Mud is Thicker Than Water
I worm fruitlessly from the back of the car for us stop for coffee, into static murmurs as Everson’s phone predicts traffic ahead. Then I whimper with the tone of crying a puppy, to turn the car around, into a black hole of social gridlock, as my double americano is swallowed up by the rear view mirror.
Four sleep deprived introverts, all mentally teleporting ourselves: through the attention drain of rush hour, to the far flung car return, jolting shuttle, dank with bad breath and diesel, to be dismantled and spat out by security, like frayed human threads, twisted through a double ended boarding tangle, each of us lucid waking our unique flavors of recharge, reading, gaming, crafting, defragmenting ourselves from the social over-stretch of a “meet the family” in Austin.
If Everson, my partner’s brother, had stopped the car for bittersweet, would we be late? Would I fly off the handle, losing my beans, threatening our new loosely knitted family bonds?
It’s dull at the lifeless terminal. An eternal hour before we’re boarding, no StarBS, no Jo, just a deserted diner, and a shuttered bar. Me groaning audibly “I went along with everyone, this whole trip, all I asked was to grab a coffee on the way here, my politeness doesn’t mean my needs are null.”
Everson shrugs uncomfortably, the others turn towards the empty gate, as if to tune out the lava leaking from my eyes. My ground is molten, my coffee reactor is in nuclear melt down. I rip into Everson, yelling. Tears take away my focus, maybe someone else is crying too. I reveal the IED buried under my civility, oh how I wish I’d acted differently. This day I’m so ashamed of, introduced the unhinged hyena from Fukushima that mild-mannered-me becomes, without my coffee.
I credit Ev’s inviolability, his coffee-like warmth, I couldn’t think of a greater complement. He turned the heat around, with the social wizardry of his deep generosity, and he forged an unbreakable bond with me… over coffee. Turns out, he needed it almost as much as I did. You’ve heard of blood brothers, well we are coffee brothers now, but if I had to choose between him and coffee, it might still get ugly.
I’ve blotted up my Covid anxiety with every available shot and booster, plus more now that I’m fifty. Somehow I secretly believed that when I eventually got it, all that immunity would mean Covid wouldn’t monkey with my senses.
The word parosMia reminds me of my delightfully droll sister Mia, who I finally got to see February of this year. Traveling gives me panic attacks but it was all worth it to see her. She was openly snarky, in a wonderfully Wednesday Adams way, about how literally rotten smelling it is to have lost her ability to enjoy the taste of coffee, that now smells like old ashtrays.
Today I made my meticulous pour-over. You know I waste hot water rinsing the filter, weighing to an arbitrary number. Why do the beans weigh less after they’re ground? That really bothers me. As it grinds, I think of how much ground coffee we found inside the grinder casing, when my brother and I took it apart to fix a broken solder joint. I love how he made me re-solder it so it wouldn’t break again, and give it hard thump on the side to get that few extra grains out.
It’s a laborious ritual that has little baring on the flavor, but it builds anticipation, and best of all, the coffee steam rising with each pour is my morning aromatherapy, but I am wearing a mask today, in our shared spaces, as Aja has not tested positive. Even though she’s the only person who could have given it to me. These N95s do a good job of blocking smell, but even with it on, I am noticing the inexplicable aroma of… burned damp chalk? I reassure myself it is the mask that’s making everything smell of… wet oven soot?
Admittedly the beans aren’t fresh, but they have been stored in my gimmicy canister that’s supposed to preserve coffee beans in a vacuum. I got these beans from Little Bear Coffee on my last long run with Aja in Albuquerque, training for the CIM marathon we aren’t running now, thanks to my Covid. At least I have coffee to comfort me out of the disbelief, this will be the fourth marathon in a row I trained for and not run. These umber nugs of consolation are from Panama, I remember their fruit forward, backward and in between-ness, I lift the mask and sneak a sniff of… wet concrete, sour stone?
It says “Static Cherry” on the bag, which refers to a type of cherry from the Black Mountain in Panama that evolved to build up static electric charges that creates little sparks that click at night and attracts the ‘Electric Fruit Bat.
Unfortunately they are almost extinct now ostensibly because, when the Static Cherry was cross cultivated with coffee cherries, the fruit bats who ate the coffee cherry hybrids changed their sleep patterns, and instead of returning to their caves for the night, they would swarm onto caffeine fueled colony clouds that build up electricity from the cherries into small scale lightening storms, which at a certain point reach such a high energy charge that it stops their hearts, then it rains bats and cherry juice.
Of course I had to concoct that story, because the term “Static Cherry” is too odd sounding a term for what it actually is —a method of natural processing coffee cherries by leaving the cherry pulp on and sealing them in airtight tanks to create an anaerobic fermentation environment that brings out flavors of blackberry, violet and magnolia. The truth can be so boring, until you taste it, the flavor of these beans puts the black back in cherry, without the dank sockyess that pervades your average Natural.
It’s a darker roast than I usually go for, but this one has that rare tropical fruitiness I love, and a black current undercurrent, that starts in the front of my mouth like sour cherry and ends all jammy like berries overcooked in a nutty pie for desert in the back of my mouth.
When I was a kid growing up in England my favorite flavor was black currant, I basically would not drink water without Ribena in it, mostly for the sugar, until I discovered coffee when I lived in Italy. So because I love berries, especially coffee berries that taste like Black Current, I must digress again about them.
What are sold as currants in the U.S. are Zante currants or Black Corinth raisins, which are not currants at all, but very small grapes. They were originally imported from Greece when Black Currants were outlawed in 1911. The reason or should I say, raisin, we miss-label these small Greek raisins as currants is because “Black Corinth” sounded like “Black Currant.”
Blackcurrant plants were implicated for spreading a disease called white pine blister that threatened the U.S. logging industry, so they made Black Current illegal. Real Black Currants are now so rare in the U.S., because of the long period of restrictions, that only 0.1% of Americans have ever eaten one.
Are you a coffee demon, or a tea elf?
For a coffee fiend like me, it may seem strange, but I’m taking a break from coffee and donning my elf ears.
I woke up and noticed my breathing was labored, as a runner about to marathon, this set off the panic alarm. I immediately took a test… oh fuck!! Covid19 positive! Wait, test again, oh no!
So I quit coffee, I do it a few times a year anyway, and drink green tea. Green tea is my cure-all, there are green mountains of tea science about its benefits, and it tastes how it makes me feel, healthy, but my coffee demon is counting the days.
I function with coffee, but green tea is what’s good for me, unfortunately they’re not always the same thing. Somehow green tea targets the sick and enhances the health in me, almost as if it had symbiotically evolved to keep me healthy, which would be great for it because, look at all those miles of exquisitely cultivated tea terraces. But coffee is how I am writing this, and once I realized I had been self-medicating my ADHD with coffee, it made sense how coffee could often be my reason to get up in the morning.
Unfortunately coffee and me are not always as healthful a match as green tea, but neither is my body the me I feel like, so I guess that makes me a non-binary coffee-greentea demon-elf.
Rising from the Grounds
Today was my first coffee in over a week. The internet was right, it does taste like cigarette butt tea. I also taste boiled licorice rot, the aftertaste of stevia, and a lingering aroma of charred cream.
I have to reassure myself that this is coffee while I am drinking it, because if I didn’t, I’d spit it. I think back to my sister Mia’s radical acceptance with a touch of radical snark, and pour myself another cup, of wet guano caves infused with cigars.
As I take this ashy mouthful, my disbelief seems to twist into curiosity. My failure to access any familiarity in the flavor of the coffee, leads me to what I can touch, which is how it feels in my mouth. Mouthfeel is something I hear about from coffee snobs, oh how I have even tried to be one, and taste my coffee using a tasting wheel to help me articulate what I am tasting, but I get too impatient.
Now I guess mouthfeel is all I have got, and it doesn’t come easy, I have to fight to tune out the cigarettey flavor.
A Dirty Look
All senses are extensions of touch, and all senses evolve from touch. It is not just synesthesia to say that when I see, I am touching light, when I hear I am feeling motion, when I smell I am touching the invisible edges of things. Light actually touches me with its particles, sound waves literally move my inner ear, and smells attach to receptors in me. Although each sense is different, they overlap, like taste and smell –the same food can have an unpleasant smell but a good taste. You don’t need ears to feel sound because part of the audible frequency overlaps with vibrations that can be sensed by the skin.
With taste, I am literally using my sense of touch inside my mouth, and I am getting a lot of information from the sensations that come just from the direct contact with the coffee.
In spite of the unfamiliar flavor I feel a sense comfort with the coffee texture, even though I drink it black, I can feel that it has weight, its oiliness clings to my tongue, but then slips away without coating my mouth.
Back in Black
Just as the textures of music are about what its changes evoke in me, so sensing the mouthfeel of coffee is about phasing in and out of the varying dynamics of how the coffee feels as it moves through my mouth. Now it is light and silky, now fine and ashy, now I feel its sharpness against my tongue, almost prickly and mineral-ly. Ahhhhhh coffee, a little coronavirus can’t take you from me… fade to black.