In Defense of Inconvenience (& Good Coffee)

My husband is climbing up onto the roof, eager to see if our plumbing vent stack is plugged by fall debris or a kamikaze squirrel.

From the desk where I’m sitting–one that’s shoved up against a bedroom window–I can watch him scale the ladder. He does, and he walks by, befitted in work boots and a knit cap.

He waves, maybe a little annoyed at my supervising, but I just smile back, clutching my coffee. He drinks in mid-March air, and I sip, too, some mongrel drink that’s somewhere between latte and cappuccino.

Maybe it’s a wet cappuccino?

Whatever it is, I’m happy to be in here with the velvety thing, and not tromping on rooftop.

And definitely, not hanging my nose over sewer pipes.

As he stomps, above, I start thinking about coffee, and how maybe it’s one of my love languages.

How I got here, this marriage of me and coffee, I’m not perfectly sure. It had something to do with waitressing at Perkins till 11 p.m. those college years. That, and those 8 a.m. classes, burning the wick at both ends. Enter coffee, like a knight on horseback, and I just about got down on a knee and proposed.

I love the drink.

Too much maybe, my dentist says, mentioning something about Crest strips last time I saw him. I nod, but know that as far as vices go, mine’s a good one. It gets me out of bed, for one. And it keeps the synapses fit and firing…or so I like to think.

Either way, coffee is now one of my things. For Christmas, I tell relatives: Give me beans, a better grinder, a monstrous mug. I am no purist—I don’t need single origin or certain-region. I am happy with a blend. It can be perfumed to smell like bananas foster, or hazelnut, or blueberry cobbler.

I don’t care. I just like coffee.

And I like the idea of coffee, too. It’s not gluggable; it’s for the sipping, and it’s slow. I don’t know about you, but I need more slow in my life lately. That’s why, since January, coffee and I have taken another step forward…or maybe, a step backward, depending on how you look at it. I guess what I mean to say is that me and coffee have slowed way down.

It started when I returned a Christmas-gift cappuccino maker (leaky seal at the portafilter), and used the store credit to get something more old-school: a Moka Pot.

Have you seen one? It’s this cheeky stovetop carafe, all angular and aluminum. The Italians invented it back in the ’30s, and many still swear by it today. The pot’s got a small bottom chamber where you put cold water, and a filter basket that nests on top for your grounds. You then top that off with a teensy screw-on kettle, and that’s where the espresso burbles up after about nine or ten minutes on a burner. The gadget’s steam-driven, and if you do it right, it’ll even produce a scraggly crema. Sure, the sticklers call it “poor man’s espresso,” but it’s strong and sludgy, and it makes a nice, jolty base for the hot milk I whisk up and pour over top.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, and I won’t lie: it is. But it’s worth it. I tell you this as Sherpa of sorts; you can trust me, because I have loved coffee all different ways. Fast-food, Starbucks, smoky lit coffee bar. Grind-at-home, grind-at-store, grab Maxwell House at CVS on Christmas morning because it’s the only place open and we are clean out. Keurig K-cup, French press, good old fashioned auto-drip brewer.

And now, Moka.

Why? For precisely the same reasons you might think I shouldn’t: Because it’s fussy and slow.

Wonder of wonders, I am actually enjoying the twelve minutes it takes from start to sip. Turns out, I really like deconstructing my pot and washing it, toweling it, and leveling my basket of grounds. I like stacking it all up and twisting it tight, setting a timer, lighting the stove. I like the way it looks, with the blue-flame twitching below the carafe, and the way it smells, as the center column huffs faint and chocolaty just before the espresso starts spilling out, a coffee fountain right there in my kitchen.

I like all of it.

And, of course, I like handing my husband a cup after he’s come in red and cold and runny-nosed from the vent pipe exploits, on the roof.


This is what I’m learning about rituals: They can’t be rituals if you don’t put some skin in.

Sure, some say rituals can be one-press-easy, but those aren’t really rituals: They’re habits. (And oh, coffee habits abound. I know. I’ve lived and loved them, and I’ll probably slide back into one, someday…)

But coffee rituals? Real rituals won’t mix with rush.

Maybe that’s because rituals are a kind of ballet, a million lovely little steps. They’re a kind of music that puts you in the mood. Whatever they are, rituals are always expensive, at least in terms of time. They’re always hungry, thirsty things, demanding your attention, your fingers fluttering all over them.

But I am finding that for all their neediness, rituals play fair. They reciprocate. They pay you back, and in the way you need most: by helping you slow down. And in doing this, I think they also help you to savor…to wake up a little, to start to see and taste things you might have slowly tuned out.

I think without rituals, stuff gets stale. We get stale. I think we stop being able to respond.

This is why I’m enjoying this season of nerding out on my coffee. My moka. I realize not everyone has twelve spare morning minutes, and I’m trying to be grateful for mine, because really, it’s about so much more than the coffee for me. It’s about my tempo, in general.

Truth is, there are just too many things right now that prod me to move faster, hurry up, and skip a few steps. I mean, just about everything. I have a toddler, which is as good a risk-factor as any for succumbing to the spell of 2-in-1 shampoo, and toothpaste with the mouthwash mixed in, and that striped peanut butter and jelly spread in one jar. Also: Drive-thrus. Single-serve mac and cheese for the microwave. And the new Cybex machine at the gym that claims to burn twice the calories in the same hour.

This is why I am firm about my morning moka. Because it’s a protest.

It’s not a cup of coffee: It’s a call to arms.

We get so goofy about shortcuts. So giddy about speed. And this is why coffee makers now work like can openers.

And it’s a shame, really, because I’m learning you can only appreciate something as much as you’re willing to put your good energy into it.

Maybe, even, only as much as you’re willing to wait for it.