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Grand Bizarre #8: FREELCNC COFFE BLOGGER

  By J.A. McCarroll


March 29: 2 48 P.M.

?So,? my barista, proprietor of Galatasaray?s Kronotop Cafe, asks as I stare frantically at the espresso machine and massage my temples, ?are you going to the national barista championship slash coffee convention this week??

Quite frankly, I hadn?t considered it, not only because I?m way too hip to ever leave Beyoğlu, but also because I hadn?t heard about it. However, my entire friendship with my barista is  based around me faking being the exact kind of guy who would know about such an event. ?Uh,? I bluff, ?I wasn?t sure, you know, it?d be, uh, dope.? There is a minuscule pause, which gives me just enough time to wonder if he?s on to my secret, and then to wonder if perhaps he thinks I offered him drugs – I?ve been listening to a lot of rap music recently, and my adjective use has gotten a lot more balling, but also less precise.

?Well, you know, there will be coffee there ?? he begins, and all of a sudden, my caffeine starved brain puts one and one together and connects the prosaic word ?Convention? with the arcane meaning : free stuff.

?Swwaaaagggg,? I whisper beneath my breath.


March 30: 11 52 A.M.

The convention happens to be at the prestigious and rather ineptly-named World Trade Center, which to add insult to injury, is directly next to the airport. This was, essentially, my first clue that perhaps this event isn?t quite all it?s cracked up to be. I?m currently grappling with my second clue, which is a tiny Turkish woman who is very intent on asking my name, profession, and reason for being here. ?Kahve,? I say, realizing that there is no signs for the events I came here for. She looks at the security guard immediately next to me, who nods and  says ?Kahve.?

?Kahve?? She asks, and we both nod. ?Photographlar,? my girlfriend mentions from behind me, to essentially no one. The woman sighs and hands me an information form, which includes spaces for ?profession,? ?Job title,? ?Position,? and ?Reason for conference attendance,? all of which require me to lie.


March 30: 11 53 A.M

The laminating machine spits out my new identity: M. Carroll VON, FREELCNC COFFE BLOGGER, which although resembling the information I provided, is such a vast improvement on it that I can barely stand it. ?Hoş Geldeniz Von bey. Kahve salon 8?de,? Says the woman behind the counter, and I prepare myself to enter a coffee paradise.


March 30: 12 01 P.M.

Sign over the salon 8, purported home of the Coffee Festival and National barista championships: Restaurant and Hospitality Supply Convention.  Strangely enough, there are no signs advertising the coffee convention, nor the barista competition. Instead, the cavernous halls of the convention center are a-thrum with meat slicers, industrial dishwashers, and volkswagen-sized linen folders. ?It?s probably in the back,? I suggest, brandishing my badge to various personnel hopefully. Surely they?ll realize my absolute eminence in the Freelcnc coffe blogger-ing world.


March 30: 12 35 P.M.

So far, I?ve seen three or four absolutely gorgeous cast iron pans I would probably kill for (Literally- I?ve been pining over cookware like that for 7 years now), tons of complementary croissants (which I?m too nervous to eat), hundreds of scary machines that look like evil robots, including a bread mixer called ?Dr. Robot,? and yes, a few giant automatic espresso machines, none of which I?d really consider convention worthy.. In contrast to my look of disappointment (gleefully captured by my photographer/girlfriend, who is treading on thin ice for both positions) the other conventioneers are walking around with a look of concentration I?d describe as ?super rapt.?

?This sucks,? I conclude.


March 30: 12 44 P.M.

Everything still sucks, but in a vastly different way. I?m currently sitting on a hard aluminum bleacher in the back of the convention center, which combined with the flood lights gives off the impression of imminent softball.There are about twenty more souls sitting with me, all of whom are quite a bit younger and hipper than the rest of the crowd, meaning they look like extras in an all-turkish musical revival of Reality Bites. They are staring at the procedures with a level of intensity far greater than anything I?ve seen yet today, approaching the platonic ideal of raptness.  In front of us all, four men are ?cupping coffee.? The procedure for cupping seems to be thus: the contestant stares at a cup for about thirty five seconds, trying to glean clues as to the precise nature of the beverage (Not all observations have equal weight; ?floral,? ?tannic,? or ?deep? are acceptable ways to describe it. ?Okay? or ?needs sugar? aren?t, and mark you as straight up lame) . Afterwards, they slurp a small mouthful of the beverage and roll it around in their mouth while chuffing in air, which kind of makes them look like they are choking or gibbons . After they are done making weird noises, the coffee is spat into a paper cup where the previous mouthfuls have been allowed to linger, and then the aroma is wafted into the contestants nose with a spoon.

It is, without a doubt, the most boring thing I have ever seen, and I hate it. However, it would be remiss to ignore how thirsty it makes me. (Very)


March 30: 12 50 P.M.

During a break in the action, I find the one legitimate coffee roaster at the festival and get a latte, which surprisingly, comes topped with pretty darn good foam art which I promptly destroy by pouring in sugar and stirring vigorously. It is also free, as long as you don?t count the hours I?ve wasted traveling here from Beyoglu or my metro fare, both of which I do.

Behind me, I can sense vague ?pumping-up? talk coming from the event?s MC, who is a spitting image of the guy from Anthrax with the obi-wan Kenobi rat-tail beard. Apparently, it?s time for the judging, which means that I have managed to miss all but the final ten minutes of the event, which doesn?t really bother me too much, but might affect the journalistic integrity of this piece. On the plus side, free coffee! ( As long as you don?t count the hours I?ve wasted traveling here from Beyoğlu or my metro fare)


March 30: 12 57 P.M.

The winner is decided by solemnly lifting the cups into the air and checking what is written on the bottom. Not being able to fully understand the procedures, I assume that the tasters had to isolate a specific bean type or region from the many choices, but I must stress that this is just conjecture. Every few seconds, the announcer bellows either ?Evet,? or ?Mallasef,? to scattered applause and hooting.

In a real upset, the winner appears to not be a professional barista at all; rather he is just a gifted amateur with a fantastic palate / a lot a free time. He is ignored in favor of the runner-up, who is apparently semi-famous in the coffee world and is currently posing for photographs, which I refuse to partake in despite a lot of teasing from my cranky photographer.


March 30: 1 24 P.M.

After two more laps, it?s become quite clear that there is to be no more coffee action today, nor will there be any actual products I want to buy.  However, after stalking several far-better dressed visitors and watching their movements, I have confirmed that the food on display is, in fact, free, and does not require valid ID or much of a display of interest into restaurant supply items, which is good, because I promised to buy my photographer lunch and every bite we eat here is a bite I don?t have to pay for later.

?Oh!? she says, pointing off in the distance, ?Open faced salmon sandwiches!? I cross my fingers and hope she eats two.

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