Meditation on an espresso pot
This morning I made coffee in my stove-top espresso. It was early, and still dark and quiet, which made the ritual especially satisfying: Unscrew top from bottom. Dig fingernail under metal lip to fish out aluminum filter cup filled with yesterday’s grounds. Knock against inside of the trash can to empty spent coffee. Rinse. Fill bottom chamber with water to just below the small escape valve. Replace empty filter cup, funnel tail first, into the bottom chamber. Spoon in fresh grounds. Don’t tamp, smooth in circles with the bottom of the spoon. Clean the edge. Check top chamber. Rinse if residue remains. Rescrew. Place on smallest burner. Turn heat on high.
For me, this is meditation. And this morning, in the emptiness of motion, memories came up: of myself as a young student, not yet 20, and living in Madrid, of dinners and strong coffee, old cathedrals and ladies in furs, jamón ibérico and patatas bravas, late night botellón, early morning park runs, friendship, sex, shame, heartbreak, and reconciliation.
They bubbled and gurgled in quick succession and I drank them down:
The candy shop on the corner near our apartment above the metro at Manuel Beccera where I bought coffee candies, cappuccino for me and sugar-free for our beloved bear of a Spanish literature teacher, who was on a diet but loved hard candy and was obsessed with the sublime;
Shivers of arousal and disgust at our short, virile, grey-haired professor who led us through the halls of the Prado, sketched Velásquez and El Greco at the front of the classroom, then offered to paint our portraits (sí, desnudo) in his home studio;
Stopping in for sweet gofres after class; late lunches with family, dipping crusty bread into meaty cocino and spooning roasted peppers and olive oil onto whatever was left; late night maria biscuits with nutella;Pressing my feet against the foot of my tiny bed in our tiny room just before falling asleep, with my dear compañera de cuarto just a hands-reach to my left;
Wild eyed teens in the belly of the Metro waving their arms and yelling “CHINA CHINA” (pronounced CH – EE – NA) as I disembarked and walked toward the escalators;
A feverish trip to Granada on an overnight bus, baggage turmoil, a tiled hostel with a stern host, a foggy morning at the Alhambra;
Flirtation; more flirtation; flamenco partners; late night whispering and laughing and fumbling and gasping; jealousy and blame;
Crisp air and Christmas lights sparkling all the way down Gran Vía; stopping in to buy fancy tights at El Corte Inglés; and
Learning to make coffee for our crazy host family in the small metal “poor-man’s” espresso pot.
I missed my friend and roommate Sarah. I wondered whether my awareness then was as reflective and reflexive as now, or more unfettered and flowing. I wondered which was better, then decided that, if anything, they were just different.
The little pot I have now has utilitarian grace. It’s made of dull aluminum which doesn’t shine, but more-like glows under warm kitchen light. It is angular; decahedral, to be precise, and not uniform from top to bottom, but cinched at the waist where the top and bottom pieces join. It consists of three pieces, the bottom chamber (the boiler) where the water starts, the top chamber where the coffee ends, and the metal filter funnel in between. The water in the bottom chamber heats to boiling and creates steam, which forces the surrounding water up through the funnel, through the coffee grounds, into the collecting chamber up top.
This pot lost its handle in a forgotten accident, which doesn’t affect coffee-making, but does make it difficult to pour. To add insult to amputation, it then lost favor to two small, simple Vietnamese phins (cup-topping coffee brewers). Recently, a wiser roommate resurrected him and he resumed his place in the morning rotation. It was really just a matter of keeping a thick towel on hand to grasp the hot pot to pour.
I’m glad to have him back. The phins are shiny and easy to use, but they also seem as if they’ll always be light and young and uncomplicated. Perhaps this other pot has the kind of comforting sturdiness that comes with age.