Monkey on My Back

Sometime in January I put a voluntary pause to my commercial coffee roasting endeavors. The reasons driving this decision were significant enough to make it the logical move for the time being. I have not regretted the decision, but I will admit I miss it already. I suppose the preceding language is enough to convey the fact that I don’t want this change to be permanent.

I’ve played around in the coffee industry long enough to know it is not the kind of business you get into because you want to make a lot of money…because most of us don’t. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, there are better places to invest your time and money. There are some people  who get into the coffee business because they think, “Hey, it’s coffee; how hard can it be?” Much harder than they imagined…a truth that will reveal itself to them in time. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me the number of people who get into the coffee business while knowing absolutely nothing about about it. Sort of demeans those of us who take pride in the skills we have acquired over the many years of experience.

The small town I am originally from seems to have a new coffee roaster pop up every few months. Recently, a customer told me about a new shop there and said I should stop in the next time I was in town, as the owner wanted to meet me. In the words of my customer, “You are coffee famous in this town.” Well, there are worse things to be famous for!

Just so happened I had to go back to Bloomington this past week to sign some legal documents and, as luck would have it, the lawyer’s office was right next door to the new coffee shop. I introduced myself to the owner, feeling a little silly that she would actually know who I am. Turns out she did. She was kind enough to show me around the shop and tell me a little bit about her fluid bed roaster. I grabbed a cup of what turned out to be a very good cup of Ethiopian Harrar and she sent me home with a sample of a freshly roasted Rwanda, equally good. My initial impression was that this little shop may very well have the best coffee in Bloomington right now. At least I know where I will be getting my cup from when I come to town.

As I drove back to Louisville from my visit, those familiar feelings came back to greet me. The inclination that every day when I get up and go to work, I’m going to the wrong place. To be clear, I’m thankful for my job and considering I have worked for the same company since 1978, I don’t hesitate to say they have aided me in building a very nice life. However, coffee owns my heart. It speaks to my soul. There is nothing more exciting to me than to take delivery of a pallet of green coffee, all stacked up in burlap bags, the aroma of a hay field in the air, these lifeless beans, full of potential, just waiting to come alive in my hands. Every time I see a drum roaster, I just want to run my hands across it, the same way an auto enthusiast might do when seeing a perfect restoration of a classic ride.

You see, those of us who love this business, breathe it, dream it, desire it and are drawn to it with an illogical passion that cannot be explained nor denied. One of my former brokers said, “Jamie, you never leave the coffee business. You always come back.” My intentions this year are to ride my motorcycles as much as possible. And to think. And plan. I hope to take some interesting adventures. Maybe I will even write about a few of them. But in the end, I’m not sure if I will be able to get this monkey off my back; the incessant inner voice that speaks to me every time I enter a coffee shop or even a conversation about coffee, the voice the says, “This is where you belong.”

Right now I feel good. Physically and mentally. But that doesn’t mean I’m standing still. In my head, I’m already moving forward. Already looking to the future to the right time to make the right move…and get this monkey off my back for good.IMG_0819



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