A whiff of ambrosia

  • My cup of coffee is a gentle reminder that there is a world waiting to enter our ken if only we would let it

Nov 8, 2018-

My mornings entail a pattern and a ritual. I live next to a lake and I enjoy going around it in the early morning air. Occasionally I drive to a pool nearby and swim. Sundays I break the pattern with a more sedentary pleasure. I retire to an open terrace with two large newspapers with their magazines and supplements. Whatever I do, it ends with a familiar ritual: I make coffee for myself.

Like every household in the US my kitchen has a coffee machine. I use it however only when guests come, and I need a large pot of coffee. I rarely touch it otherwise. I don’t care for the quality it produces and the process seems a little impersonal. For years I have used a small French press machine, which makes an excellent mug of coffee for me with a simple mechanism. On days that I feel particularly energetic, I turn to an Italian percolator. While it takes a little more effort to set up and clean, the coffee that it produces is matchless. My current fancy is a Vietnamese drip machine, a simple mechanical affair, easy to run and clean, which produces amazingly good coffee. Given how cheap and durable it is, this should be the world standard.

After a visit to Colombia’s coffee growing region, I have become what Colombians would call a fanático, a zealot, of their superior coffee brands. I have a preference for the more robust types, but I have also been seduced by their milder varieties. Still I like to be adventurous and try other kinds. Earlier this year I drank Cuban coffee for a couple of months, and now I am trying out some German and French brands, admittedly without an excess of enthusiasm.

I loved coffee from Sumatra when I lived in Indonesia, but I cannot seem to take to the Sumatran coffee I am able to lay hand on in Washington. A quite different commodity is Haitian coffee, roasted by a method the Haitians consider unique. I found it so palatable that I took a whole case with me when I left Haiti and enjoyed it for months in the cool morning air of Kathmandu. Sadly, it is hard to find in the American market.

All this—the type of coffee I get, the equipment I use, is quite secondary to the real thing: the ritual of coming down from the bedroom upstairs, shaved if not showered, turning on the bright kitchen lights, opening the colorful Italian canister that keeps my current cache of coffee, heating the water, making the coffee, and finally taking a steaming cup of aromatic brew to the open terrace where I sit down, watch the morning lights filtering through the overhanging trees and take the first sip. Bliss!

What a difference a large cup of coffee can make! Whatever the rest of the day brings or whatever the rest of my life holds, it is a time of peace and placidity. I don’t have to think of the chores undone or worry about the pesky problems of the missing bill or malfunctioning faucet. I can just enjoy the cool morning air, hear the chirping birds and savor the whiff of the wondrous liquid in my hand.

Sometimes, craving to know the latest development of a news item that stuck to my mind the previous night, I have made the mistake of opening a newspaper or glancing at Bing or Google news on a laptop, and lost the magical interregnum to do nothing and be myself. That brief period in the morning is my time, when I do little but drink my coffee and have a chance to experience the world around me that I mostly overlook.

What do we ever see? Very little. All around my house beautiful trees send out new branches, birds and squirrels meticulously craft new nests, deer and racoons make furtive appearances in search of food, neighbours lovingly create elaborate gardens, dogs and cats go on long walks with their mistresses, and charming and bumptious small children run around playing their inscrutable games. Most of the time we see nothing of this enthralling picturesque pageant, stuck in the prosaic business of resolving issues that will have no significance beyond the day or the week.

My cup of coffee is a gentle but persistent reminder that there is a world waiting to enter our ken if only we would let it. 

News can wait and work can be deferred. I must taste the coffee, with my whole being, breathe the morning breeze and be myself.


This article previously appeared in The Statesman, a member of Asia News Network (ANN), an alliance comprising 23 media in 19 Asian countries.

Published: 08-11-2018 07:47

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