Coffee is My Ally

Look at that creamy milk…oh to get a macchiato like that around here...

Look at that creamy milk…oh to get a macchiato like that around here...

As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally, and writing ceases to be a struggle.
— Honore de Balzac (20 May 1799 - 18 August 1850)

Honore de Balzac, a man who appreciated the power of a good cuppa!

My son Christopher is at TED 2014 Vancouver.

So is Edward Snowden, via robot.

"I said hello to Edward Snowden the robot, and he said hello back."  Christopher Rodgers at TED2014 Vancouver

"I said hello to Edward Snowden the robot, and he said hello back." Christopher Rodgers at TED2014 Vancouver

Why is my musician / barista / coffee-geek son hanging out at TED 2014, where some of the world's leading thinkers and creative minds have come to share ideas? Because coffee is being offered to TED speakers and attendees by world class baristas provided by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and World Coffee Events. And because apparently  'extraordinary ideas come from extraordinary coffee.' (Who knew?)

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a unique nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation that draws together some of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers to help spread ideas at the forefront of technology, entertainment, design, culture, and science. TED2014's speakers include Bill and Melinda Gates, author of ‘Eat Pray Love’ Elizabeth Gilbert, British music producer Mark Ronson, and Chris Hadfield, astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station. Christopher has met / seen Al Gore, Chris Hadfield, Cameron Diaz, JJ Abrams, Robot Edward Snowden, Goldie Hawn, Neil Gaiman, Imogen Heap, the CEO of Nike, the CEO of Google, and many more interesting folks. He is working at one of seven coffee bars where some of the world's best baristas from all over North America are stationed.

So if de Balzac and the World Coffee Event organizations are spot on, then ideas at TED must be exploding, because the speakers and attendees are being served the world's greatest coffee. Christopher first fell in love with coffee at Starbucks as a 17-year-old in a Coquitlam Chapters store. (He now consider Starbucks the McDonalds of coffee). He worked at Artigiano's in Vancouver before going to Bean Counters in Grande Prairie where the owner, an accountant, took him under his wing, made him Manager, and started teaching him about management practices. He moved back here to Summerside for a brief time and the two of us flirted with the idea of getting involved in a start-up, Samuel's, where he eventually trained the staff and where I realized the owner and I weren't really on the same path (although she's doing wonderful and I love the environment); then Christopher made the move back to Vancouver where he really honed his craft at Drink Espresso (now Great Dane Coffee) on the UBC campus under the tutelage of a soulmate coffee-geek Australian named Zev. (Drifters readers will know this coffee bar as ROAM; I borrowed my son's band name Rebel On A Mountain for my characters' fave coffee house). When Zev left for home, Christopher moved to Elysian Coffee, a growing company with its own roastery where he could focus on more than just barista work - he now does sales, quality control, client services and training. (Although I know he loves being on Bar and so is likely really enjoying this amazing experience at TED).

I'm proud of him for making the cut - TED is an elite world, and some joke that it should be renamed TEDC, the C of course for world-class coffee! I'm a little jealous - my town was just rated number seven on a list of 'where not to live in Canada.' There are few cafes in town. Even fewer brilliant minds to inspire those of us who are sticking around trying to make Summerside 'a better place.' (However, we now have a two-time Olympic medalist 'from here' - although Heather Moyse trains elsewhere!). I am relegated to iced mochas because the steamed milk in the hot drinks bother me here in Summerside (but not in Vancouver - go figure - apparently there's a connection with the temperature of the steamed milk, cleanliness of the container it's steamed in, etc. And there is something to be said for baristas who REALLY study and GET coffee. Christopher says he could now teach a four-year College course on espresso and coffee in general ). So here I stick to the cold milk drink but I agree wholeheartedly with Balzac and the SCAA and the premise that 'extraordinary minds are fueled by extraordinary coffee.' My mind fires quickly after my drink - is it the sugar? Perhaps. Most baristas would not agree with loading chocolate into your coffee…ahem…but I like to think it's the coffee, however sub-par in my town. Do I drink coffee before I write? You bet. I inhaled a large iced mocha before the play a few weeks ago, too. I wanted my mind to be sharp but in the case of the play I had to time it - large iced mochas equal a gazillion bathroom breaks (why is there always a downside to the good stuff, ha ha?!).

For my birthday last year Steve ordered me some of Doug Hall's Eureka Ranch Brain Brew, which was developed because the company researched coffee beans and discovered that the beans do indeed 'fire one's brain into thinking more efficiently.' I liked the roast okay but I am just not a drip coffee drinker. (This could change if I had a TED barista doing sophisticated pour-overs for me). Extracting the perfect coffee is a science. Christopher has joined the realm of coffee geeks, um, professionals, the world over who are always in pursuit of the 'perfect cuppa.' 

Rebel On A Mountain - Christopher is the ultra-happy guy third from left!


So now I am left wondering if this incredible experience has inspired my son. He's already very driven - his band Rebel On A Mountain's disciplined hard work paid off and last week they won the UBC Last Band Standing competition (in which they won an opening spot at UBC's famous Block Party featuring Dan Mangan).  He has become a right-hand man to Elysian Coffee's owner (the mysterious and ambitious Alistair whose ghostly shadow has drifted by but whom I've never met, but who is quite influential and involved in the International World of Coffee). Now, after hanging out in an environment populated by some of the world's best thinkers and doers, is Christopher even more inspired?

When I asked him how it was going he said his mind has been blown. He's not permitted in the 'talks' but there are large screens in the social area where Elysian is set up. Yesterday he watched a young woman who lost her leg in the Boston Marathon explosion do ballet on a prosthetic limb...with a man who was dancing on two prosthetic limbs. The dancers were demonstrating prosthetics that respond TO THOUGHTS. Christopher said there was not a dry eye in the house. THIS is why I am glad he is at TED. Sure, he's a barista, not the neuroscientist who came up with this radical, incredible invention that allowed a woman the chance to dance again. But Christopher had a brief chat with a robot powered by a man across the world in Russia, saw a theatre full of 1400 attendees moved as one to tears as the result of 'something good', and he is having chats with childhood idols like Neil Gaiman, writer of Sandman, perhaps the most famous graphic novel ever and, interestingly enough, the book that kept my son occupied while we drove across Canada to Vancouver in the first place in 2008. 

Who knows where any of us will end up on this journey? Do I wish I was at TED? You bet. But I'm more of the watcher type at this time in my life. And writer - but I've lots of work ahead of me in this town I myself have often wanted to leave but in which I feel I must stay to try to help it make a more positive nationwide list. So maybe I'm not one of the world's best thinkers or doers, but I'm doing my own little part. And so is my son, even if in his case it's just to be inspired and, via some of the world's best coffee, or maybe via a smile and a kind word, in his own small way… to inspire.