manoli and my father just laughed their van-filling laughs. Our mothers were closer to us and got the full effect of our call-and-response, turning back to glare.

We finally pulled up to the gate of the parking garage, and our fathers told us to be quiet so they could hear what the attendant was saying. The green van climbed the parking garage, all the way up to the above-ground level. We could see the stadium from there before we even left the car. Photographs of the players were on the walls, there was a big metal glove that other kids were playing on, and there were skinny men with thin grey hair trying to sell people magazines and asking for tickets.

The four of us ran to the stairs and down them to the crosswalk, Safeco Field just a white walking man away. Our parents were right behind us, and they herded us across the street to one of the lines forming at the gates. Standing in line, we saw the people in front of us taking off their backpacks and putting them on a table to be checked. Water bottles and peanuts were tossed in the garbage. You weren’t allowed to bring those things in with you, so it was a good thing we had left our water in the car.

We handed our tickets one by one to an old lady. She scanned them with her gun, it beeped and lit up our tickets, and she let us walk through the spinning thing into the stadium. I don’t know why, but even now, those first few steps into the stadium are my favorite. Other people had been going through the same short process and were entering at the same time. Fathers were holding their daughters’ hands; mothers were looking at stadium maps to see which way to go; brothers and sisters were trying to run up the stairs to see the field before anyone else. Everyone was everywhere. Dimtri, Lia, and Andreana were already running up the stairs and didn’t see what I saw. There were hundreds of glass baseball bats hanging from the ceiling. Some were hanging from handles, and others were hanging from the barrels. But they all seemed to be touching each other. One on top of the other and next to another and below another and diagonal from another. The chandelier was a big circle of bats at the top and spiraled down to a tiny circle above our heads. The sun was shining through it and off of it and filling the foyer of Safeco Field with sprawling, floating lines of calm yellow light. It was magic and inviting.

But I ran up the stairs with everyone else. Our parents, again, were right behind us and made sure we didn’t get too lost. They called us over to them, and the eight of us formed a loose huddle, our heads somewhat together and everyone looking in separate directions. Our mothers told us where we had to go to get to our seats. We weren’t too far away; we had entered near home plate, and our seats were along the first base line. We followed our fathers’ bobbing and turning heads visible from the front of our group, we followed them. The mothers closed us in at the back of our line and steered us back in line if we drifted. Hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, we walked past garlic fries and kettle corn and followed Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs’ soft booming voices to our seats.

The hour we had before the game was to start went by fast. We sat and watched batting practice. Player after player came up to the plate and hit ball after ball into the outfield. I was hypnotized by the routine. Everyone knew where they were supposed to be and how many swings they were supposed to take. Left-handers and right-handers and short players and tall players talked and ran and swung their bats, and it all repeated until the game started. It was a methodical dance that they went through almost every day. Spinning and swinging and running, and doing it all again and again. One batter would take his swings, run behind the plate, and another would take his place. The players in the outfield played pass, throwing the ball back and forth in arches that seemed to stay the same height and length every time—perfect mirrors of each other. That was the first time I experienced the magic of baseball—that everything was connected. My family was connected to each other. And I was connected to the game—every fan of every team, every player, every announcer, every peanut thrower, every ticket scalper, every brother and sister. I was innocent, and I had fallen in love with an entire culture.

The only thing I remember happening during the actual game had nothing to do with the game. The wave of fluids hit our backs, splashed up, then came back down and ran down our shirts and made our shirts cling to us. It was summer, and it was sticky. I don’t remember exactly where everyone was sitting, so I don’t know how it only happened to me and Andreana, but we were the hit. We were sitting at the top row near all the beverage vendors and their carts. No one saw how it happened, but one of the carts that had pop and water and beer on it fell over and spilled on us. Our shirts were soaked with drinks, ice, and melted ice water. Our parents jumped up and made a laughing yelling sound that drew attention to us. The man selling drinks at the cart that spilled came over to us with a stadium attendant and apologized. Then Uncle Manoli, Andreana, and I followed the attendant to a stand that was selling clothes. The attendant asked the person working at the stand for two medium youth shirts. We went to the bathroom to change as Uncle Manoli waited outside for us, one eye on the door and one eye on the field. We came out of the bathroom, Andreana with her Freddy Garcia shirt and me with my John Olerud shirt. And that was it.

John Olerud was mine.

For the whole rest of the game, I yelled for John. I cheered when he came up to the plate. I cheered when he ran out to play defense. (He was, conveniently, the first baseman, so we were closest to him.) I cheered when he got a hit and told him it was okay when he grounded out to the shortstop. When he was released and put on the free agent market in 2004, I went to my room and marked it on my calendar, proclaiming it “John Olerud Day.”

My sister and I watched every Mariners game the next season. During the weekdays, games started at 7:05 p.m. Lia and I had soccer practice from 5–6 p.m. Our father would pull up to the parking lot right at 5, and he would help us get into the car. Our mother made him put dirty towels on the floors and seats of the car so we wouldn’t get anything dirty. He made sure that we didn’t fill the car with too much dirt and grass smell. Then he would drive us home. It took seven minutes, so we had time to sing along to two songs in the car. It would either be Elvis or Greek music. Sometimes we would listen to the Mariners pregame on the radio. As much as our whole family loves baseball, my father would get frustrated with the team when they were losing, so he would try to not watch the game or not listen to the radio guys talk about it. But he always seemed to accidentally put it on that channel, even if he just ended up yelling.

Hungry from running around at practice and not wanting to miss even the first inning, we would hurry through our dinners and run upstairs and take showers. She would take our bathroom, and I would take our parents’. I had it down to six minutes. I would shampoo, condition, and soap up as quick as I could, then I would get in my pajamas and get ready for the game.

We were only in second and third grade, I think, so our bedtime was around 8:30 or 9, which meant we only got to watch the game until about the seventh inning. Usually the score was a big enough margin that even though we didn’t want to go to bed, we were okay with it because we knew who was going to win. But on nights that the game was close, we would sit on the couch with our father and will him to not look at the clock. But he always somehow knew what time it was, and he would look at us and laugh.

He would turn toward us, put his head down, look up at us from under his eyebrows, smile, and say, “You know what time it is.”

“But Dad, just one more inning,” Lia and I would say.

“I don’t know. It’s past your bedtime,” our father would say.

“But Dad, we promise! After this inning,” we’d said.

“Okay, just one more,” he’d finally say.

Now my sister lives about a six-hour drive away from me, but we’re both busy with school, so we only see each other a few times a year, when we’re both at home for Christmas or Spring Break. But whenever we see a Mariners writer post something on Twitter or see a player post a picture, we call or text each other. These days, we mostly just share our frustrations with how the team is being managed. But we always remember the guys on the team when we first fell in love with the sport. Most times, we’re just telling each other what we’ve already seen on our own. Maybe it’s just an excuse to hear each other’s laughs and know we still make each other smile when we say the same thing at the same time.

But Lia still makes fun of me for loving John Olerud so much. Maybe it’s because I wore No. 5 for my soccer jersey just to have the same number as John. Or maybe it’s the frame that I have hanging on my wall in my old room at home. The frame is pretty big. There are baseball cards and tickets that John signed for me when I met him. I was in sixth grade, and our mom took us to a mall about an hour and a half away, but she wouldn’t tell us why we had to go there. It was Christmastime, so we didn’t really question the road trip. Our mom ended up surprising us with a chance to meet John Olerud, Dan Wilson, and Jamie Moyer. As soon as I saw the line for autographs, I panicked. I wasn’t ready to meet him. Admiring him from afar was good enough for me. I remember my stomach hurting and causing me to tremble all the way down to my toes. I kept my hands in the pocket of my sweatshirt, making them sweatier instead of hiding the sweat. As we approached the table, I was glad that he was at the end of it, so I would have more time to internally steady my voice. I couldn’t stop smiling when I was finally standing in front of him. All I could say was “Hi.” My mom had to do the talking for me. Looking at the photograph of me and John that sits in the frame, my cheeks look even warmer than I remember. But in the middle of the frame is the shirt with his name on the back that I got at my first baseball game. I don’t remember the drinks falling on us, just how it felt to wear the shirt for the first time. Walking to our seats with my new shirt, I felt like I was a part of the sport. They call major league baseball The Show, and now I was one of the characters; I was essential to the game of baseball. Even after just one game, one shirt, the magic of being innocently in awe of the atmosphere captivated me.

It’s been fourteen years since my cousins, sister, and I fell in love with the Mariners. Dimitri and Andreana don’t watch them at all anymore, really. But last season Lia and I went to two games together. I was living in Seattle for the summer, and she was back home, so she came to stay with me for a couple of days. We went to one game on Friday and one game on Saturday. Even at nineteen and twenty, we couldn’t stop talking about the Safeco and the players the entire weekend. One day she drove, and one day I drove. I didn’t see the Space Needle as we approached the stadium because my apartment was closer to the stadium than it was. But we were in Seattle, so I didn’t need to use the landmark that I used to. And we went to the same parking garage that we did that first game. And I saw the same chandelier made of glass bats. And the sun still went through and around and off the bats, filling the entrance and warming me and my sister. And the Mariners still played. And my sister and I sat and watched and stood and yelled. It was like the first time. The awe that I felt when watching the game was unchanging, still connected.

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Proudly Serving Stumptown Coffee

Arturo Aguirre is a third generation coffee farmer in Guatemala, where he owns and operates a farm called El Injerto (named after a fruit that is native only to that part of the world) with his son, Arturo Jr. El Injerto is one of the farms that Stumptown Coffee Roasters gets their coffee from. This is where coffee starts. Before it’s in the cup, in the grinder, in the roaster, in the burlap sacks, it’s born on farms like these. Because the sun gets so hot in South America, it has to be controlled. It can’t get too hot. There has to be enough air.

Shade trees are planted throughout the farm to promote air circulation.

***

“Stumptown was started with the goal of doing things differently, with a vision that’s always been a little left-of-center, and with the focus squarely on quality. We source the best coffees in the world and strive to maintain transparent, quality-based relationships with our farmers along the way. From plant to portafilter, we pay homage to these folks through our own fervent attention to detail at every step, quality control in our cupping labs, meticulous roasting profiles and extensive barista education.” This is the second-to-last paragraph on the “About Stumptown” tab of the Portland-based coffee shop’s website.

***

At the 12th Avenue location in Capitol Hill in Seattle, I read the white chalk letters that are pressed onto the brown board behind them. Under the boards of menus, the baristas stand. Two men this time, sporting Capitol Hill–requisite thick, wiry beards and thin, round glasses. The tall one on the left takes my friend Katie’s order of a vanilla latte and a chocolate cookie. The barely shorter one takes my order on the right and tells me the French press coffee is right in front of me.

The two men walk back and forth, in front of and behind, and back-to-back and front-to-front of each other, all the while pouring and shaping foam into abstract, creamy tan swirls, pointing customers to the cream and sugar, and pulling pastries from behind the glass. They move perfectly together, as if rotating around a pole in the middle of the scene that holds them to a radius and prevents them from running into each other. They share a center of gravity, a point of safety and origin, that I’m still thinking about and looking for. The caramel flower smell of roasting coffee reminds me I’m at a cafe and not witnessing some show set on a wooden stage.

***

In November 1999, I was six years old, sharing a white couch with my sister. We were watching TV and drinking milk while our mom held her cup of coffee in her olive hands and looked at the screen.

 At that same time, Duane Sorenson opened the first Stumptown on Southwest Division in Portland. He had worked in cafes and roasteries in the Northwest for years, and he decided he wanted to open his own shop—a place where he wanted to be all the time, a place where the quality of the coffee was the top priority. With that in mind, he emptied his savings account and bought a 1920s era, cast-iron, 5 kilo Probat roaster, which was exactly what he wanted. After a donation from his boss at a bar he was working at, Sorenson bought the first of many La Marzocco espresso machines and opened the first Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

***

According to the Probat website, “There on the banks of the Rhine River, engineer Theodor von Gimborn designed and built the first “Emmericher” spherical coffee roaster, the godfather of all Probat roasters. The roaster was an immediate success, and Emmerich led the world in mass production of roasting machines.” Probat is a company that started making roasting machines in the mid-19th century. Even now, the machines are similar to the original. In fact, they still use cast iron because it holds the heat so well. And the drum (the big barrel that is the main part of the roaster) and shovel mechanism are made to fit together in a way that allows for minimum contact between the beans and the inside of the drum. “Only a consistent, even roast with minimum material contact produces a homogeneous bean pattern,” Probat says.

The Probat website puts emphasis on the role of air in the roasting process: “Every single bean moves along a clearly defined trajectory and is guided by a controlled hot air stream. This principle presupposes a clearly defined air­to­bean ratio that is reached when the drum is about a third full.” Without the air circulating in and through the drum, the beans would dry up and the flavor would be drained.

***

Katie has really only been my friend for about five months. And we only met a few months before then. But I already consider her my good friend. She’s from a suburb of LA. She talked to me first. She was working at the Starbucks (What was I thinking?) I went to daily, and she asked me if I worked for the school newspaper. She had recognized me, and it felt nice to know that someone who wasn’t my friend yet was going to become my friend.

When I asked her about her very first experience with coffee, she said it was when she was just five or six years old. Her dad would take her and her two siblings to a coffee shop called the Daily Grind. While her dad was getting coffee, she would stand at the counter, holding his hand and looking through the glass case in front of her. There sat simple little bowls with different roasts of beans right at her eye level. “That’s when I remember being introduced to coffee,” she said. It was as if someone had lined up the beans and measured to make sure she would be tall enough to see them. They were right there.

She had her first “coffee” when she was 11 or 12, she said. Coffee became part of her routine when she was in fourth grade. Her mom would take her and her siblings to a coffee shop downtown, and Katie would sit at the window, watching and maybe doing homework as she drank her iced blended mocha.

During her freshman year of high school, the Daily Grind became Auggies and her friends got jobs there. They taught her how to pull a shot and steam milk. But what she was most interested in were the regions where coffee was grown. She wanted to know how the environment—the dirt, heat, rain, the air—affected the flavor of the coffee.

When Katie came to college, she got a job at Starbucks and worked there for a year. But she was more interested in just the atmosphere of a coffee shop than the actual coffee that Starbucks makes. “It was weird working there because I knew it wasn’t good coffee, but I was selling it to people. Starbucks forgoes quality for quantity, in my opinion,” she said when I asked her what made her want to stop working there.

But while she was working there, her friends had given her a list of coffee shops to go to. Of the many, her favorite quickly became Stumptown. “I like it because it’s a good third place.” Katie has this theory that everyone needs a third place. For students, we have home and school, and we need a third place. For some people, it might be home and work, but they need a third place. During college, especially, you need a third place, you need room to breathe.

***

In the basement of the 12th Avenue location, the 1940s 10 kilo Probat roaster warms the room and clouds it with the smell of hot coffee. The machine was built at the start of WWII.   Jesse, the young man with a creative writing degree and pink cheeks peeking through his brown beard, sifted through the spinning brown beans and picked out seemingly random ones to throw away. He said these ones were “quakers,” beans that were probably never good as cherries and were picked too early. They would never be able to get dark enough, so he just threw them out. Some of the other beans he picked out were too dark, which meant they were burnt. When I asked him how he knew which ones to pick out, he said he could just spot them.

After a year of apprenticeship of roasting at Stumptown, he knows how to roast like he used to know how to write. He roasts each batch for about 12.5 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. But he gradually lets it get to that temperature. Because the roaster is cast iron, he can’t just turn it to a certain heat and let it sit; he has to watch it. So even though he knows approximately how long to roast the beans for, he still has to check on them. When I asked him why he roasts them for that amount of time, he said he tries to roast them as little as possible. When you pay a lot of money for really good coffee beans, you want to do as little to them as possible. Jesse said he wants to keep as much of the flowery flavor as possible. He roasts them just long enough to bring that out. He said roasting coffee beans for too long would be like buying a really expensive steak and then burning it.

For Jesse, roasting “is all really sensory.” He hardly looked at me the whole hour we talked, focusing on the beans that he was helping swirl along. The beans sat in a large, circular cooling tray, and the arms, with their roots in the center of the circle and fanning out at different intervals, pushed the beans around in circle after circle so they wouldn’t stick to each other or to the cooling tray. He said the more cracked open the beans are, the better. But when I asked him why, he said there was just more of the flavor. I asked if he meant more concentrated, and he said no. There was just more flavor.

Right in the middle of the face of the outside of the big drum, there’s a handle that sticks straight out; it’s about six inches long. Occasionally, Jesse would pull it out of the drum with some beans sitting in a tube that had been in the drum. He would hold the tube of beans under a lamp, which was just a bendy desk lamp clipped onto something up above and hanging over the cooling tray, and look at the beans, tilting them under the light just a little bit. Then, when he knew the 12.5 minutes were almost up, he repeated the process of pulling out the tube of beans and holding them under the light, but this time he brought the tube under his nose and breathed in the seam of the hot beans. I asked him what he was smelling for, and the only way he could explain it was a cinnamon roll. “A warm cinnamon roll. It sounds weird. But that’s what I smell for.” He put the tube under my nose, and I could smell the caramel-y floweriness of the beans. I guess that’s what warm cinnamon rolls smell like.

***

In order to make sure the coffee is the best quality possible, Stumptown holds daily cupping sessions. Jesse said he cups at least twice a day, and so do many of the other baristas and roasters. Customers at the location can participate around 3 p.m.

First, the beans are ground, put at the bottom of a cup, and hot water is poured straight onto the grounds. The grinds will rise at first, but when they are saturated, they drop back to the bottom.  Then you use a spoon to scoop off the top layer and slurp it into your mouth. You have to slurp the coffee instead of just sipping it because you need to create air. The slurping aerates the coffee, which somehow makes it hit more areas of your mouth, allowing you to get the full taste of the coffee. Cuppings are essentially the purest form of tasting coffee. It’s just ground beans, water, and air merging in your mouth.

At Stumptown, they line up white cups of different roasts and blends on one of the long tables, and customers line up to take their turns. Then you take your spoon and scoop up the top layer of the coffee, making your way down the line (making sure to change spoons after each blend you try). On average, there are about 30 people who participate in the cuppings. The 12th Avenue location is almost always busy at all times of the day.

***

According to the Fair Trade website, “From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated.” I buy Fair Trade coffee because even if it’s two dollars more expensive, at least it wasn’t made by people who weren’t getting paid the amount they should be.

When I asked Jesse if the coffee at Stumptown was Fair Trade, I asked it rhetorically. I thought I knew the answer. Of course a coffee shop that roasts its own beans and is focus on quality coffee uses Fair Trade coffee. But Jesse kind of laughed. He said, “Fair Trade is just a label. We do Direct Trade.” He said that because coffee is a commodity, it gets exploited, just like all other goods. The first part of Stumptown’s Direct Trade sourcing strategy is coffee quality and incentives. Stumptown sends someone to visit each of the farms they work with 2–3 times per year—once at the beginning of the harvest, once in the middle, and once at the end of the harvest—to ensure that the coffee cherries are a good quality. And based on the quality of the coffee, the farmer gets paid. According to Stumptown’s website, “Producing great coffee is expensive, so the investment the farmer makes is taken into consideration for development strategies.” But perhaps the most important part of the whole Direct Trade process is what they call “Transparency of Supply Chain.” This basically means that the Stumptown people deal directly with the farmers who are growing the coffee. The price is negotiated directly between Stumptown and the farmers.

So even though they don’t have a label, they’re doing things the right way. When I asked Jesse why he stuck with Stumptown even though it was just a job he got with his creative writing degree, he said, “If I can be a part of taking some of the exploitation out of it, then it’s worth it.”

***

The 12th Avenue location opened in 2007 and is the Stumptown roasting headquarters for Seattle. When you walk in the door, the main seating area is on the left. It’s pretty small, but that adds to the communal coffee experience. There are two long booths facing each other, with about fifteen feet of space between. The space between is occupied by tables and stools. People just sit next to each other, literally less than a foot away from someone they’ve never seen before.

***

So as the beans dropped from the drum to the cooling tray, the warm cinnamon roll air whooshed toward me and brushed my cheeks. The sound of Jesse’s favorite Merle Haggard record filled the air as he told me about the Honduran family he met a while ago.

“A farmer was here with his son, dropping him off at college. And this is what he does with his whole life,” he said as he sifted and picked through the beans, making sure they were getting enough air. “And it’s just cool that I’m part of the last ten minutes of that.”

 

 

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