Monday, January 16, 2012

A Ritual Cup of Coffee

I read an article today by a woman who was less than thrilled with these Keurig single-cup coffee makers. I've never had one of these machines but a friend has one and I've had the coffee that comes out of one. It's not bad coffee, but it's not as dark as I like coffee to be, nor as smooth. I'm a black, decaf coffee drinker. I like coffee hot and dark and filled with the taste of coffee (not cream or sugar). That and I don't mind making coffee. Prior to writing these words, I took the time to put in a clean filter, measure out four scoops of coffee, add a mug of clean water, and push the power button. Now, a mere paragraph later, I have coffee ready to go.

Excuse me a moment while I pour.

Now, where was I? Oh, Keurig single-cup coffee makers and the accompanying K-cups from which the coffee is brewed. The woman writing the article came down hard on the device because it doesn't save money (she did a thorough cost analysis), doesn't make good coffee, doesn't allow for selection of beans or control of strength of brew in any meaningful way, and (this was the kicker) produces a hell of a lot of waste.

Before I go any further with this, here is the URL for her article:

And before I go even further, let me tell you that I just made a damn fine cup of coffee. I used Starbucks Decaf Espresso Roast grounds (I have them grind it at the shop when I buy the beans), and it is just delicious.

I'll leave most of the argument against these machines to the person who wrote the blog post. The only thing I'll say about all that is that I was appalled to hear that 1.6 billion K-Cups were purchased (and likely disposed of) in 2009. Just so we are clear, that means that 1,600,000,000 plastic tubs with all their other parts, were added to landfills in 2009. More than that were likely used in 2011. Wow, that's a lot of the damn things. That's so many that I can't imagine it. But I have a bad feeling about all that waste.

My coffee filter is biodegradable and so is the coffee inside it. Other than the electricity I've used to brew the coffee, and all the environmental impact of picking, transporting, roasting, packaging and selling the beans, I'm okay with how my coffee works. I am sure that I could do better, and I probably will at some point, but for now, I'm feeling alright about it. At least there's very little plastic involved.

But it's not the environmental thing that I'm most concerned about in this bit of writing. (I know. Given the number of words I've devoted to the environmental stuff, maybe I should rethink what I'm doing, but so it goes.) What I want to talk about is the joy of making coffee.

It's alright, I haven't completely flipped my lid. Read on.

I wanted a cup of coffee. I went to the cupboard. I put in the filter, I measured the coffee, I poured in the water. It was all very simple stuff, but like some ancient tea ritual, I enjoy the process. It's even better if I'm using a french press. I love the smell of the ground beans. I like to feel the cool water. I find solace in counting out scoops of grounds. Mostly though, the coffee tastes better for having taken a moment to make it.

It's clear to me now why people say grace before a meal. Sure, there is the whole thanking God for the meal and if that's what you dig, go for it. But I think that there is also a pause to appreciate the work that has gone into the meal. We take a moment with all that bounty before us and we celebrate the idea of a meal, of food on a table, of coming together. This is part of why a bag of fast food taken from a drive-thru is so unsatisfying. Well, that and fast food isn't really food, but that's a whole other piece of writing.

Drinking my coffee, I taste the fruit of a tiny bit of work. It's not as though I slaved over anything. It's not as though it would have saved me much time to have a machine make the coffee from a plastic cup. I did a little work, I went through a bit of ritual, and now I savor my second favorite drink (water takes the top billing).

None of this is to say that these machines are evil or that people who use them are bad. Two of my best friends love their Keurig machine and good for them. I guess that this is an extension of my idea of being odd. It's usual in our society to use a machine to make our coffee without any work. It's usual in our society to throw away the cups and forget about them. It's unusual to think about these things and decide for ourselves what matters. It's even more unusual to write about such things, to read about them, and to allow both sides to have the right to make their own decisions.

And to that, I say, write on.