Sunday, July 20, 2008


A visit from a fellow obsessive seeker

Last week I had the pleasure of getting a cup of coffee with Nathan Slabaugh. Nathan's a trumpet player with the circus and therefore has the opportunity to travel all over the U.S. constantly. On his travels, he has been searching for... the perfect mocha.

I'm not kidding. He carries around a little black book in which he has obsessively cataloged his impressions of over 500 mochas he's had at coffee shops all over the country. He also has a podcast, and he roasts and serves coffee to his fellow circus performers out of his trailer.

A while back, Nathan found out about my own interest in the cappuccino and got in touch with me. And last week, he found himself in San Francisco for a few days, so we went and sipped some coffee together and had a chat. I took Nathan to try a mocha at Blue Bottle Coffee, because I know they make their mochas with chocolate from local chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. Nathan was a little coy about what he thought of it - but I gathered it was pretty good, although maybe not the best he'd ever had.

It was awesome to chat with someone who doesn't find it in the least strange that I have been mentally cataloging cappuccinos for the last dozen years. And I was forced to admit that while I may be obsessively interested in the cappuccino, I am remarkably inattentive to what makes a mocha a mocha (one thing I learned from Nathan: mochas made with powdered chocolate have a chalky aftertaste). I admit it: I have been guilty of looking down my nose at the mocha. Of believing it is what you drink when a coffee shop makes such terrible espresso that you need something to adulterate the flavor of the coffee. But Nathan has a reverence for the mocha as a culinary creation that I can't help but respect. And listening to him explain his interest in the drink, some parts of what he was saying sounded familiar. I mean, just because the vast majority of coffee shops make a terrible mocha and the vast majority of coffee drinkers don't appreciate what they're drinking, does that mean that someone shouldn't give a crap about what a good mocha actually is?

I guess not. So... hats off to Nathan and his quest. I'll continue to be curious about what he finds.

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