Ritual of Coffee

The Ritual of Coffee

Gavin Wren Food Opinion Pieces, Writing

Today, I’m looking at the habits and rituals which make up my world of food and drink. Studying the behaviours and activities which I engage in and how they effect my mood, my day and those around me. I’m talking about the things that hold greater existential meaning than their mere outcome would suggest. First in line being the ritual of making coffee.

Demonic Worship.

The word ritual conjures up haunting, demonic imagery, because it harks back to my childhood memory of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where the voodoo cult leader is performing a demonic, borderline cannibalistic ritual with poor old Indy as the sacrifice. However, rituals don’t have demonic worship as a prerequisite, I have rituals that I partake in every day, and you know what? I get a little bit antsy when they don’t fall into place.

Ritual number one is coffee. No longer am I able to consume jugfuls of caffeine each day, because when I gave up alcohol, my caffeine tolerance simultaneously nosedived, literally keeping me awake at night. A visit to the doctor accompanied by the embarrassing realisation that caffeine stops you from sleeping saw to curbing my consumption. Drinking more than my prescribed singular morning coffee, or having a particularly wild and carefree second mug too late in the day (i.e. after 11am) will see me go to bed, close my eyes and immediately be aware that I am not tired. This is closely followed by an hour or more of staring at the alarm clock. Too much dark chocolate does the same.

I used to drink loads of the stuff, multiple mugs full of it, throughout the day. As my consumption reduced, my dependence on the small amounts that I imbibed increased. Simultaneously, my tolerance of bad coffee decreased. In fact, in the same way that many people have become intolerant of gluten, I’ve become intolerant of instant coffee. I’m going to put that on the next food intolerances form I get, where it says ‘Any allergies/intolerances: Instant coffee’. It’s utterly justifiable though. A good coffee is worlds apart from an instant coffee, they’re different entities and if I’m only having one per day, I want to make it count.

Hit The Vein.

The definition of ritual is ‘A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order’, which puts my practice of coffee making squarely in the frame as a ritual. My sacrosanct daily coffee is without doubt created in a specific order, in a solemn way. In fact, people making coffee only ever look solemn and concerted. Facing off squarely with the impending hit of caffeine, there’s little joy in preparing this fix. It’s important work and vital to make sure we’ve loaded our syringe properly and that we’re going to hit the vein square on.

Oops, did I just compare drinking coffee to taking heroin? My bad.

Perhaps I’m a bit anal about the coffee making ceremony, but I’ve thrown it in the bin when things weren’t quite going right, when I knew I’d be unhappy with the outcome. I weigh the coffee (15g) into my Aeropress. Heat my mug with boiling water. Pour the water over the coffee, stir, top it up. It all has to go perfectly, any deviation from my own little parameters of perfection results in imperfection and that would simply be unacceptable. The ritual would have to start again. And that’s exactly why it’s a ritual, because if it were a process which didn’t really matter, if the order was unimportant and all I cared for was whether it was ‘done’ or not, then it would simply be a task. But the weight and gravity put upon that process of creating a coffee to the best of my abilities, then transferring to my desk with loving care, and not being happy unless it is there; that is what makes it a ritual.

The ritual of coffee making is more than the sum of it’s parts, it’s not just ‘a coffee’, it’s greater than just a warming hot drink, it’s also a signal that the morning has started, it’s firing of a warning shot over the bow of the day. Regardless of the benefits to my physical body which the drink may bring, it’s more deeply lodged in my psyche than any physical manifestation of caffeine hits, hydration or warmth.

Ritual of Coffee

I Don’t Like Your Coffee.

Then there’s the bad coffees that destroy the ritual. The visits to people and places who have crap coffee. I normally comment that I’d rather not have one if it’s going to be instant, because after all, I like good coffee and dislike bad coffee, so why suffer? Repression of the facts of my life for the benefit of another’s comfort would merely be subjugating my own needs as a person, and as countless psychologists would be more than happy to point out, deferring my own needs simply for the perceived (i.e. not necessarily real) comfort of others doesn’t actually benefit anyone.

In fact, people are drawn to people who have strong opinions which they stick to, and we like ourselves more when we also stick to our guns, so everyone’s a winner by declaring a distaste for freeze dried coffee. Pretending to be OK with something is merely lying to the other person and a form of self-deception, so when you consider it that plainly, it makes utterly no sense to lie. It can only get a foothold when considered within boundaries of etiquette and manners but there’s a big difference between politely standing up for yourself and being rude, neither of which have much to do with manners.

The loser appears when we umm and arrr, then lie about being OK with Nescafe. I ran a small business for 9 years and the best investment we made was a bean-to-jug coffee machine. It wasn’t expensive as coffee machines go, about £100 if memory serves me correctly, but it meant we had lovely, freshly ground and brewed coffee for our clients and ourselves, every day. Small items of welfare make a big difference and I looked forward to the disruptive cacophony of those beans being ground in the morning. There it goes again, the ceremony of the coffee, the pouring of the water, the grinding of the beans and the trickling, steaming coffee, dribbling into the jug, before finally making it to my glorious mug.

All of this makes me wonder whether my denunciation of faith and agnosticism is misplaced. Perhaps I am highly religious, but my religion isn’t centered around some deity that cannot be pinned down, it’s a simple devotion to a powerful body that watches over my day. Coffee.

Brain Food looks behind the stories we get told about food.

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