Most people drink coffee in one form or another, but I have a theory that the espresso drinker is rather special, if not unique, amongst that group. The espresso drinker has a very different mindset in their approach to coffee and, I jecture, in their approach to life.
Firstly, I must declare an interest: I am an espresso drinker. My standard order from a coffee shop is a double espresso, and I have a much-used and much-loved espresso machine at home. I even have a portable ‘minipresso’ machine that I take with me on my travels in case I can’t get an espresso at my destination. I only drink ‘long’ coffee in an emergency, never with milk and never (ever) when it has been made with an instant powder.
An espresso drinker may, on initial consideration, be missing out on many of the pleasures associated with drinking coffee. An espresso is not the thing to order if you plan to sit in a coffee shop, savouring the drink whilst chatting to friends for an hour or two. At home, you don’t see an espresso drinker sitting in a big jumper, cupping their hands around a big, warm mug whilst staring into an open fire (as is the expectation promoted by advertisers of instant coffee). None of this resonates with me, or I imagine any other espresso drinkers, in any way.
And there are practical considerations that an espresso drinker misses out on. If you are nomadic in your business affairs (like I am), then coffee shops tend to be places to wait for an upcoming meeting that is around the corner: an espresso is usually insufficient ‘rent’ for a wait of longer than 15 minutes: more purchases must be made to keep the informal deal going. Espresso is rarely taken away – it is simply too small to make it worthwhile: 3 or 4 sips and it’s gone. And that office custom of a colleague ‘popping down to the coffee shop’ for a round of hot drinks just doesn’t work for an espresso drinker; apart from the fact that they will probably ask the barista for an ‘expresso’, by the time the drink makes its way back to your desk it is usually too cold to drink. Social exclusion is a fact of life for the espresso drinker.
So what is it about drinking espresso that makes it worth being a caffeine pariah both socially and at work? Let me explain.
The act of drinking an espresso is so much more than those 3 or 4 sips of intense coffee taste. Anticipation plays a large part in the enjoyment – the knowledge that the upcoming experience will be ‘short but ever so sweet’ makes that anticipation so much more meaningful. Meaningful because what you are about to do is drink very strong coffee – not have a chat with your friends, check your email or sit on a comfy sofa to watch breakfast television. Drinking espresso is not a supporting activity: drinking espresso is the end in itself. It is a deliberate act, requiring all of one’s focus – 100% of the pleasure will come from that 30ml of dark, crema-topped drink.
The first sip of coffee releases all of that anticipatory ecstasy. There will be only 2 or 3 more but each will bring its own peak of pleasure. This moment, its fragile ephemerality, cannot be wasted – it requires ninja-like concentration.
And then it’s gone: the cup is empty but the bitter coffee taste continues to linger in the mouth. Now you can move, now you can start to focus on externalities, taking those last memories of pleasure secreted on your tongue.
Which means an espresso drinker is bound to lead their life differently to a ‘normal’ coffee drinker (or anyone else for that matter), right? The espresso mindset is about living in the moment – that brief laser-like focus on one pure source of pleasure – no procrastination, no relaxation, no distraction: drink the coffee, enjoy it for its sublime delight, and then get on with something else. But it’s also about dedication: this isn’t, as we have seen above, always a socially acceptable preference – there is a hint of introspection, almost of selfishness to drinking espresso. A personal and private pleasure in a world of mundane multi-tasking mediocrity. So, next time you see someone order an espresso in a coffee shop, please do not disturb them – this is their special moment.