The World’s Best Coffee.

I’ve got a thing for coffee. Which is handy, because I’ve got a thing for caffeine too.

When the coffee is shit, which is all too often the case, I tell myself that at least I’m getting my caffeine fix this hour. All is well.

But if the coffee should taste good in addition to giving me those highly prized pin-prick pupils – the whole day just takes on a shiny patina.

There’s one more factor I add reluctantly to the list of ‘importants’, because it makes the bar so unattainably high. But here ‘tis anyway – service.

Any establishment that can pull off this trifecta will get, at the very least, a write-up in this blog. Not to mention my undying admiration.

Here is the story of the only place to have done it so far:

Summer. Hot. Cicadas. Gentle breeze.

Italy.Pompeiirailway station: an unadorned wooden hut on each side of the lines. Grass growing between the sleepers.

A nameless coffee bar. Very Italian. No chairs. Standing room only.

The aged maestro with wrinkled hands and knowing smile occupies pole position behind the ancient coffee machine. No push-button trickery here. The hot water steams through coffee grinds by lever action. If his timing is off, the coffee is no good. His arm is reliable.

The apprentice. Young, but calm. Learning the art of minimalism. His job – everything else. Not the slightest air of this being a burden.

“Espresso, please.”

The two don’t speak. Communication is telepathic. The faces remain zen while the hands move with the measured precision only countless hours of practice can give.

The coffee is measured as the cup is drawn out of near boiling water with wooden tongs as the maestro pulls the lever as the saucer is placed silently on the bar as your coffee is placed in front of you some 25 seconds after having been ordered.

You are watching a scene cut from Tampopo. This, is poetry.

Then – the coffee.

The aroma is heady and strong. The taste perfect: dense, complex. No trace of bitterness. Don’t bother with sugar. Don’t even think about cream.

A dreamy state ensues. Equal parts gratitude, stunned disbelief, and gustatory indulgence.

The bill has been placed, modestly, face down under the edge of the saucer.

What wouldn’t you pay for an experience like this?

You turn the slip. Maybe you should laugh. Maybe you should be embarrassed.

80 cents.

You pay quietly and leave. You too are starting lessons in minimalism.

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