Making Coffee

It’s 9:26 am and I’m making coffee.

I’m back in Colorado today. Thanksgiving is over, but my vacation continues another week. The joy of being in a relaxed environment in the middle of a weekday morning, when I’d normally be frantically trying to accomplish item seven on my to-do list before the meeting in four minutes, is not lost on me. The difference can be felt in my mind, my muscles, and in the act of making coffee.

I’ve already started the kettle, so I turn to the beans. They’re organic Peruvian from Dazbog, a Russian coffee and tea company in Colorado. I open the bag and inhale, capturing some of the escaping aroma. I’m brewing with an AeroPress (inverted method), so I grind them on the finest of the Fine setting with my parents’ Capresso burr grinder. While pouring the whole beans, a couple make a great escape and leap onto the counter. The beans are so dark I can hardly see them on the black soapstone. I have a brief flashback to installing the soapstone a few summers ago. My mind smiles, and I return to my task.

Burr grinders make a whirring sound, and I enjoy this whirring rather than recoiling from the noise as I usually do. I smell the grounds after the whirring has stopped, and I enjoy the extra facets of the aroma that have been released by the grinding. I pour the grounds into my AeroPress and wait for the water to finish. I close my eyes and breathe.

There’s mediation in making coffee. There’s meditation in anything, really, as long as you allow it to be so. But there’s something about certain tasks — washing the dishes is another — that seem to encourage mediation. They require just the right amount of care and attention. Too little required, and your mind will wander from the present. Too much required, and it’s too difficult (for me, at least) to achieve that soft mind that allows you to deeply appreciate the present. Making coffee is a goldilocks zone.

But just because it encourages mindfulness doesn’t mean it’ll automatically come. Too many times I’ve made coffee in a hurry, usually at work, and haven’t enjoyed any of the catharsis that the act cultivates. It’s a decision to make coffee mindfully. It’s a decision to do anything mindfully, I suppose. My mind starts to drift, and I begin to brainstorm other tasks that I should be doing more mindfully but the kettle starts to shake and I snap out of my daydream. Once again, making coffee gently nudges me back into the present. The goldilocks zone.

I switch off the heat, open the top of the kettle, and wait a few moments. Many brewing techniques require water temperatures just below boiling — 195 to 205 F — but the Aeropress does much better at lower temperatures — 165 to 175 F. I caught the water roughly five to ten degrees below boiling, so I know it’s too hot. Water boils at lower temperatures here at higher altitude, though, so I do some rough calculations in my head while I wait. The boiling temperature at sea level is 212 F, and the temperature drops roughly 2 degrees for every 1000 feet above sea level. I think the altitude is just under 5000 here in Fort Collins, so that means water boils at roughly 202 F. If I caught the water ten degrees below boiling, that means the water was 192 F when I turned off the heat and opened the top of the kettle.

I pause. Calculations fail me now. How long ago did I turn off the heat? And how fast does water cool in a kettle with an open lid? I have to rely on feel now. The art comes out. I inspect the swirling vapor escaping from the kettle. It feels too hot…maybe another couple moments…

When I’m satisfied that the swirling vapors aren’t too excited to escape the kettle, I put the top back on and begin to pour into the inverted AeroPress. I fill halfway, stir briefly, and fill to the brim. The bloom is beautiful, and I enjoy it for a few moments before screwing the filter on top.

I rinse the stirring stick and wait. I typically brew for 60-90 seconds, so again there’s not enough time for my mind to wander. All I can do is enjoy the moment. The goldilocks zone.

When the wait is up, I flip the AeroPress onto my Starbucks mug with the Denver skyline on it. I always drink from this mug when I’m home, as though it’ll help me drink up every last drop of my time in this wonderful state. I realize that I’ve forgotten to pour hot water in my mug to pre-warm it, but I don’t fret over my mistake. There’s too much to appreciate right now to waste thoughts on minor errors. With the AeroPress resting safely on top of my mug, I begin to press. I press very slowly, usually taking another 60-90 seconds to complete. When everything’s going well, you don’t feel as though you’re actually pressing, but rather that you’re resting your palm on the top of the AeroPress while air pressure does all the work. This is one of those times.

When I hear the sound of the air start to sneak through the beans and I stop pressing…at this point all I’m extracting is bitterness. I place the AeroPress in the sink for cleaning, and reach for the tea kettle. I top off my Americano and watch the oils slide in spirals on the surface, illuminated by the soft natural light of the kitchen window.

The first sip is bold, as one would expect from a Russian roaster. My taste buds are acclimated for the second sip, and I close my eyes and sink into the flavor…

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