Every afternoon, before I turn my laptop on to get an early start on my tasks for my work in the evening, I make a full stop. Since I work at night, I guess you can call this time of the day my “early morning”. I value this time because it helps me get focused on the day (or night) ahead. I recently noticed how this block of time in the day feels like a happy kind of twilight zone. Things just slow down. I set my phone on do not disturb mode, lay out my pens, notebooks and Bible. I check to see if any of my pens need refilling and put away pens that need to be cleaned later. I make coffee and completely lose myself, locked up in my room for hours until I need to resurface and rejoin the world, so to speak. Recently my coffee habit has changed too, and it takes a lot longer to prepare, but it’s fascinating how I have grown to love the little rituals as much as I love the little things about my finicky writing habits.
As with all good cups of coffee, it all starts with the beans. I have jars or different kinds of beans, mostly from people who bring them back from their trips because they know I love coffee. I pop open the lid of a sealed container, take a whiff of that awesome smell and shake them around a bit to hear the beans making that soft clinking sound as they jostle against each other.
I take a spoonful and a half of beans, put them in a burr grinder and press a button to grind. It only takes a few seconds (and some loud burrrrring), and the air all of a sudden is filled with a strong and rich coffee scent. Much stronger than the smell of whole coffee beans. It makes the air seem thick with all that coffee goodness. It’s amazing how a few seconds of crushing can release such wonderful smell. What’s even better is that it’ll hang around in the air for a while. 🙂
Oh, isn’t that beautiful. It’s a heap of finely crushed coffee beans, all ready to be tamped. Sometimes I spill some coffee on the kitchen counter, making a happy mess while I’m at it. I clean it up as I go. It’s pretty fascinating, all the effort that goes into getting one heap of ground coffee, but I’ve tried using pre-ground and it’s simply not the same. Pre-ground coffee just doesn’t have the same flavor as freshly ground beans. With some practice, I’ve finally determined how much beans I need to grind to get just the right amount that I need for the basket. I hate wasting good beans since I only need to pull one shot of espresso anyway.
A little bit of tamping makes a nice coffee puck. I had some mishap with this at first. Apparently, it also makes a difference if you don’t tamp it with enough pressure, or if you tamp it with too much pressure. I made a few misses before I hit the right amount of pressure for tamping a nicely tight little coffee puck. It’s not an exact science, nor is it something one should overthink. The right grind and the right pressure will make a tight puck.
Ah, this part is the one I struggled with most before I got it right–frothing milk for my latte. It’s definitely something that takes some practice, but it’s worth it. I find it fascinating how velvety, bubbly milk can sweeten the coffee without sugar. It also makes the texture of the coffee a bit thicker. It makes coffee more like a dessert, I know, but I like it that way. Frothing milk also takes time. Flushing the steaming wand before and after, a few seconds of watching milk swirl around the pitcher…the smell is wonderful too, something like cream. Yum. I swirl the milk around to mix the micro bubbles up, tap it gently on the table to get rid of extra foam on top, and then I set it aside. Here comes my favorite part.
I bring out my favorite cup (which is a story for another day) and put it under the coffee basket’s nozzles. Pulling a nice shot of espresso looks deceptively calm, with two steady streams of dark liquid pouring into a coffee cup. But what goes on inside the machine is a different story. In fact, a nice shot of espresso is a product of a machine’s precision and human effort. After all that careful preparation, a stream of water at a certain temperature is pushed at a certain level of pressure through the ground coffee. I don’t get hung up on the technicalities, really. All I care about is how a nice shot of espresso is finally ready for my frothy milk.
I carefully take the cup to my office and I’m gone. For a short time. Of course, part of the ritual is cleaning up afterwards. Oddly enough, I enjoy that too. After I emerge from my quiet time, cleaning up is my mental cue to prepare myself for work.
Seems like a lot of steps to take for a cup of coffee, I know, but I love it. I have patience for it for the same reasons I have patience to tinker with nibs, clean them out periodically and ink them, or to go through the motions of finding the right pen/ink pairings and the right kind of paper–I believe that good things are worth the wait and the effort. 🙂