All the tiny beauties, pt. I

I start with the gleaming red kettle, half-full of cold water, on the back-right eye of the range.

I turn a task light on, highlighting her smooth curves and sturdy handle, then I summon the spirit of fire under her chrome bottom.

Next, I open a waxed paper bag; feel the stiff texture under my fingers.

I pour the beans – small, dark, hard – into the bell of the grinder. Those beans have had a long journey, but most recently, came from some folks just down the road who do the roasting.

I grasp the grinder around its waist with my left hand, and start turning the crank with my right. I can feel my muscles flex a little as I work, and my body rocks slightly side-to-side in time with my efforts.

Work done, I put my nose into the grinder’s opening and inhale greedily. Fresh-ground coffee.

After I clear out yesterday’s grounds from the glass French press, I add today’s coffee. I pour it in slowly, letting it waterfall from grinder to press, enjoying the tumbling interplay of tiny, fragrant brown boulders.

Next is time.

Time for the kettle to do her thing. Time for me to write another half-page, ink spidering across paper; smudging on fingers.

Then, hot water – steaming, but not boiling, if I’ve done my job right. I carry the kettle to the press (never the other way ’round), and pour generously over those new grounds.

I rotate the press as I pour, thirds of a circle at a time, wetting all the coffee evenly. The grounds rise and make foam – iridescent at first, then muting into milk chocolate.

And the aroma. Oh, my nose! Heaven!

I put the lid of the press on, the better to keep its precious contents warm.

And more time.

One tradition dictates three minutes of steeping. Another says I’ll get lost in words for a while more, before eventually being tugged back to the press by my nose.

Next is the plunge.

I’ll slowly push the plunger of the press down, feeling the growing resistance of the grounds, watching my coffee clear from swirling morass to “shut up and take my money!”

I lift the press, feeling it’s heat and full weight, and pour into my mug, steam rising in a prayer of thanksgiving.

My mug.

My coffee mug was made by a potter I knew. He was the first person I ever worked for. Starting at the age of 12, I was his gopher: weighed clay, mixed glazes, mowed the lawn, helped him pack for shows, babysat his boys.

He made this mug for me 16 years ago as a wedding gift.

It’s volume is right. It’s a little bigger than average, but not grotesque  like a gas station’s plastic flagon. The handle fits two of my fingers perfectly, with no wiggle room; no sloppy questions for my early morning.

And the glaze… Deep red interior that highlights the ridges from the potter’s fingers; Blue and tan and hen-mottled white on the outside with more splashes of red.

Once this work of art is full of my morning’s elixer, it starts radiating warmth into my hand. And sometimes against my cheek, if I’m feeling particularly needy.

Coffee in the mug, it’s time for the penultimate step: Cream.

It’s organic half-n-half for me. Smooth, thick, white, curling and blooming into – as one friend called the color – “cardboard.” Enough cream to smooth out the coffee, to shave down its rough, acidic edge, but not so much as to hide the drink’s essential character.

If I’m feeling especially decadent, this is also the time I’ll add a large spoonful of maple syrup to my mug. You haven’t lived…

Finally, it’s time for that first slurping sip.

The coffee flows over my tongue, spreading its smooth, hot, bitterness throughout my mouth, evoking ten thousand other moments of similar early-morning pleasure.

I sigh, and am content, surrounded in the beauty of this moment.

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