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The Shipwreck Rose: Cool Beans

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 18:14

Oh, mon dieu! It’s that kind of morning. My daughter was late for the first bell at the high school, my son sprinted down the driveway straight into the open-door maw of the Ross School bus, the silver goldfish, Plata, jumped out of its tank and was flapping on the floor . . . when, at that moment, I realized Teddy had a doctor’s appointment in Riverhead in precisely 48 minutes. I yelled at his dad on the phone about it, even though it wasn’t his fault, and I could not find my slippers. It’s a double espresso kind of morning.

To be truthful, every morning is a double espresso kind of morning around this ranch — the Double-Bar-E Crazy Ranch on Edwards Lane. My beverage of choice is two shots of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe with enough oat milk (Oatley or Chobani Extra Creamy) to make it a latte. In summer, I pour this over five ice cubes, exactly, in a pint glass from John’s Drive-In, specifically. In winter I choose a mug from the unnecessarily large collection of mugs — birds-of-England mugs, Royal Jubilee mugs, souvenir of Newfoundland mugs, mugs showing Lady Di, mugs showing Prince Andrew (!) and Fergie at the time of their nuptials — that crowd a shelf in the white cupboard by the kitchen window. I cast a glance outside as I make my selection, noting the frost on the grass in the morning shadow of the house and the squirrel in the small apple tree. Only three days ago did I make the seasonal switch from iced to hot. This morning I set the mood and intention for the day by selecting a mug with an image of the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the words “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.” Today may be a long march, but let’s make it a righteous one.

There was a fad a decade or two ago in which nonfiction book authors described the vast spans of human history by telling the story of a single trade good: the advance of world civilization as encapsulated by the traffic in cod, or crude oil, or salt. I’ve written an essay like that about molasses, myself, pretentiously tracing the sunburnt colonization by working-class white folks of the Atlantic Seaboard — the sweep from Barbados all the way north to Nova Scotia — as it unfolded in rum and molasses cookies, and it occurred to me last night that while you might want to read a whole book by Mark Kurlansky (author of the best-selling “Cod” and Salt”) on the subject of java, I wouldn’t want to read one . . . but I could certainly write a column about it.

I rely on espresso for my ability to write this column. And when I run out of ideas I fall into the trap of thinking I need more espresso.

My personal history in coffee begins when I was 25 years old and a habitué of the kavehazak of Budapest. I didn’t drink coffee before I was 25, and at first, I didn’t drink it for the taste but because of the setting: the 101 cafes of Budapest — some grand, cathedrals of Art Nouveau with ornamented ceilings and marble tabletops, some in basements and so thick with the smoke of Helikon cigarettes that you couldn’t see your shoes. My favorite was Muvesz Kavehaz (“Artist Coffeehouse”) on Andrassy Avenue. In the days before cellphones, you could wander in there any moody Central European afternoon wearing your long skirts and your telephone-lineman boots and run into a klatch of handsome young intellectuals in hand-knit scarves and well-worn tweeds sipping louchely from demitasses of muddy feketekave.

In Brooklyn a decade later, an all-grown-up magazine editor who rode the F train to Times Square every morning in sunglasses — shielding my face with The Daily News, the straps of my Sprouse Graffiti Speedy Vuitton tote twisted around my wrist so it couldn’t be nabbed — I acquired an addiction to iced lattes, which I picked up each morning after the gym at a hippie-shabby coffee shop on Smith Street frequented by Phish fans in dreadlocks.

A few years after that, when I had left New York City and was in the process of adopting my children — a blinding blizzard of paperwork and hassles that lasted from 2007 to 2011 — I tasted the best coffee of my life during my four trips to Ethiopia, the birthplace of them and of coffee. The most delicious, tasting of berries, was in an Addis Ababa cafe dating to the 1930s, called Tomoca, where you drank it standing up, crowded around chest-high countertops. (We worry this winter about Addis Ababa, and those we lifted a demitasse with, as civil war slouches closer to the capital.)

Since becoming a mother, my morning coffee is brewed and consumed at home. I favor a little metal stovetop moka maker, which bubbles and hisses like it’s going to explode. In the summer of 2019 I stopped drinking coffee for a while, because it was suspected as a possible contributor to the wild episodes of severe vertigo — during which I swirl and tumble in the space capsule of my darkened bedroom, released miserably from gravity — to which I am susceptible. Giving up coffee didn’t go well. I discovered I couldn’t write, or even work efficiently, without it. My mind wandered. I had fewer ideas. I lost my motivation. I lacked all conviction.

My abstention only lasted about five months. I started slipping out of the office to slink to Mary’s Marvelous or Starbucks on the sly.

Last night, at approximately 9 p.m. — otherwise known as a half- hour before his bedtime — my son announced his intention to stain the pages of a white hardcover notebook with coffee, so the notebook would appear yellowed with age, earning him a better grade on an assignment in his sixth-grade history class. The class has been studying ancient Phoenician culture, and Teddy had composed a 10-page work of historical fiction in the form of a journal written by an imaginary 12-year-old Spanish boy traveling as a galley slave aboard a gauloi ship from Iberia to the Port of Tyre. And thus I found myself applying six shots of Illy Ethiopian Yirgacheffe to the pages of a white hardcover notebook, while Teddy used a blow dryer to dry the pages and cover to an appropriately crinkled patina. If that’s not a good metaphor for life’s journey, I don’t know what is.

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