To call what I do every morning “making coffee” is like saying when the pope is celebrating a high mass that he is “doing religious things.”
The ritual actually starts the night before when The Redhead grinds my beans for the morning. No whirl grinder for us. She uses my great-grandfathers wooden, hand crank coffee mill. The burrs are almost worn down from a century of usage, but it still works, meaning that it gives me the coarse grind I need for the copper French Press coffee maker. She fills the kettle with water, and makes sure the lighter for the gas stove top is in plain sight. Now at this point you may think The Redhead is going overboard to pamper her husband, but you will soon see she benefits from this arrangement as much as I do.
I am always the first one up, and after checking the news on my phone to make sure we are not at war or under martial law, I stumble down stairs where my French Press awaits me. I light the burner. After my water is on its way to boiling perfection, I set about making her coffee.
The Redhead does not like hot drinks. Her choice of morning beverage is iced mocha, three shots, extremely light on the chocolate. So the I turn on the espresso machine and make sure it has enough water for a sixteen ounce iced mocha.
The first large major purchase the Redhead and I made together was our first espresso machine. I don’t remember the model, but it served its purpose for about two years before it gave up the ghost and went to machine heaven. It was, shall we say, adequate. Between the time we bought our first machine and when were in need of a second, I had done a lot of research on espresso machines, and most, I learned, were barely worth the money they cost. Miraculously (and yes now I do believe in the power of prayer) I found a brass, hand pull La Pavoni espresso machine for about $400. They person who owned it received it as a gift and it was just way too complicated for her to use. I knew it was probably a $1500 machine, and I scooped it up immediately. (That was also the largest purchase I have ever made without consulting her, and she appreciated my decisiveness.
After the La Pavoni is heating up the water in its boiler, I get the fixin’s ready. One of her favorite black metal insulated cups, six ice cubes, two thirds filled with milk. Time to grind the beans. One of the concessions I made to modern coffee technology is our grinder. I used to use a brass, Turkish hand grinder, but it took so long to grind enough for her three shots, the Redhead felt sorry for me, and bought me (and her) an electric burr grinder one Christmas. (It could be used for my coffee, but even at its lowest setting it does not the grind coarse enough, which means an unpleasant sediment in the coffee.)
Cup ready, coffee ground, time to start pulling shots. This is tricky work on the La Pavoni. You have to tamp down the grind in the basket just enough–too loose and you get a runny mess, too tight and it doesn’t flow well. Then you have to pull it with just the right pressure. (I once saw a James Bond movie where he used a hand pull espresso machine to make a cup for M, and I have to tell you he might be great with the ladies, but given what I saw, I would never drink his coffee. He pulled the handle like he was pulling the lever on a one-armed bandit.)
While I am pulling the second shot with my right arm, I am adding the chocolate to the espresso with my left hand. It takes fifteen short pumps on the container, because I don’t squirt it straight from the Hershey’s bottle. We have a special chocolate pump.
By this time my water is boiling, and I pour it over the beans. This is where I add some variety to the morning ritual. Sometimes I add cinnamon, sometimes a couple of shots of chocolate, and every once in a while I might add almond extract. But I usually drink it black.
I stir mine with an old wooden chopstick we had lying around–it used to be a tan color, but now it is a deep chocolate-coffee color–and then I stir the chocolate in hers.
It’s time to add the chocolaty espresso to hers, and to push down the filter on mine. I pour it into one of the two cups I normally use, and take hers and mine upstairs. I give the Redhead her coffee, set mine on the bedside table, then do my devotions.
There are few things in my life that involve this level of ritual. I am really good at flying by the seat of my pants, and most of the time that is how I take off and land. But making coffee is different.
One of the reasons for the ritual is that it is the first task of the day, performed while I am just barely conscious. Because the ritual changes very little, it is ingrained in my consciousness, and I don’t have to pay a lot of attention to what I am doing. There is the occasional morning when I pour orange juice in her cup instead of milk, but I usually catch that before I add the precious espresso.
The only other area in my life where I practice ritual to this level is worship. I lead two services at the church I serve, and while each service has its own distinct identity, the two services rarely vary from week to week, and the various is usually pretty predictable. First Sunday of the month is communion, third Sunday is our noisy offering, in the summers we don’t have a choir at one service, so there is no introit or anthem, but essentially it is all the same week after week.
You might think the highly predictable nature of our worship services would make them mundane, even boring but the opposite is true. Worship should be exciting, not because you have no idea what the pastor or worship leader is going to do next, but because you have no idea what God is going to do next. When the service careens from song to spoken word with no discernible rhyme or reason, people spend more time trying to figure what the hell is happening and what will happen next rather than kicking back and listening for the voice of God.
Familiarity breeds capacity–the capacity to hear unexpected things.