One sweet eSpression

By Ken Bradbury

I’ve become convinced that there are events in our lives that change us forever . . . falling in love, marrying our spouse, the birth of a child, a world war, the loss of a limb, winning the lottery … and purchasing your first espresso machine.

Okay, owning an espresso machine is a lot like growing a third arm. It’s not completely necessary but it often comes in handy.

I’ve been a fan of the stuff ever since the mid-nineties when I was hosting a group of Triopia students to the Illinois State Theatre Convention on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. It was early morning, I’d been up all night in the motel trying to keep my kids clothed and separated from a group from the Chicago Suburbs and in spite of the great conference I was counting the hours when I could pack them back into the van and drive back to Concord. My energy was at low ebb when I walked up to a kiosk selling coffee in the hallway of one of the college’s theaters. I was a farm boy and to me an exotic drink meant putting peanuts in your bottle of Pepsi. I’d never heard of espresso, but the two guys in line ahead of me both ordered one. I watched the rent-a-barista carefully draw the tiny cups of hot, dark liquid then charge the customers three bucks apiece. Three bucks! Coffee that morning was a dollar and you were served it in a one-pint cup. This espresso stuff must be something, so I ordered what looked like a large thimbleful and slapped down my three dollars. I looked at the stuff and it just sort of sat there, a little to thick to swirl, and vaguely resembling the oil that my dad would train from the crankcase of our 4020 John Deere. But as I walked out the door and onto the ISU quad I took a sip. Actually I sipped the whole thing at once since there was no more than a sip in the little paper cup. I think I’d taken perhaps two complete steps onto the Illinois State grass when it hit me. Sure, I knew that many students had been jolted a bit by ISU grass, but in my case it was the espresso. Wowsers! Like being hit on the head with a 200-pound cotton swab. A jolt. I used to own a 1949 Willys Jeep that would make a roar when I’d start it in the morning. That day at ISU I heard the Jeep inside my head.

Fast forward to Jacksonville 2018. I’ve been a fan of espresso ever since. I can’t drink a lot of liquid at once since the bariatric baristas at Barnes removed then discarded a portion of my stomach, so a shot of espresso in the morning is just perfect. But in case you haven’t noticed, there’s not a single Starbucks on Sandusky Street, and the Soap Company is a long and dangerous trek if you want your shot first thing in the morning while you’re still in your underwear.

Enter a good doctor who for the sake of discussion we’ll call Dr. Sheaff. I recently spent a magical evening at his home and near the end of the night he offered me coffee. I said sure and within minutes he presented me with a demitasse of some of the most delicious homebrew I’d ever tasted. Espresso! With froth! At home! I immediately offered the doctor one of my kidneys if he’d tell me where he’d purchased an espresso machine. He told me, I ordered it, and I’m drinking it as I write this … and I still have both kidneys and if my liver gives out then it was still worth it.

I once had a semi-heated argument with a friend on whether there would be coffee in heaven. A conservative Pentecostal, he insisted that there would be no stimulants in heaven. A liberal Presbyterian, I insisted that it could not possibly be heaven without coffee. And if it truly is God’s eternity of joy and contentment then there’ll be an espresso machine humming somewhere behind the harps and lyres.

Yes, a home machine costs too much. Seems as though everything I’d like to try costs too much but espresso is still cheaper than the rest of my want list including a balloon tour over Mount Everest and a new Lamborghini. It’s not like you drink the stuff all day long. At least I wouldn’t dare. The word “espresso” means “to force out.” In short you shoot a small stream of near-boiling water over roasted coffee under high pressure. What you get is a very thick and concentrated jolt of flavor and whamo-ni-zation. A really good machine will give a nice head of froth on top. Nothing like a shot of froth to start your morning.

Which all goes to explain why if you see me stepping out my house with a smile on my face as the sun comes up some morning, well, blame the espresso and thanks, Doc, for some of the best medical advice I’ve ever received.

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