Double shot
Dehydration, regret and the pitfalls of a hand-me-down espresso machine

Double shot
Zach Hively - 10/05/2023

I am not a mechanic, but let me tell you this: my pickup truck won’t start, the engine block is covered in coffee grounds, and I cannot be certain these two truths are related.

It didn’t have to be this way. My middle school math teachers drank eight cups of coffee a day – I trust her count since she was, and may still be, a math teacher – and anytime she called me to the overhead projector to scrawl out math work, her radius of breath smelled like dehydration and regret.

I swore then that I would never become dependent on coffee. No caffeine headaches for me. No cheap coffee-centric stabs at humor. No tragic breath radius.

And I stuck to it. I made it through college – graduated, even! – on five cups of coffee, one bought each year at the library coffee shop to welcome autumn. Four, if you don’t count the time I spilled the newfangled fad called a “pumpkin spice latte” down my own pants leg while flirting with an actual woman and promptly ran far, far away.

My coffee story could have ended there. I never owned a coffeepot, never developed a taste for creamer. Sure, once I became a professional I started making an occasional pour-over as a mid-morning reward for having successfully checked my email. But that didn’t make me a Coffee Drinker. It made me a drinker of GOOD coffee. All for the taste – never for the fix. I sipped, but I did not inhale.

Looking back, the road was paved with good intentions and burlap sacks. A romantic, practically erotic, encounter with a French press. The mysterious sliver of orange peel accompanying an after-dinner espresso. The intense chewability of a proper Turkish coffee. A stint serving at a café (as many a writer does, upon learning the going market rate for words). This café employed the best and sexiest barista this side of the Atlantic, who greeted me every shift with an Iberian-lilted “Coffee, my friend?” That unfurled me like a morning glory with the promise of cappuccinos, cortados, lattes, Americanos and espressos served with that little glass of bubbly water that I was never sure if it was meant to cleanse my palate before or after the espresso. And I didn’t want to embarrass myself by asking him because he really was so cool and so sexy, so I always asked him to go help a customer instead while I drank my bubbly water unobserved.

You can’t settle for Folgers after that.

The real fun began when I recently became my own sexy barista, thanks to a hand-me-down espresso machine from a couple much further along on their snobbishness journey than I am. This thing is a marvel. I would shower with it, if I could; after all, it does produce hot water much more quickly and reliably than my actual shower.

It is also an objective, unforgiving critic, this machine. If I want a perfect shot, I have to earn it with my artistry and my touch. Just the right grind on just the right quantity of beans, tamped with just the right proportion of my body weight. The coffee must be sung to the night before with just the right lullaby, so it is rested enough to release just the right oils under pressure from water that was itself once sung to by a preferred pod of humpbacked whales. Voila! A shot of espresso that is most likely either under- or over-extracted, leaving me with a Rubbermaid bin of spent coffee pucks and a tender longing for Augusto to make me a cappuccino.

They say you save money by making coffee at home. The way my electricity bill has spiked since adopting a Breville, I’m not certain this is true. Yet I compensate for all the costs of my new art practice by repurposing that spent coffee in my scant garden.

Or I did, anyway, until the day my truck didn’t start, and I popped the hood to find an impressive collection of dry coffee pucks stashed under the air filter.

I, unwittingly, have been caffeinating the neighborhood pack rats. And they are JACKED UP – their second most prevalent collection (behind secondhand coffee) is chunks of cholla cactus, which are so snared in wires and so buried in coffee that I can’t identify which chewed wires are keeping the truck from starting.

I can’t win against rats like these. Touch a coffee puck and it crumbles in place. Touch a cholla nub, and I crumble in place. Hose out the engine compartment and the rats reassemble the nest overnight. Set traps and they avoid them like a purist avoids Starbucks.

If I could bait traps with tempting assertions – say, “Mr. Coffee produces a superior brew” – I have a feeling that would lure these rats in. They have taste, clearly, and could not resist taking such an assertion to the mat.

But since that is impossible, I’m left with only the hope of driving them and their high standards far, far away – as far away as my college dating life – with a liberal application of pumpkin spice. After I pull myself another double shot, of course. Just one more.

– Zach Hively

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