I was eighteen when I had my first shot of espresso, and I ordered it by mistake. I thought I was getting an iced latte: when the demitasse showed up I gulped the bitter liquid and fled, blushing, to my seat to ponder my ignorance and read Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The setting was Warrensburg, Missouri, a college town near Whiteman Air Force Base, and the coffeehouse was Java Junction, the only coffee worth mentioning there.
Much of my coffee journey can be seen through the lens of Java Junction’s changeless mystique and my growing friendship with its owner, Art Ozias. I taught piano lessons at a badly run music store just down the street, and at least once a week I would stop in for an iced latte with lots and lots of honey or—I still dream of these—an English toffee coffee shake (espresso, vanilla ice cream, syrup). Art was always there, wearing a Kansas City Royals shirt and sitting at the long table talking baseball or pulling out his well-thumbed copy of Catcher in the Rye. Pressed copper ceilings, brick walls, and lots of windows made the hunter-green and maroon color scheme feel warm and welcoming, and local photographers hung their work on the walls. Hugely sheltered and hugely curious, I discovered my addiction to people-watching and intense discussions with strangers there, a talent which has quite naturally segued over the years into my current career of interviewing coffee people and people who love coffee.
A couple years later, I was a new writer, trying to figure out whether to pitch or write on spec. I interviewed Art Ozias about his career as a volleyball coach and English teacher at a nearby high school, a little fluttery, and I sent the subsequent piece in to Missouri Life. I never heard back.
Maybe all of us carry our first coffeehouse in our hearts like I carry Art’s.
Time passed. Now that I was into coffee, I had more to talk about with Art, and when I moved back home to finally earn a degree Art offered me a barista position. I spent a happy school year drawing dragons and swans on cappuccinos, convincing Art to use triple baskets, and protesting when an English professor complained about my red-bearded boyfriend’s and my public displays of affection in the shop. Art was a great boss, one of the best in my roster of great bosses. He was properly admiring of my advances in latte art and pretty much stood out of the way and let me loose, only requiring that I pay full price for pastries I consumed. When I married the red-bearded man, Art sent us on our honeymoon to the Ozarks with our first AeroPress.
Fast-forward two years. I was finally finishing my degree, my husband wanted to earn his Q Certification, and we had a bright-eyed daughter. Art employed Michael to roast and work bar, and we became the Java Junction family. Eire learned to crawl and then to walk on those hardwood floors, and our daily coffeeshop ritual began with the beautiful blueberry muffins Art bakes in flowerpots. Michael and Art went to Coffee Fest and walked the streets of Seattle together. When we visited Minneapolis for Michael to (successfully) take the Q exam, we brought back several bags of coffee in our truck for the next year’s offerings.
I live eighteen hundred miles away from Java Junction now, but it seems that every time I turn a corner in my life’s journey, there it is, with Art behind the counter and a thick, rich shot of espresso in a ceramic cup waiting for me. Maybe all of us carry our first coffeehouse in our hearts like I carry Art’s. All I know is that even more than a childhood hearth, Java Junction tells me I’m home.
—Emily McIntyre is a regular contributor to Fresh Cup.