Posted by : Claudia | January 12, 2016
The glorious auto-brew function on my Mr. Coffee broke a couple of months ago. (Yes, I know. Tragic.) Now, instead of waking to faint Pavlovian beeps and subtle wafts of my go-to Wegman’s French roast, I have to unravel myself from my husband and make the long, dark haul down to the kitchen, where the not quite so glorious but still somewhat miraculous “ON” button lives—and then wait six minutes. It was especially cold this January morning, and although I’m in my favorite winter onesie pajama and my wool slippers from Mongolia all bundled in my plush and remarkably unflattering mint-green fleece robe, I wasn’t quite content nor warm enough until I held the day’s first mug.
A friend once told me she can always spot a coffee lover by the way they hold their mug—grasped firmly between both hands and held close, at about the sternum, a bit like one might hold the neck of a person one were trying to choke if they were standing between one and one’s morning pot. I happened to be engaging in such mug-holding at the time and agreed.
It was my idea to write about coffee, mostly because it’s a ubiquity* I don’t much think about, which I suppose is how it goes with most ubiquities: There. Everywhere. Consumed unconsciously by rote. Or in undeserved worship. Revered de facto by way of unquestioned acceptance and allowed to rule and walk freely through our days without concern for protocol now long-abandoned — in board rooms, university classes, the driver’s seat, even church pews. So here I am, thinking about it. While drinking it. Allowing random impressions and memories and unfinished ideas to percolate past The Room of Irrelevant Thoughts and into the part of my brain now intentionally trying to synthesize them. …
There’s everything from church roast — often an unforgivingly diluted and lukewarm abomination — to the remote gas station coffee so burned and thick the proprietors could pass it off as used engine oil. But somewhere in between is an aromatic and flavorful cup of wake-up nectar, a willing companion before my senses fully activate and my emotions rouse themselves to presentable, or when I want to be not-quite alone, or when my body would rather sleep than finish the grading.
As with all matters of taste and conviction, we humans self-organize into camps. In this case, coffee-drinking camps. Two, to be exact: those loyal and true adherents who like it blackity black black, and everyone else. To be fair and accurate, the latter camp is more a continuum—along which impersonators recoil from coffee’s unabashedly aggressive flavor at varying rates—than a staunchly grounded united nation. Some of them don’t much like coffee at all, really. My father, for example, sheepishly flavors a warm cup of milk with about a tablespoon of dripped brew, a timid if not uncharacteristic move considering the boldness with which he usually tackles everything else. Others—even still just in my own misguided family—regularly add cloying syrups and creams until there’s not much coffee-ness left. I suppose it still tastes good, but they might as well be adding their bad habit to tea or warm Coke. Perhaps they opt for incognito coffee to recharge, though that doesn’t account for the myriad other caffeinated options nor the doubly deluded creamer-and-decaf contingent.
(I should confess that I will drink a latte or cappuccino or some other creamed and sugared version on occasion, in part for variety but also because it’s a more humane option when sitting at close quarters with students in office hours; black coffee leaves a breath of challenge behind.)
Apparently, if ancient texts and Wikipedia are to be trusted, the coffee “bean,” which is no bean at all, was first roasted and boiled and pressed into service by a starving exiled Yemeni healer from the town of Mocha (of course) whose hunger-fed determination to survive on the bitter berries near his cave led him to stumble into the miraculously revitalizing elixir—and into sainthood for doing so. Sainthood. Centuries later, after coffee had made its way around the world and to Europe, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a comedic opera in its honor, quite out of character for the devout Joe. Soon after, coffee would find remarkable popularity in colonial America. Thanks, Boston Tea Party protesters!
So what is it that’s so alluring about coffee—the product of an otherwise inconsequential seed from the berry of the Coffea plant that not only cleaves humanity along gustatory battle lines but brews controversy over nutrition and fair trade and ecology and sustainability and human rights and hipster elitism? Perhaps it’s not really about flavor nor the perks of its kick but something less tangible. Perhaps it’s our proclivity for custom and habit that woos us into its steaming liquid lair, or our willing and giddy submission to socially-sanctioned addiction, or a need to comfort ourselves with the semblance of control we find in routine. Perhaps.
To me, a cup of coffee is stillness—the savoring of a moment, then the reflection that filters through in slow motion and lingers, undisturbed by life outside the cup. I find it delightfully ironic that the drink celebrated for its ability to keep us on the go often does rather quite the opposite, luring us instead into quiet moments of truth and vulnerability. People share their souls over coffee while sitting for hours on flimsy booth cushions at Panera, and they cry alone into coffee when their son goes off to college, and they meet with God over coffee every morning at 8, and they rewind failed interactions trance-like over coffee, and they blindly maneuver city blocks on foot and muscle memory through pedestrian rush hour while silently rehearsing their first design presentation over coffee, and they stare into space over coffee, transported into dreams and pasts and what ifs, and writing about coffee …
What’s your coffee ritual?
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* Yes, I know I’m pushing the boundaries on my use of “ubiquity,” but repurposing words is half the fun of writing!