The Perfection of Saturday Morning

I rise early. It may be Saturday, but I still enjoy being up before the sun. On these cooler mornings, I can open the windows and enjoy the quiet: no buzzing air conditioners or rolling tires at this hour. There’s a puff of refreshing breeze, the faint sound of moving air, and the low twittering and chirping of birds. I take a minute to stand by the open window and enjoy that sound, reminding myself again that I want to get to know all of the local birds by their call, the way I’m getting to know my neighborhood trees by bark and leaf.

Time for coffee. I always take a moment just to open the bag and smell the beans. Fresh coffee beans have a potent vibrancy that I would swear is already making me more alert before they are even ground. The lively rattle of beans dropping into the hopper, and then there’s thirty or so seconds of the only jarring and unpleasant part of my little ritual: the grinder shattering the stillness with its obnoxiously loud motor. I’ve thought about a hand grinder just to circumvent these thirty seconds on Saturday morning. Absurd, I tell myself. They’re expensive and they don’t grind as evenly. I won’t do it. All the same, there’s something about the electric grinder in that moment that feels like turning on a leafblower during a church service.

Church: as I set up my little Hario V60 pot with the funnel top for the beans, filter, and water, I recall once more how “chalice-like” the shape is, and imagine the old priests in places like medieval France, quietly raising theirs in prayer on a similar morning. Moldering stone, stained glass shot through with early sun, bell-rope waiting to be pulled– all pure fancy, of course, but it’s what my brain has done in quiet moments since I was a little kid. Connect with the past, or some kind of story, or both at once.

I wait for my kettle water to boil and sniff the ground beans. That’s where you can really get a feel for the kind of bean and the skill of the roaster. It puts a smile on my face every time I get a new bag. Amazing, I think, that simple coffee beans can have so many different scents when they are fresh from the grinder, depending on where they came from and who roasted them. In an instant, I am aware: of the vast, incredible variety of the climate and soils in even the small subset of places where it is possible to grow good coffee in the world, of the limitless nuances in human skill that prepare them for me and so many other people, and of the little red lines going all over the global map in different directions to bring me this handful of ground coffee beans.

Every sound is magnified. While this is unfortunate in the case of the grinder, it’s a pleasant part of waiting for the water. The gradual rise in the intensity of the roil as the kettle slowly gets to temprature, then the drop-off telling me to look for the steam escaping the holes in the lid: I’m getting to the apex of my little ritual, and it’s time for full concentration and precision. I wet the filter, drop the ground coffee in, and begin pouring in a thin, deliberate spiral, evenly over the coffee. Wait for the first “bloom” to die down, pour again, wait about ten seconds, pour again. Steady on the wrist movement: if you tilt back too much as you spiral, you’ll miss grinds, tilt forward a hair too much and the pour is too aggressive, gushing all over one section of beans.

I get asked sometimes: does any of this REALLY matter? Does it taste THAT much better than coffee from a simple drip pot? Unspoken: do you have to get THIS fucking precious about morning coffee? The short answer: no. I can sit down and enjoy much simpler drip coffee. I choose not to, in part because it does taste better, but there’s more. The journey, the ritual, the total absorption in the effort to make something that’s truly yours: these things impart something extra and genuinely spiritual.

Up until the last drips of coffee are pouring through the funnel into the pot, kettle set down, silence has once again stolen over my clean little kitchen. At this moment, bacon has already been set to cast iron and is beginning to lightly sizzle. However bacon turns out once its done, I can always be assured of two joys in the making of it: the blaze of savory smell and the buildup in sound to the full-blown, merry crackling that tells you its nearly finished. Even the leftover grease is a gift, destined as a base for future chili pots and braises.

It’s around this time that I inwardly smile and listen for the first sounds of my lady: the ruffle of sheets from two rooms away, and the familiar pattern of her footfalls as my soon-to-be hug gets better from the anticipation. Or maybe it’s different: she’s heard the grinder or smells the bacon, knows I’m up, knows she’s too tired to rise yet, but it’s still time for ‘good morning.’ In that case, as soon as my kitchen noise dies down, I’ll faintly hear my favorite word in the background: “Honey.” It’s neither a question nor command, but I go to give that hug myself.

Excitement: what will we talk about today? What will we do? Inevitably, hours will pass by without a minute’s realization, to the muted, happy sounds of conversation, gossip, jokes, classical music, scrambled eggs, the pop of the toaster, and dreaming about the future out loud. We’ve got the whole weekend to spend together as we like, and the whole morning to figure it out. In a way, however the day, the weekend, or the rest of life unfolds, it’s going to have a tough time matching the vibrant potential we can both feel in this long, slow morning, free from the pressure or demands of day-to-day stuff.

Our little house and the life we’ve built together offers me plenty for which I’m grateful on any given day, but Saturday morning has a special purity about it that’s tough to beat. Cheers, folks.

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