Have you had your cup of coffee today? I have. I’ve tasted the sweet nectar of the gods and gone back for more. How could I not? This is the stuff of which creativity is made, after all.
It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love coffee, that I see the very act of coffee-making as a careful and subtle art, one worth our attention and respect. And this love for something bitter but life-giving has taught me more than a few lessons about the magic of making things.
What is it about coffee that makes life worth living? Maybe you think I am given to hyperbole, but that is only because you must still be a member of the uninitiated, so allow me the privilege of enlightening you. Of educating you.
A cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee. It is a beautiful pause, a way to say to yourself and to the rest of the day: “Before we do anything, we will take a moment to connect to ourselves and our senses. We will stop the frenzy that is our lives and smell, sip, and sit with what it means to be here, right now, in this wonder we call life.”
Okay, maybe I am being a little dramatic here, but my coffee-making is a ritual. It is important to me, and something I do every day without thinking about it. Yes, I could pop a Keurig cup or go to a coffee shop, but I refuse to rob myself of the important act that allows my day to begin with a little art. Making coffee is a wonderful invitation that life is constantly offering us: take a moment and create something beautiful… and then enjoy your creation.
How do you make a great cup of coffee, you might be wondering? Well, I am glad you asked.
It begins with the beans, with the raw source material that comes straight from the earth. A coffee bean is, in fact, a seed—which means it contains the primary material for making other things. It is pure potential, a fruit from a bush that can grow other bushes and create other things just like it. An entire oak tree is contained in the tininess of an acorn, after all; and all of life that is worth living can be found in the miniature latency of a coffee bean.
Good beans are whole and intact—they’re not grounds. To make great coffee, you’ve got to start with the bean, with something whole and atomic that you can crush into fine powder and turn into something consumable. So your day begins with an act of alchemy, with turning one thing into another thing. And all of life, in a way, is like this. We are always taking raw stuff and turning it into something else: whether that’s a bad day into a good one, an acquaintance into a friend, or an idea into an email. It is our own version of transforming water into wine; and in this way, we can each be children of God, little creators dancing with the creation that is us.
Good beans are not too old, because life tends to grow stale when it sits on a shelf for too long. You want something fresh, not older than a couple of weeks. Most coffee follows the rule of fifteens, which is to say green beans tend to last fifteen months, whereas roasted beans only last fifteen days, and ground coffee lasts a mere fifteen minutes before it starts to lose flavor.
Coffee is a reminder that life is evanescent, as are our best ideas. We must seize the day before it’s over lest the opportunity be lost forever. You cannot hold on to a moment anymore than you can let a cup of coffee sit all day and still expect it to taste as good as it did the minute it was brewed. Enjoy what you can while it’s here is what coffee is trying to tell us. For tomorrow we die.
Which brings us to the next step: preparation. Surprisingly, the least important part of making coffee is how you actually brew it. If you are in the mountains of Peru and use a stone to grind some freshly roasted beans that a few peasants picked only a day before (side note: you actually want beans that were roasted a few days ago for optimal flavor, because things take time to mature and there is only a small window between maturity and staleness and we are always trying to maintain that balance, aren’t we?), then pour some hot water over those grounds, and strain it in a T-shirt, well, that will likely be pretty good coffee.
But I digress, albeit only a little.
Whether you use an espresso machine, or an Aeropress, or a Chemex, or a Kinto cup miniature pour-over, or a French press (all of which are devices in my possession), what matters most is that you make the coffee. Not that you do pretty latte art or impress your friends with a fancy machine from Switzerland you don’t know how to appreciate. What matters is you get up tomorrow and dare to taste the morning. That you endeavor to make something worth consuming, something infused with love and art. Something that just might satiate a soul.
Finally, just as important as the beans themselves, is the timing of the whole thing. You need to make your coffee quickly and enjoy it without dragging out the process. Yes, I love a good sit on a balcony with a hot cup of liquid love, but if I am drinking so slowly that I have to microwave the mug, then I am in trouble. I am not carpe-ing the diem. Life is always changing, and fortune favors the bold. So I must drink.
You must make your coffee today. You must pull from the best sources you can find, using whatever tools available. And you cannot sip slowly. Embrace what you’ve created, and let it be just as it is. Of course, you made choices that on another day would be different. Of course, you could have done it differently, and maybe next time you will. But it’s not next time; it’s now. And now, you’re here: with your cup, and your life, and all you can do is imbibe it all.
And of course, we’re not talking about coffee anymore. And be sure to tune in to this podcast where I riff on the art of coffee-making and what this has to do with creativity. Enjoy!
“When I think of life as struggle with the Daimon who would ever set us to the hardest work among those not impossible, I understand why there is a deep enmity between a man and his destiny, and why a man loves nothing but his destiny.” —W.B. Yeats