FÊTE & FORAGE

beautiuful LIVINg, bountiful FOOD

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Our lives are made up of ritual. Brush your teeth. Make your bed. Put on your pants, first the left leg, then the right. Socks, shoes, coat, bag, and out the door by 6:49. We become so entrenched in our familiar ways — the comforting cadence — that we never stop to question why we adopt or adhere to them in the first place.

The daily coffee ritual is no exception.

For most of my life, I didn’t own a coffee maker. Because I didn’t drink coffee. I liked it but it did a number on my stomach. If someone offered it or it was the only option at an event, I’d drink it, and enjoy it, and suffer the painful consequences the rest of the day. Truthfully, I was a faithful tea drinker from the day I discovered Earl Grey.

A kind New Zealander, Megan, offered me a hot mug and a Petit Nicolas cookie while working together in the basement of the American Church in Paris. That was in the fall of 1993.

My parents gifted me a Keurig for my birthday in 2018. It wasn’t a gift I asked for and initially not one I was even sure I’d use.  They didn’t know of my coffee aversion and I didn’t have the heart to say. Once I tried it though, it soon became the greatest thing. In addition to teas, I explored coffee flavors and roasts until I settled on my drink of choice: Green Mountain Half-Caff K-Cups. I quickly purchased a large case, the accessory 35-cup rotating carousel holder, and a bottle of hazlenut Torani flavored syrup to fancy it up. I had what could now be called a proper “coffee bar” in the scullery and invited everyone who came over to admire and enjoy.

Fast forward to the Pandemic. Immediately, Green Mountain was unavailable at the grocery store. The first week, I relied solely on my tea. The next week, I reluctantly settled for another coffee brand and brew. Then another week went by. And another. And, well, you know . . . I’d never bought whole beans before. I thought only true “coffee snobs” bought whole beans. Could I be a coffee snob? Did I want to be a coffee snob? I don’t know. But for the time being, it was the only way I was going to have coffee if I wanted any at all. (By the way, I can tell if you’re a true coffee snob in just a word : geisha.)

“I can tell if you’re a true coffee snob in just one word . . .”

First, I researched coffee makers. I tried to remember the bougie brand my friend bought and swore it changed her life. It was either that Techno-Italian one or the one with the umlauted-ä Nordic name. I forget which one. I got lost in comparisons of temperature controls, steam pressure, angle and quality of the . . . injection wand? And let’s be honest, I was really just window shopping because I could in no way justify the price of any of these machines.

So, I decided to stick with the Keurig and turned to grinders. I remembered the small push-button grinder that sat on my parents’ counter circa 1986.  But, as I learned, heat from the electric grinder degrades the quality and flavor as it grinds the beans. Plus, they’re a hassle to clean.  Pass.

Then I learned, to make the best coffee, you need only the best water. I began looking into filtered waters. Faucet filtration? Spring? Double distilled? Grocery store or Culligan Man? I couldn’t imagine buying extra water solely for coffee. (We live at least 50 miles from Flint and the government assures us the water here is A-OK.)

In the midst of my Google multi-tab tempest, I just stopped. I simply asked myself: what is it that I get out of making a cup of coffee? Not the convenience. To be honest, not the quality of the coffee itself. Yes, I like good coffee. But to me, above a certain threshold, coffee is coffee. I’m pretty sure almost all coffee makers on the market today make a decent cup.  Just as I can’t tell the difference between a $15 and $1500 bottle of wine (I’ve had both), just having a pretty good cup of coffee is good enough for me.  I know to some of you out there consider this sacrosanct. You should probably stop reading before I insult your urbane sophistication any more.

I realized, what I really wanted was the ritual. The anticipation. The gurgling hot water sounds. The rising steam. The little brown splashes on my white countertop I quickly wiped away. From getting the mug down off the shelf to lifting the steamy brew up to my lips, and every step in between, each step brought a little delight. It was never about convenience. To me, coffee is ceremonial joy.

And what is convenience anyway?  It’s a trade off. For what? In this case, time. The most convenient way to make coffee today is with the K-Cup pod. Green Mountain is the brand that created the Keurig and K-Cups. They’re designed to be quick and convenient – no measuring, no filling, no cleaning – pop them in, pop them out, throw them away, and never to be thought of again. And they’re ubiquitous.

“I Prefer Costco K-Cups.” you say? Surprise, that’s Green Mountain. Like McDonald’s coffee better? Yup, Green Mountain too. How about Sonic? Peets? Dunkin’ Donuts? Caribou Coffee? Einstein Bagles? Starbucks (yes, really). Kevin Costner (huh?) has even jumped on the Green Mountain money train.

Truth be told, the idea of tossing each one of these plastic-foil cups in the trash — and ultimately a landfill — was like microdosing in guilt.  When you consider that 75 million household use them about 3 times a day, that adds up fast. According to The Story of Stuff Project, “The amount of K-Cups trashed into landfills as of today could wrap around the planet more than 10 times!”

K-Cups are the new plastic straws, the new “refusing to mask.”  The new socio-eco-taboo. Sorry, Climate Bro, you are no friend to Mother Earth pouring your zero-carbon vegan hemp milk to your K-Cup brew. In fact, the city of Hamburg, Germany, went so far as to ban them from government use in 2016, according to the BBC.

“The amount of K-Cups trashed into landfills as of today could wrap around the planet more than 10 times!”

Here’s the bad news. Even when taking the brewing process into account, that’s not the biggest factor in coffee emissions. By the time we brew a single cup, most of the damage is already done. According to environmental journalist, Olivia Rosane, in her 2023 EcoWatch article, “Growing coffee beans is the most carbon intensive part of the coffee-making process, accounting for 40 to 80 percent of a final cup’s emissions.” Still, we can mitigate further damage by reducing additional waste.

And so, rather than trying to speed up making a cup of coffee, I find ways to slow it down.

And that’s when it made sense for me to make coffee with a Keurig reusable pod, a hand grinder, and a bag of beans.

The first grind took what seemed like 100 cranks. My shoulder ached.  I switched hands back and forth a couple of times. It took a little trial and error to figure out how much and how finely to grind the beans. These initial failed cups were disappointing and frustrating of course, but a delightful discovery in the end. After a few tries, I unlocked my own favorite brew recipe. The first good cup was a well-earned reward (and not as harsh on my stomach as I learned what I like best – it turns out I just need to add a little less cream.)

Now, I know which beans to buy. I have the grinder set just right. As I’m making my morning coffee, I open my mason jar, scoop up a handful of beans, let them slip through my cupped hand into the hopper, tighten the crank, and feel the satisfying “pop-and-grind” of the burr grinder as the handle turns. I watch the catch bin fill as the rich aroma hits the air. While I grind, I look out the window and watch my neighbors come and go. The dog walkers. The kids on bikes. I daydream and let my mind wander away. And there’s a tactile sensation that’s unique to that tool and task.

We’ve divorced ourselves too much from ritual and routine in favor of quick convenience. At times, it makes sense to automate tedious, laborious tasks. I’m certainly not about to hand wash my clothes or haul water from a well. But in this exchange, we risk removing the parts that make the result worthwhile.

In his book, The Comfort Crisis, Michael Easter urges us to embrace discomfort to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us. He goes so far as to examine mental health issues created by our overfed, under-challenged existence in an ever 72-degree climate controlled life. I argue we need to examine what we’re doing to the earth. I’m taking a look at what other routines I take for granted, what I’m exchanging for convenience, and how creating new rituals – or revisiting old ones – can enhance joy and contentment in my daily life.

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How Do You Take Your Coffee?

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