Sunday, September 13, 2009

The First Sip of Coffee

There are little things one lives for, and for me the first sip of coffee in the morning is one of them. Without my morning coffee to look forward to, I would still live, but it would be a muted, sorry, flavorless life.

I say "coffee" but to most people what I drink is espresso. In fact espresso is coffee, but in a form so vastly superior to what commonly goes by that name here and in the United Kingdom and in certain other deprived corners of the world, these places don't dare use that other name.

I once met a coffee expert, a man who traveled the globe sampling coffee in different countries, who did tastings and rated coffee for several coffee trade magazines, an interesting and articulate man. He kindly brewed me a cup of what he claimed was the world's finest coffee—no milk, no sugar—and had me taste it. It tasted good, but it didn't taste like coffee, not to me. And it was frankly less satisfying than the very simple espresso I brew in my cheap little aluminum Bialetti moka pot (by the way, aluminum does not cause brain damage; that's a tired old myth). When, as politely as possible, I said so to the coffee expert, the coffee expert replied, "Well, espresso is something else altogether." I agreed.

As for what they serve in Starbucks, don't get me started. Somehow—as difficult as it is to do so—they manage to make a bad espresso. Their American coffee is even worse. Just the smell is enough to depress me. Back in New York, if when walking down the sidewalk I came across a Starbucks, I'd cross the street just to get away from the smell.

I get up between six and seven. I'm a morning person. I dislike and even resent the hours between ten and dawn; they don't like me much, either. As far as I'm concerned those hours are good for insomnia and sleep. Usually, I get some of both.

Even when I sleep, I don't like it that much. In a movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth," I think it was, once I heard a character describe sleep as "those little slices of death." What might be worse than death, though, is insomnia, which I suspect is more like being buried alive. It's enough to make you hate going to bed. When I do sleep I don't dream; anyway I don't remember my dreams. A few times a year sleep presents me with a dream fragment, which by the powers of my imagination I convert into a whole and satisfying dream. Otherwise sleep gives me nothing but oblivion, and not enough of that.

The only thing I get from sleep is my love of and gratitude for morning. Unlike most people, when morning comes I don't feel perturbed, resentful, annoyed, half-dead, or even groggy. I feel relief, like I've been rescued from an unpleasant chore or a form of passive torture.

I celebrate with a bowl of espresso and hot milk.

The moka pot comes in two parts. I unscrew them and fill the lower section with water up to its little nipple. Then I fill (but don't pack: loosely) the aluminum filter with fine-ground espresso coffee— it makes very little difference which brand, as far as I'm concerned. Then screw the halves together, put the pot on the stove with the heat high, and wait about five minutes—first it will gurgle, and then it will gurgle and hiss and splutter. Then it's done. So simple.

Add to piping hot milk, drink.

The Italians, who guzzle the stuff, call it by one word: caffelatte.

Translation: Good Morning!


Cheryl Gower said...

I'm with you. Coffee in the morning with some flavored creamer is such a treat. The days comes alive and one knows there are interesting things around every corner.
Yesterday, a copy of The Letters of E.B.White and The Essays of E.B.White arrived from Powell's Books (gosh, I miss that place in downtown Portland, OR). After this morning's coffee I'm going to delve into them, sort of like my own little study of E.B.White. Along with your writing, Peter, I admire his writing talents and style so much. Here's to you [mugs clink].

sadie said...

I stumbled across your blog this morning, while searching for an appropriate quote that would capture the way that first sip of coffee tastes and feels - here's what I found: Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love. - Talleyrand

I love you blog, its content and title. In fact, i like it so much, I think I'll tag it to mine if that's okay - (so you can see I'm not some insane coffee fanatic) - Best Regards, Sarah

Heather Marsten said...

LOL, I like my black eye from Starbucks - enough caffeine to jolt me awake. When I lived in California I roomed with a coffee lover - He ground his own beans, made the water the correct temp, etc. No one. I repeat, no one could make coffee in that house, only him. We got him though - a friend and I made a great show of grinding the beans, looked inside the grinder and sighed, "Oh, no, we bruised the beans." He did make good coffee though. I like mine black - nothing between me and the caffeine. I suspect your little one is bringing a whole new appreciation for coffee in your life.