Wayne Johnson was arguably the first person to be entranced by the way Carl drinks coffee. He was a PhD psychologist working in academia in 1976 when he discovered Carl’s all-but-hidden first Arabica coffee store. The shop was located down a weedy alley off Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, around the corner from the requisite alternative leather shop, and so far down the alley that it was not burdened with the pedestrian gaze. It was as if the first customers found Carl by God’s will alone.
Wayne liked to come in and visit with Carl, the young coffee entrepreneur with the Dionysian-gone-hippie hair and the peculiarly intense gaze. At the time Carl only sold bulk coffee, tea, spices and some coffee brewing paraphernalia. He didn’t sell coffee by the cup, but as Wayne and Carl talked, Carl brewed some to enhance the conversation. Over time, Wayne bought some coffee, a single cup Tricolator brewer and cloth filter. A week after his purchase, Wayne brought the coffee and brewer back.
“Carl, even using the same brewer and the same coffee, I can’t make coffee that tastes as good as how you make it, even though I’m following all of your instructions,” he stated.
“Sure you can, Wayne,” Carl retorted. Wayne’s $20 purchase had represented a sizeable chunk of last Wednesday’s meager sales. And so far that day, there wasn’t even $20 in the register with which to offer a refund.
“I’ve been trying for the past week, and I tell you, I cannot.”
“Oh, come on Wayne, of course you can. It’s just a matter of using the right amount of coffee and nice hot water. You’re probably just not using enough coffee.”
“Carl. I cannot. I have tried everything I can think of, from using spring water to using more coffee, even using less coffee, but it just doesn’t have that same taste that your coffee does when you make it for me,” Wayne continued.
“Wayne, here’s your coffee brewer, here’s some coffee, here’s the hot water,” Carl gestured towards the gurgling electric water kettle on the counter. “Make a cup of coffee. Let’s see how you’re doing it.”
Wayne nodded in agreement and began assembling the filter, filter holder and carafe for the brewing apparatus. He measured the coffee into the filter, glancing back at Carl for approval of the last spoonful of grounds. Carl nodded and smiled, turning the pouring handle of the water kettle towards Wayne. As the steaming water hit the grounds, the coffee’s pungent aroma rose from the grounds.
The two men chatted as the water ran its course through the brewer, emerging dark brown in the lower carafe chamber. When the dripping from the filter became slowly intermittent, Carl removed the filter and holder and poured the contents of the carafe into two ceramic cups. “Looks like coffee to me,” Carl stated, “let’s try it.” After a few sips of Wayne’s brew, Carl stated with bland persuasion, “Tastes OK.”
Wayne disagreed. “This does not taste like the cups of coffee that you have made for me before. I never would have bought this brewer if this is what I thought it would make.” The formerly thick coffee aroma withered in a seemingly prolonged silence. Wayne continued, “Why don’t you make a cup, and I’ll watch exactly how you do it.”
Carl measured the coffee by eye, using what looked like the same amount of coffee as Wayne had used. The boiled water hit the grounds. As the water mixed through the grounds, brown oily bubbles began to form on the surface of the black swirls of hot, wet coffee grounds, indicating the second level of extraction had begun. The two men waited as the grounds sunk, forming an organic curve of moist grounds on the bottom of the filter, completing the brew process.
Carl poured the steaming brown liquid into two more cups. First Wayne, then Carl, raised the cups to his lips and slurped. Wayne looked at Carl, hoping that he would voluntarily acknowledge what his taste buds revealed. But Carl was silent.
“Carl, this is a great cup of coffee. This is what I want my coffee to taste like every day.” Carl was quiet, not wanting to acknowledge the honesty of Wayne’s taste buds.
Wayne broke the silence “This just goes to prove my theory.”
“What’s your theory?” Carl inquired, glad for another route for the conversation.
“That you’re the Secret Sufi of Life. I’ve always thought that the Secret Sufi of Life would show up in a coffee shop somewhere doing something relatively non-descript like selling coffee.”
“Come on, Wayne, I’m not the Secret Sufi of Life. I’m a 29 year old guy who sells coffee. I just happen to sell the best coffee, and to be able to make it pretty well,” Carl stated.
“That just goes to prove it even more.”
“What do you mean?” “Now I know you’re definitely the Secret Sufi of Life. Because the Secret Sufi of Life would only deny that he was indeed the Secret Sufi.”
“OK, well then I am the Secret Sufi of Life,” Carl responded.
“Nope, too late. That doesn’t get you out of it. Your first answer is what counts.”