There is a Barista in All of Us

by Ashish

Making coffee is an art. It involves skill, patience, fortitude, courage and above all, luck. Why, there are competitions on a worldwide level about the art of making coffee. Baristas have spent an entire lifetime working on understanding the secrets and nuances that go into the perfect cup of coffee, and they will be the first to admit that they haven’t come close to getting it right.

And when I say right, I mean reaching a level where the first whiff will have raising your eyebrows in appreciation, where the first sip will have you taking in a fairly rapid breath, and where the last, lingering, I-wish-it-wasn’t-over-already sip will have you wishing your cup was larger. That’s the kind of right I mean.

But there exists a class of people who have practiced this art more assiduously than baristas have.


Entire careers have been spent on mastering the coffee machine, and there exists a certain cursed demographic of recently retired folks who sit on park benches early in the morning and speak of the 13th of September 2006 vintage with nostalgia.

Just a little too much sugar. Otherwise faultless, I tell you. Absolutely faultless. Tchach.”

It’s a recent phenomenon, though, the obsession with making the perfect cup. Back in the days of yore, when American capitalism and those dastardly notions of equality through the office hadn’t reached our shores, a peon would usually go through the office, dispensing cups of chai and coffee, as per each cubicle dweller’s desire. But somewhere around the start of the previous decade, the peon was replaced with a coffee machine.

Now, if you happened to work in an office where every possible cost was cut until a bonsai looked like a banyan tree, you probably got saddled with the garish yellow Nescafe machine. Press button, and a pale brown liquid steeped to its gills in sugar would trickle out apologetically. It would swear by it’s mother about how it really was a cousin of coffee, but both you and it knew that it was lying. You can still get a cuppa of this monstrosity in some multiplexes by paying fifty rupees for the privilege.

But if you happened to be working in one of those swanky new offices where nothing less than the best would do, you would probably come face to face with a coffee machine that looked more like a cockpit of the latest beast from the Lockheed Martin stables, rather than a vending machine.

It would have a button for Latte, a button for Espresso, a button for Cappuccino, a button for Steam, a button for Milk, a button for Water and about a dozen others for the heck of it. It would take you a solid month to figure things out, but a million delayed assignments and missed meetings later, you would have the hang of it.

The worst part of it all, of course, is that the machine can be calibrated according to your taste. For example, if you want not a full cup of latte, just press the latte button once again before operations have ceased completely. Voila! You get 80% of what you would have normally got. You’d think this is a good thing, but you then realize, with a sinking heart, that you have a potentially infinite combinations to choose from.

Given enough time, in theory, you would be able to press just the right buttons, for just the right length of time and in just about the correct order for you to get your coffee just the way you liked it – almost.

No one else can do it for you, of course. You, and only you, can get that perfect cup. Worse still, you can only get it from just that one machine which is closest to your seat. Which is why you strenuously resist any suggestions from your manager about changing your seat. It isn’t so much for the view – it is because your nearest coffee machine would now be a different one.

That’s not the worst part though. You know (and don’t you try to weasel out of this one) that you never have quite gotten around to getting that perfect cup. You know that machine better than you know your car, and you know exactly what to do. But it’s never quite been, you know, there.

But keep trying, as you do every day, and you will get there eventually. You will get that perfect, soul-stirring, nirvana inducing cuppa one day. Exactly three-fourths of a spoonful of sugar, just about half a squeeze of espresso, and a eighty percent fill of the latte. That’s my perfect cup, and I know the day will come.

And that’s when I’ll put up my CV on Naukri. On that perfect coffee day. Because dump of all dumps this office may well be, but I simply cannot leave without mastering the machine.

On the other hand, if I did master it, why would I leave?