That one time when the light bulb turned on for the first time.
This was back in 2016, and man, it seems like much longer than that. Okay, in spring of that year I got to visit Los Angeles for a few days with my family. On the itinerary was visiting the best of the best in LA that weekend. There were a few shops I had in mind that were must-visits, these places I thought were out of this world. On that list was Go Get 'Em, G&B, and the Intelli on Silverlake. Charles Babinski had just won USBC the year before and Go Get 'Em and G&B were such a big deal to me I had to see them.
Picture this too, it had been months since I had gotten into coffee and like an eager rookie I wanted to see what the best of the best was like. Truth is, I can't seem to remember much from being at the places. Apart from finally walking in the places I've seen so many pictures of and drinking their coffee, it wasn't actually the experience there that created the "Aha!" moment I'm describing here. Side note: I had heard about how at G&B and Go Get 'Em they make their own macadamia milk in house and I got to try it, and yes it tasted very good. And this isn't to say these places aren't great, they're awesome. I suggest visiting both if you can, even if you're not the biggest coffee person. Okay, back to the story. For those that may not know, both G&B and Go Get 'Em would feature multiple roasters' coffee's on their menus. Unlike now, they didn't roast the coffee they served and sold. So it was common to see a wall of colorful bags in the shops. Now that I remember, back then the only Go Get 'Em store was the original one at Larchmont. Now they've expanded to over 7 shops across LA.
So in 2015 when Babinski placed 2nd in the World Barista Championship and I saw the video of his performance, one thing stood out to me. What does the coffee taste like? So while at G&B and Go Get 'Em I saw bags of the Ocotillo, one of the two coffees he used in his routine. I said damm, I want to take it home. So took it home I did, along with a separate bag of the Yurko from Madcap. It seemed like the Ocotillo was a no-brainer. Hey, national championship coffee. But take another one home for good measure. So staring at that wall the Yukro stood out. It was an Ethiopian just like the other coffee Charles used in competition, not quite the same one but similar. Besides, I've said before Madcap's bags stick out. At list they do for me. So with both bags home, we had to try them.
I remember this day, haha. It was a Saturday morning, about four years ago, early April. It was my friend Alonso that brewed both coffees in a V60 he borrowed. I didn't even know how to use one at the time, but we knew the coffee would taste best using it. So it was the Yukro first, a washed Ethiopian with an amazing story behind it. It was brewed over ice so that classic, rich, and steamy taste of a warm brew wasn't there. I could still notice it tasted different than anything I had drank before. It was all lattes before this, and the difference was clearly there. Then it was the Ocotillo's turn. In case you're wondering, my dad, Alonso, and I split the brew of both coffees.
Okay the "Aha!" Moment Now
Even while my friend Alonso was brewing the Ocotillo, I could notice it smelled different. Different than all the espressos I had brewed and all the lattes I had poured. I didn't know how to explain it, I didn't have anything to compare it with. This was in fact the first time I had drank filter coffee, as people call it. A pour over, a V60, or black coffee. This special type of brew method that accentuates the origin characteristics and uniqueness of the coffee being brewed, making specific tasting notes and textile features discernible - something espresso and cold brew can't quite do. So I was excited. Besides, this was a national champion's coffee. Charles Babinski had used this coffee at his 1st place finish at USBC and at Worlds, he placed 2nd.
So the brew was done and I took a sip... Think think think... What does it taste like? Nope. I'm no calibrated judge. My mind was blown. I couldn't tell you what it tasted like, I really don't have much memory of it. This was years ago and at the time I could tell you if something was sweet or bitter, but that's as far as it went. But that didn't matter at this moment. This Honduran, from Santa Barbara, Pacas, with taste notes of peach and apricot and everything else gave me the "Aha!" moment.
It wasn't anything having to do with Babinski using the coffee in competition that made me perceive it that way. Not at all. It was the fact that I realized what coffee could taste like. Taking that first sip, I didn't know what I was getting into. But after it, I found how incredible coffee could taste. It was nothing like the espressos and cappuccinos that I accustomed myself to, it was something that I liked more than that. The process of brewing it, the smells, the congregation and sharing of a coffee. Think about this, my dad and I brought this coffee from a shop in Los Angeles to share it with a friend and have this new experience together that turned out to be a little more important than we could have imagined. How freaking cool is that? Very cool if you ask me. I'll branch off into more topics from the last few sentences in other posts, but just think about how people gather around coffee all over the world.
So at last, it was the Ocotillo that has that memory of introducing me to some of the many wonders of coffee. There are so many ways to go with a certain coffee, recipes to make for it and ways to present it. But it was with a V60 that I realized that coffee could taste much better than I had ever thought, and it could make for much more than just a pick-me-up. I've never drank the Ocotillo again since I finished the bag, I haven't even looked to buy it. I brewed more in the house, and shared some more with Alonso, but the memory of the Ocotillo stays with that first sip of realization of what is, and what we could make with coffee that opened my eyes and made me smile. This moment is what I'm reminded of when I drink a new coffee for the first time, creating this anticipation that mirrors the one from this day. It's why I love to brew coffee like this so much, every time feels like the first time. It hasn't gotten old over the years, and each new coffee brings new memories with it and opportunities to share the awesomeness with more people.