Tuesday, March 22, 2011

With Cream & Sugar

Comparing the coffee with cream and sugar.

Years ago, I used to teach 6 to 12 year olds. It could be tough work, trying to hold the attention of youngsters for an hour at a time. But nothing could be more brutal than instructing high school teenagers.

When people are young, like the 6-12 year olds, they're a little more intimidated by so-called "adults"- the respect is more inherent. However, by the time they get to high school, they've got a little more experience that's just enough to make them think they know it all - and the attitude to go along with that kind of bravado.

This means that in order to lead and discuss topics, you need to be on top of your game. Any doubt, any weakness and high schoolers will eat you alive.

Junior Year Culinarians.

I hadn't really thought of that when I agreed to come and do a Seed To Cup lecture a month or so ago. Old friend, Ron Furman, had roped me into working with these kids in the culinary program at a local magnet school to give them some basic foundation in coffee making and help them prepare for the annual fundraising event in April.

After leaving the studio this morning, I headed over the school only to realize my predicament just before I was to meet the students: I needed to be prepared and confident or I could be shredded into cabbage.

Like any high school, the class ranged from students who were interested to those who didn't care. I had a bunch of slides prepared starting with the flowers on the tree to the finished latte art cappuccino, but as I started I could tell that some of them were getting restless and bored.

There's nothing like a Seed To Cup Coffee Talk to bore the crap out of sixteen year olds.

So, in mid stride, I scrapped most of the slides and changed course. Let's talk about the coffee you like to drink. Let's talk about the best coffee. Let's talk about the worst coffee. Hmmm, maybe we're getting a little traction now.

The benefit of instructing culinary students: Fried Chicken.

But where it really started to pique their interest was when we started talking about my travels with coffee. Africa, Asia, Central and South America - exotic places that they've only heard about. What was it like? Can you imagine living in a world where your friends actually killed people in a war? Places and things so far away from their world that they seem almost mythical.

Then when it came out that I did movies before coffee, the questions really started coming. Have you met this celebrity? Yes. That celebrity? No. What about this one? We don't get along. Or the other? He's a jerk. Is it true actors are hard to work with? True.

Somehow, we got to talking about my adventures than the coffee itself.

Then we came back to the coffee with a demonstration. I had the final and last 24 grams of the Aida's Grand Reserve that we didn't use in the tv broadcast. These students would be the last ones to taste one of the greatest coffees in the world today and brewed it in the Beehouse pourover (the device we're going to use at the fundraiser).

The comments ranged from gross to delicate and sweet to floral to tea-like and complex. Most of the students are Starbucks Frappuccino drinkers but they were surprisingly receptive and able to discern more nuance out of the coffee than I expected. After their initial tasting, (WARNING: Hardcore purists should close their browser now) they wanted to try it with cream and sugar.

I'm heading back in April.

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