The Sublime Joy of the Subtle

I initiate the ritual by ordering my cappuccino. The barista pounds out old grounds, the grinder whirrs to life and professional hands expertly level and tamp the grounds. The espresso pump shoves hot water through the fresh coffee and the barista froths the milk into a creamy foam that floats in the cup. The expectation builds.

I’ve roasted my own coffee for over 4 years. As one of my favorite hobbies, my palette can now taste differences between coffees from many different regions. Like most hobbies, the more you understand about the art, the more your appreciations grows, transforming the common into something sublime.

While in Chicago this last week, I listened as my aunt and uncle described their favorite tea or favorite meals in much the same way I might describe coffee, or a sommelier might describe wine. The delight is not found in bold brash flavors, but rather in the subtle ones. In some ways, the more subtle the experience is, the more likely it is to feel sublime. But it’s only subtle if you still notice it, and noticing it depends on understanding enough to look for it.

All of us should pick an art to develop our palette or expertise. Whether it’s opera, fruit juice, tea, or wine, the experience of knowing the difference between the good and the great can provide some of the most enjoyable moments in life.

For me, its coffee. I’ll drink Folgers if it’s what someone has prepared, but it doesn’t move me. An expertly brewed espresso at Intelligentsia however is a totally different experience. I enjoy the rich brown and cloudy white liquid staring back at me. The first sip uncovering the rich flavors that burst forth, citrus, cherry, chocolate, bitter.








2 responses to “The Sublime Joy of the Subtle”

  1. David Avatar

    Yum, back. I’m starting to feel that way about voices. Singing with a choir has given me a much greater sensitivity to subtleties, especially between tenors. Like coffee we all sing with different textures and flavors, crisp, smokey, smooth, silky, sweet.

  2. Ann Avatar

    Great descriptions Matt! As you know, I don´t drink coffee, but reading this makes me want to drink it!

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