The coffee that ruins all other coffees

I didn’t really have anything to complain about. I was working as a bike mechanic in a very nice typical Belgian bike shop in my hometown of Antwerp. I had a good boss (it feels a bit odd to call him boss) and a job I enjoyed very much. I spent two winters working and cycling in Gran Canaria; the sunniest part of Europe during winter where it´s summer all year round. There are stunning roads for cycling and I made a lot of friends on that island. But still I felt something was missing. I’m not talking about getting my own place, a girlfriend, kids or a dog. Those are the things that I trust will fall into place over time.

6 months after I returned from Gran Canaria, when I was working in Belgium, we had our annual holiday from work. The last two weeks of July are usually pretty quiet so we closed the shop. I strapped a lightweight luggage rack and two pannier bags to my bike – took a train to Charleroi – cycled 180 km to Leon – cycled another 200 km to Paris the next day – took a sleeper train to Cerbere, the last train station in France before the Spanish border – and from there I rode my loaded bike  70 km more to Girona. There I would stay a few days to enjoy the city and the amazing cycling roads (according to the internet).

That’s when I saw the Eat Sleep Cycle HQ for the first time. A tiny shop and a tiny workshop on a tiny square in the middle of a maze of tiny roads in the beautiful old city center of Girona. The only way to find your bearings around this part of Girona is to get lost a few times. The alleys are narrow and there’s small tunnels and overhanging terraces everywere; google maps has no use here because your phone gets confused by the weak and messy satellite signal. The old town, or barri vell, is big enough to get lost but not so big that you won’t find your way around after a few tries.

On the ESC Lazy Lunes ride I met a bunch of people passionate about cycling, half of whom I can call friends now. Cyclists of all levels from all around the world, meet and ride together around what has to be the true cycling heart of the world (I’m sorry Belgium). I met Australians calling Adelaide the Girona  of Australia, Americans saying Boulder is the Girona of the US. Almost all non-European and a lot of European pro cyclists base themselves in this city which suits all their needs during racing season. The people of Girona and Catalunya have a similar mindset to cyclists. They like to enjoy good food, good coffee, an afternoon by the lake relaxing. But they are also concerned about the appearance, health and wellbeing of themselves and the people around them.

I started getting to know the ESC crew. Brian, an Irish guy who I met on the ESC pintxos night (tapas, beer and good company). It takes even the best English speaking person at least 15 minutes to understand his rapid Irish accent, but you can’t do anything but love it once you understand his words and his passion for the things he does. Louise, who was the one who inviting me to the pintxos night. People say she has a heart of gold, but I think the more fiery coloured ruby is a better way to describe her. Boris, the newly hired mechanic, always busy in the workshop when I met him, we got along from the first day. Lee, the first one of the bunch I had a longer conversation with. I rode with him on the front of my first group ride around Girona, trying to say something once in a while in between his never ending banter and shouting things to the rest of the group behind us. I must’ve gotten through to him because a few days later they offered me a job. There was one catch though, they wanted (and needed) me to start working with them as fast as possible.

This put me in a difficult spot. After a few years of looking I had found a nice job in Belgium, with an owner passionate about his work who realised his employees also needed the time and freedom to be able to fully exploit their passion. Happy employees make happy clients. I didn’t want to be ungrateful to him and the chances he gave me by leaving him in a busy time of the season. I told the ESC team I would have to think about it a few days but would have an answer before the end of the month. They were understanding and although they really needed an answer fast, gave me the time I needed. This to me, was another good sign that this company cares, and this was an important factor in my decision. I travelled back to Belgium, hauling my bike and bags on and off 2 trains, a ride around Paris and and a long bus ride from Paris to Antwerp. All the time thinking of the dilemma that had presented itself and thinking I should get a haircut.

I had my last day of work in Belgium the 19th of August and flew to Girona on the evening of the next day. I started working at ESC the day after. I have been working for ESC every day since that first day preparing for three weeks worth of trips across the Pyrenees: 1. Manning the HQ with Lee while the others went on trip, 2. Preparing for trip, 3. Guiding and driving the ESC support van across the Pyrenees, with a bunch of foul mouthed but gold hearted Americans from Chicago, 4. Taking a train from Toulouse to Girona with a backpack, suitcase and two bikes that need go back to Girona (the other bikes stay in Toulouse to go on trip No. 3).

I’m writing this on that train, vineyards on the left, Pyrenees on the right, reflecting on the path I chose and I realise I made the right decision. Technically, I have been working for 18 days in a row. But it doesn’t feel like that in any way. Guiding a bunch of nice people on a Monday morning to the beautiful Banyoles lake for a coffee is part of my job now. I used to take days off from work to cycle across the stunning scenery of the Pyrenees.

The first thing I will do when I get back to Girona before I unpack the bikes I’m carrying will be crossing the street from the ESC shop to get an Espresso. They say the coffee from Christian & Amber Meier’s Espresso Mafia will ruin any other coffee for you. Handpicked coffee beans, roasted in their own laboratory and a brewing process that’s timed to perfection. All steps closely guarded by the man himself make for a coffee that tastes like an angel pissing on your tongue (as we would say in Belgium). After you’ve had this coffee, all future coffees will be enjoyed less and even the best coffee you’ve had so far won’t ever be as good as it was on that particular day. Of course in the right circumstances a decent coffee can be enjoyable, but in the back of your head you’ll know the coffee could be better. The Espresso is like the job, thanks for hiring me ESC!

After the coffee, I do need to get myself a haircut!

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