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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A search for the essence of the perfect morning brew

"Daina was my Starbucks idol," Scarlet told me. "She was demure, knowledgeable and possessed the apron that I wanted to wear."

Daina was a Starbucks coffee master and wore the black apron symbolic of her expertise.

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It's not the measure of what I know that I find intriguing; it's actually what I don't know. And that brings to mind Hamlet's philosophy as expressed by Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Subsequently, after speaking with Scarlet Quezada on the subtleties of coffee, I began to understand this fascination with liquid gold.

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Chelsea, Scarlet's current manager at Starbucks, nominated her for the company's Coffee Master program. Every other Saturday for two months Scarlet studied the intricacies of coffee. Topics such as its history, geographic origin, coffee agriculture, the art of roasting and blending, and ethical sourcing were examples of the areas of expertise that Scarlet would have to master. Upon completing the intense study of coffee, Scarlet now wears the black apron of the coffee master.

It was interesting to hear Scarlet's understanding of her role at Starbucks. "I'm an extension of the community," she said. "I feel responsible, not only for my knowledge of coffee, but for being that initial friendly face that my customers experience during that first cup of coffee."

I asked her if being served by a coffee master assures a customer the perfect cup of coffee. To my surprise, she said, "No, it's the little things that are important."

Although I can appreciate the mechanics of the process, I believe that it is Zen — those subtitles of mastery that are undefinable. "Water temperature, grind, proportion, steaming the milk and pouring the milk are important," she said. "I do everything I can to make the perfect cup of coffee." However, she contended, "The essence of the perfect cup of coffee is my interactions with my customers. How I make my customers feel is as important as how I brew a specific blend."

I am hardly a coffee aficionado. Earthy, nutty, bitter, acidic are descriptors that I will never comprehend. Much of the science of a coffee master is lost upon me. Regardless, I'll only drink a latté if either Scarlet or Hailey has made it. I asked Scarlet, "What's your secret recipe?" She smiles and comments, "Dr. Joe, you should know, I only make yours with love."

She explained to me that "coffee has a remarkable history." Legend has it that circa A.D. 800-900, Kaldi the goat herder noticed that his goats became quite energetic after eating the berries of a certain shrub. Intrigued, he tried one himself and found that it made him more active and lively as well. "The history of coffee is steeped in legend, intrigue and romance," Scarlet said.

"Think of the journey a bag of coffee makes," she said. "Months growing on a family farm, processed by many hands, raked and roasted with care and then traveling thousands of miles to get to my store."

After speaking with Scarlet, I doubt I'll view coffee in the same light.

"I come to work happy," Scarlet said. "I love to teach, to serve to make people happy. I love the challenge. I love the team. There's always something new coming. New processes, new products. Keeps me fresh."

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

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