Unsung heroes


I read an awesome article this weekend. About this dapper fella, John Bannister Goodenough. John is a Mechanical Engineering professor at the University of Texas in Austin. And if it wasn’t for John, there would be no Apple, no Samsung, no Tesla.

Because John developed the lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

John’s never won the Nobel prize. He’s not famous by any definition. Yet he keeps working hard. At age 92 John is still at the office every day. Says there’s so much evolution left for the battery he introduced to the world at age 57.

If you’re reading this in South Africa, let me bring it closer to home for you. If it wasn’t for John I wouldn’t be able to write this post in the middle of loadshedding.

John Bannister Goodenough defines the term unsung hero.

I did a barista course at Origin a while back. Took a few days off work, flew down to Cape Town and spent 3 days trying to master the art of making coffee. Because that’s what I concluded after 3 days: it’s an art.

I discovered that there is so much that can go wrong between opening a bag of beans and serving a cup of coffee. The coarseness of the grind. The temperature of the water. The consistency of the foamed milk. The length of the shot. The precision of the pour. Etc. Etc. Etc. The barista needs to get all this right to make your coffee. And still manage a smile even though you won’t look up from your fully charged phone.

After 3 days I showed some improvement. But still couldn’t manage to get all those things right, all the time. Sometimes my grind was perfect. But I burnt the milk. Other times I frothed the milk like a champ. But I over extracted the shot. I just couldn’t get it all right, all the time.

But there are people who do. There are people who get it all right, all the time. Every day they grind the perfect grind, pull the perfect shot, seduce a velvet sheen into milk with their bare hands, and pour the perfect pour. All day. 100 times a day. Every day.

They’re baristas. Unsung heroes.

They get it right. All day. Every day. 100 times a day. Okay, truthfully, some don’t. But even those keep trying to master their craft. As artists do.

With little but mostly no appreciation. Have you ever tipped a barista? Have you ever had a proper conversation with your barista? Here’s a little secret about baristas. Come closer, I need to whisper this. It’s a secret after all. And remember you heard it here first. You ready? Here it is:

Baristas know more than the wifi password.

No, they didn’t invent the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. But they make good coffee. And that’s kinda the same thing.