You Just Can’t Rush a Good Thing

October 22, 2010 § 1 Comment

I was in a hurry.

I needed to get to the office, I was running late, but I still felt the need for a good cup of coffee.  I knew I should have left 5 minutes ago, but I was confident that a good cup of coffee would set the tone for the rest of my workday.

So I made the preparations—but not only that, I decided to try something different.

Just a couple of weeks ago my parents were out for a visit, and they bought me a small stovetop espresso maker while they were here.  We saw it in a store and I commented about how Cubans I used to work with would make the best coffee in the world using those particular coffee pots (this was before I knew to call it espresso).  So they bought me one.

Since then I’ve made espresso maybe 4 or 5 times.  Just enough to get a little too comfortable with the process.

So this morning I thought I’d try making good regular coffee and adding 3 shots of espresso to the insulated travel mug that frequently comes with me to the office.

I figured I could nurse it all morning that way without a reheat.
So I made the regular coffee.  No problem.

Then I loaded up my espresso maker and fired up the stove to get it to boil.
It’s not rocket science.  There’s a chamber in the bottom where the water boils.  When it boils, it produces steam.  The steam pressure forces the water through a tube into another chamber where the coffee is packed and the espresso is made.  Finally the resulting concoction bubbles into a third chamber, ready to drink as espresso.

Like I said, I was in a hurry.

So I had the heat a little high, to get it to boil faster.  I heard it start to bubble through and I was confident I was on my way to a caffeine-induced frenzy of activity.

I checked the top chamber.  It was filling up nicely.  I could almost taste it.
There must have been less than a half inch of water left to run through the system when I learned an important lesson about safety valves.

Maybe I had the heat too high.

Maybe the sugar I added to the grounds (my attempt at a ‘café cubana’) somehow gummed up the works.

Maybe someone planted a little C-4 in my beloved coffee pot.

All I really know is that for whatever reason, the contents of that lowest chamber couldn’t get out fast enough towards the end of the cycle.

Thank God for safety valves.

Mine literally shot out of the pot like a bullet from a gun.

It did exactly what it was designed to do—it gave away under pressure.

All was not lost, however.  I had a mess to clean up, but I also had a nearly-full chamber of espresso that was ready to drink (a little later, after my heart stopped racing and after explaining to my sick wife who was in bed why she heard a gunshot and a yelp from the kitchen).

What is there to learn from this experience?  Never aim a loaded espresso maker at anyone when making espresso?  Try not to hurry life’s simple pleasures?  Invest in ‘steam damage insurance’?

I did nurse my blackened beverage all morning.  I enjoyed it for all it was worth.

But more importantly I learned not to rush a good thing.

Coffee, Bread, and Beer

October 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

I studied social work in college.  As part of the coursework to complete my degree, I needed to do an internship at one of the social service agencies in the city where I went to school.  So I was fortunate enough to spend a summer working at a refugee resettlement program in Harrisonburg.
I knew enough Spanish that they had me work with the Cuban population, along with another guy who actually knew what he was doing.  So I got to know a handful of the warmest, nicest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met.  I took them to appointments, I tried to translate with billing companies, I even went to court once.
But the best part of getting to know these people was the coffee they made when I went to their houses.  I’d stop by to drop something (or someone) off, or to pick something up, and before I knew it I’d be sitting down and they’d bring me a tiny cup on a tiny saucer, along with a tiny spoon.  It didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman, whether they were young or old, whether I had really helped them or not.  They knew how to make a cup of coffee, and they knew how to welcome a guest into their home.
It wasn’t until just recently that I realized what they were serving me was espresso.  I found a pot at a local hardware store that looked just like the thing they used in their homes, the thing they poured their coffee out of.  Sure enough, for a few bucks and a little bit of time, I too could make that same syrupy-sweet hallmark of Cuban hospitality right here in the comfort of my own home.
My brother was just telling me that he’s had similar experiences with some Bosnians he knows.  They serve the same kind of coffee, from the same kind of pot, in the same kind of little cups.  They talk to him about what they miss from their home country.  They miss knowing and talking to their neighbors over good, hot cups of coffee (cups of espresso).
They make fun of our ‘American’ coffee.  They also make fun of what we call bread…and beer (not that I can comment on that last one).
Something interesting that I just learned about espresso is that it’s a process, not a roast.  You can make espresso out of regular coffee–you just need a way to force the hot water through the grounds under pressure.  The result is really good.  Perfect for breaking the ice and getting to know someone a little better.
I have a suspicion that somewhere along the way, we Americans traded quality for quantity, ritual for efficiency, and fellowship for comfort.
Coffee, bread, and beer (so I’m told) are three things best when time is taken to prepare them with the best ingredients in the hands of people who know what they’re doing.
Community is the same.

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