On Bitterness

Years of living in Italy gave me a taste for bitter coffee. Black as night, when there’s just a bit of froth it looks like tiny galaxies are floating in your cup. It has full bodied and expansive flavor, even if it looks like liquified charcoal. There is just enough bitterness to jolt the palate, to set you on your way with an electric touch of caffeine.

My palate has grown to relish unusual flavors. There is complexity and richness in such bitterness, amaro, as they say in Italian. Lapsang souchong, the smoky, charred flavor of tea made from smoked leaves is how I start my mornings, with a touch of orange blossom honey. Mezcal is a favorite of mine, rich and elegant, hauntingly smoky; it pairs beautifully with cayenne to create a spicy margarita, offset by the brightness of lime.

Bitterness allows the palate to relish in the lighter flavors of life: the richness of butter and pastry, the sweetness of strawberry pie and lemon meringues. I adore fresh fruits and simple butter cookies. Homemade blackberry jam fresh from the farm, the taste of summer and sunshine captured in a mason jar.

There is a stereotype that the people who live in New York are bitter. Perhaps mean, perhaps cruel. There is something acidic about them, in their quickness to temper, and their overtly confrontational approach.

Having lived here for a few years, I’ve seen veracity in the stereotype. Not in everyone, certainly, but New York is a place where strangers attempt to bond over shared misery, complaints volleyed into the air in order to find someone to return the serve with a sarcastic eye rolls. Tempers are easily lost. And sometimes you have to be aggressively loud otherwise you’ll never be heard.

It’s not easy getting yourself established in the city. That challenge is often a draw for people — if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, the old saying goes. And after a few years of making my way, I’ve found my footing. But I’m tired. I’ll be honest — it takes a lot out of you to keep things running.

But lately, the excitement and passion that I’ve always used as the foundation for my work has gone. Recent setbacks and weeks of nonsense to deal with have left me feeling bitter.

I’ve watched this bitterness grow, like a vine, slowly but surely. Tiny tendrils move forward, slowly grabbing hold at any point they can find. Bit by bit they spread, they grow, upwards, outwards. Biterness has started in the same way the moonflower vines creep across my terrace walls. It is a peculiar feeling.

Bitterness sneaks up on you, the ideas of should and could and would echoing in your head like pennies in an otherwise empty piggy bank. It is a cold feeling, an empty indignation that serves no real purpose in and of itself. I suppose it’s some form of narcissim, when you really get down to it.

As I’m preparing to head to Italy today, I’ve found myself reassessing my own mental processes. I’ve recognized this bitter feeling and am making the conscious effort to put it to rest. New month, new mindset, and new adventures await.

I am using this experience to move forward and fully appreciate the good, the blossoming flavors of life. Sometimes it takes a touch of bitterness to make flavors harmonize. Sea salt and chocolate are an unusual pair that is actually quite delightful. And as someone who lives to eat, I’m taking philosophy lessons from my palate.

Maybe my recent blush of biterness is precisely what I needed in order to fully appreciate the sweetness of things to come?

This post originally appeared on www.highclassnocash.com

Jeff Smith

Jeff started in photography and short format video, and he's been at the forefront of the web tv movement. He’s worked on haute couture shoots in Paris, shot street style in Milan, and is currently developing a steady roster of beauty, fashion, and digital clients in NYC.