Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Coffee

My coffee reminds me that I am alive. Like so many other things in life, it brings together pleasure and disgust, textures and smells mingling into a hot, bittersweet ichor.

My coffee is slow, removed from the technological simplicities which allow us to forget that our coffee is often harvested by hand, slowly dried, and then roasted by hardworking people thousands of miles away from our breakfast table. It starts with a kettle, placed on a burner. There is no electric heating coil to replace the primal element of fire.

My coffee starts as whole beans, poured into the hopper of a brass grinder from Turkey. As the fire heats the water, I turn the handle on the grinder, laboriously crushing the beans into a fine powder. The brass starts cool to the touch, but warms as my grip tightens and my muscles begin to tire ever so slightly. Removing the lid, I can check on the level of beans in the hopper, to see if I need to speed up the grinding. It is an inexact method: sometimes, the kettle whistles steam long before the hopper is empty; other times, I finish the grinding and can empty the coffee into a mug.

The smell of the grinder used to disgust me. The acrid scent of tarnishing brass wafted up from the hopper combines with the harsh smell of beans. The inside of the grinder has become caked in a layer of coffee dust from the years of use. The smell now reminds me of the pleasure to follow and of the past, and it is strangely comforting. I've drunk coffee like this since 2007, when I used a friend and roommate's grinder and the pain kept me from standing up while I cranked the burr. It reminds me of the rejuvenation I felt that spring, and the summer after returning home when I got my own grinder. It reminds me of grinding a cup an hour before my Modern tests a year later, the jitteriness of hitting me just as I needed my mind to work as fast and as efficiently as possible.

When the beans are ground and dumped into the bottom of a mug, I am always amazed at just how thick the layer of coffee is. It seems to fill up the mug, before any water is even poured on top. And when the water is poured over the grounds, first a thick black sludge to wet them, and then a second pour to fill up the mug, a layer of finely-colored grounds floats to the top. It sits there as the coffee steeps.

My coffee is a sensual awakener. I have never found coffee which assaults and nudges the senses to completely as this does. To be truthful, it is disgusting, but it is also grounding. The word organic is one which often comes to mind, in the sense of an experience which flows naturally from that which surrounds it. The layer of grounds on top becomes bitter, so the first sips of the cup is filled with bitter grit. Perhaps because of this first impression, the liquid below always surprises with its wonderful richness and smoothness. Towards the end of the cup, the coffee itself starts mixing with the liquid, and I have to admit that this is my favorite part. The grounds thicken the liquid, giving it body like a good cup of hot chocolate, and it lingers in the mouth as the tongue and teeth are covered with fine sediment.

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