The old coffee grower, not wanting to embarrass his girl, wore big sunglasses and a new hat she wouldn’t recognize. He hid in the congested crowd surrounding the outdoor sandwich-board menu, then caught sight of her inside. He didn’t know what to expect, but the warmth of the coffee shop surprised him, not cold in the calculating city. Her papa drifted back out of view, peeking to see her greet customers in Spanish or English with her grown-up smile.
His fat yellow lab sniffed beneath the periwinkle-shuttered window, while the old man peered at an angle. The city he had encountered, when he was her age, defeated and sent him home penniless. Squared shouldered, she swiped a table with a rag, offered menus to guests, and returned to the counter to prepare the brew.
Her father moved to another windowsill for a different position to watch her steam milk and draw coffee. Each time she pulled the spigot, she bent her head as if in prayer, savoring the scent of coffee that she, too, had planted, nurtured, and drank on the farm. She had been an exquisite farmer, and now she set cups on paper doilies in saucers and loaded the tray.
When she was a little girl, the old man had served the bitter beverage with plenty of sugar and real cream. Mimicking her papa, she threaded two fingers through the handle and cradled the cup with the other hand, then sipped with him, acting all grown up. Over the years, she had reduced the sugar, and later the cream. Her maturing taste buds learned to enjoy the undiluted, sharp flavor.
When serving a table, she hesitated during her customer’s first taste to witness their reactions. In a fleeting moment, as they swallowed, she explained the beans had been grown high up on a nearby mountainside, hand-harvested by local farmers, and roasted by artisans—the origin of their signature product, specialty coffee.
Patrons asked, “Is it organic?”
“Yes, grown without pesticides, while tilled and planted using ancient methods. Sadly our government doesn’t regulate organic products.” She made it her mission for the coffee-drinking public to learn about the coffee bean, her family’s livelihood.
Her father hovered to listen—another surprise, she worked with ease. She’s become a teacher; her classroom’s the coffee shop.
She returned to ensure customers were content and seized another instant. “Roasting the bean requires an instinct when ‘right’ is just right for each variety.” She intended the coffee lore to enhance the customers’ drinking pleasure.
If customers asked for syrup flavors, she politely explained, “We serve specialty coffee, which means the way the bean is planted, grown, gathered, and roasted, not the flavor that’s added.” Immature taste buds peeved her.
The old man grieved the loss of her who knew the bean first hand from seed to cup—all but roasting. It saddened him that the city had stolen his daughter. Still, he was pleased, it had given her regularly paying work and a mission that he could not offer.
The old man at her age had left the countryside to find his way to the city for work. He owned few resources and returned home empty-handed. The only thing he had had to look forward to was walking in the footsteps of his father behind the plow.
His only chance at the future was through her. That was why he had come to check. She used what she had learned from him: hard work paid off in meaningful work, precision in caring for the coffee bean translated to caring for a customer, and the economy of effort and resources created a viable future. It was what they did and who they were.
Now after the satisfaction of seeing his daughter so successful this morning, the old man tipped his straw hat to shade his face and leaned into a park bench corner with the old, fat yellow lab underneath out of the sun. He sighed. A satisfied smile lingered on the father’s creased face, while he indulged himself in the replay of the day’s voyeurism.
The smile faded as he drifted asleep and dreamed of the city teaching her the art of roasting, under the tutelage of experts. Now in his sweet dream, studiously and intuitively, she stood above the roasting fire of the Mundo Nuevo bean and lowered the heat to give the batch another hour to perfection. She lingered over the Altura and sensed it needed only minutes. Waving the aroma to her nose, she waited patiently and then removed the beans to cool. She stepped to a different batch—the Oaxaca Pluma bean splayed on a wire grill—and decided it had peaked in aroma and boldness.
Her finesse pleased him.
She assured him there would always be those who drank coffee daily, assuring her future in the city. She knew the crop from tender planting to gentle harvest, from roasting to serving it with a helping of coffee-bean lore. She had developed the same fondness of the bean as he carried in his heart, bringing her the same joy.
The dream continued, when she returned home with a newly cultivated bean she called Daughter’s Delight. She—
The old man felt the dog brush his leg.
A young woman knelt and looked up and under his hat while scratching the lab’s ears.
He heard a familiar voice.
“Papa? What’re you doing here?”
With moist eyes, he said, “I’d come to see…” His voice broke. “The city that stole you from me.”
The lab licked her face. The old man leaned toward her. “The coffee shop is your classroom.” He touched her face. “You’ve become a teacher.”
“Professor of coffee, huh?” She grinned her little-girl smile and patted his knee, then stood and offered him a hand. “Remember, I’ll be home for harvest.”