Like all self-respecting citizens of Melbourne, I’m an arsehole when it comes to my coffee. On average, I drink around five cups of Joe a day, and I like at least two of those Joes to be barista-made. But not made by any barista; I need my coffee made by my barista, otherwise I hate life, hate society and rue the day I was born.
Given this, it would be fair to say that coffee has a significant impact on my mood. Not the way that heroine might, but caffeine is a drug, and like any drug addict, I want the good stuff.
My barista takes coffee seriously. When pulling a shot, he holds the same expression on his face that a brain surgeon might when performing surgery that could render someone quadriplegic. He weighs everything. He’s into measurements. In fact, I think it’s an insult to even describe this guy as a barista; really, he’s a scientist.
Like many scientists, my barista isn’t a social creature. His primary relationship is with coffee – as it should be. He is a matyr to my brew, aka my fix. I come to him at the same time every morning and mid-afternoon, and hand over my reusable cup, shuddering. We both know that I have dependency issues where he is concerned. But we don’t acknowledge it; we never look each other in the eye. His assistant just shouts my name and I come up to the counter, murmuring, “Thank you,” and depart, holding my coffee, my hope for a better future.
One day, while watching my barista make my coffee for perhaps the millionth time, I decided, This guy ought to know what he means to me. It so happened that on this day, unlike all the other days, he handed me my coffee personally. He called my name, and I approached him beaming. “Thank you,” I said, the way I might tell a superhero who had flown in from above and lifted me out of an exploding car. “I have to ask, what is your name?” He was stunned. For the first time, I inspected his glistening, beady eyes. In a moment that lasted no longer than a flash, I understood that there was more to my barista, that he had a soul. “Todd!” he said.
“Todd,” I said, as though this were a personal affirmation. In an ideal world, I would have offered him praise, or perhaps a poem written in his honour. But sharing such explicit appreciation, I realised in this moment, would have been inappropriate; it may have perhaps even warranted me being forcibly removed from the cafe and/or served with an Intervention Order. After all, the great Todd, despite the fact that he provides me with sustenance and is always there for me (between the hours of seven and three), doesn’t actually care about me. He doesn’t make me my coffee because he likes me, but because he is paid to do so. Capitalism makes whores of us all, and in this way, Todd is no different from anybody else.
So instead of offering my praise, or even engaging in a meaningful conversation, I simply told Todd, “I’m glad I know this,” and left, writing a brief Facebook post exalting his coffee upon my exit. Because even though we’re not friends, I will always appreciate him. Nay, I will love him. For his skills, for the man that he truly is. For his soul. For his eyes. For the strength it takes him to get up before the crack of dawn each morning and serve hundreds of grumpy arseholes like me a drink. Todd, I won’t ever be your friend, but I’ll always be your fan. Sincerely, the Long Black.
This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 75 (Jan/Feb 2017).