Short Story (Poem) Of the Day, Coffee by Bill Chance

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”
David Lynch

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#27). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Coffee (from an old Turkish proverb)

Black as death

Hot as hell

Bitter as lost dreams

Thick as love

She liked her women like she liked her coffee

Dark, Bitter, and Colombian

 

 

Sunday Snippet – A Ring in a Cup of Tea

After a period of time he decided to choose a different coffee shop, one that was not quite as mysterious. He knew he would miss his waitress, but there would be another in the new shop and he didn’t want to get to the point that his harmless crush would seem creepy.

—-Bill Chance, A Ring in a Cup of Tea

Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

I don’t usually use writing prompts – but I was suffering from a moment of writer’s block and picked one out of a list. It said “A man finds a ring in a cup of tea.” OK

Sunday Snippet

A Ring in a Cup of Tea

There was a ring in his teacup. He looked around the coffee shop. At every table there were people doing what people do in a coffee shop on a Saturday morning. One middle aged man reading a newspaper… a few couples discussing the upcoming day… more than a few people confessing their sins of Friday night. What there didn’t seem to be was anybody that would have slipped a ring into his teacup.

He looked at the waitress. It was the same woman that he had bought tea from many times before. She was young and attractive in a coffee shop waitress sort of way. A world-weary smile that looked like it belonged on someone older than her. Slim, despite being around pastries and calorie-stuffed sugar-loaded specialty coffee drinks all the time. Short hair that bobbed a little when she turned her head. Odd glasses with heavy frames with a line of rhinestones on the side – glasses that have been out of style for fifty years – so out of style they looked cool in a hipster post-modern coffee shop on a Saturday morning.

Could it have been an accident? The waitress had brought the cup empty and he had picked a teabag out of the big wooden box that she presented to him – taking his time as long as he dared in order to enjoy the waitress bending over slightly in front of him. She then unpeeled the bag and said, “Good choice,” like she always did, even though he knew nothing of tea and picked the bag at random. She then had filled the cup with clear hot water, setting down the pot and leaving before the leaves had a chance to turn the water semi-opaque.

If the ring was in the cup she would have seen it. He might have, except he wasn’t looking at the cup.

He picked up the sugar spoon and fished the ring out of the hot tea, setting it on the table for a second to cool. He picked it up, still a little warm and examined the plain gold band. A fan of fantasy fiction he almost expected to see glowing writing in an elvish hand around the circumference – but it was an ordinary , plain, non-magical ring. No special power there.

He held it up to his eye and waved it around a bit – not enough to be obviously nuts – but he hoped that if it belonged to someone, had slipped off a finger into his cup, unseen, they would see him brandishing it and would say something.

“Excuse me, is that my ring?” they would say.

“It must be, it isn’t mine,” he would reply with a bright chuckle, “It must have slipped off your finger and fallen into my tea.”

“Well, then, sorry, let me pay for a fresh cup,” would be their slightly embarrassed reply.

But there was only silence.

He didn’t know whether to drink his tea or not. After looking carefully at the ring, he decided it was clean enough and gold isn’t going to wear off into hot water so he drained his cup anyway. Then he carefully slipped the ring into his pocket and stood up to leave. He looked around, put his coat on, expecting someone to come up to him and explain the joke of them slipping the ring into his tea.

But there was only silence.

At that point he couldn’t think of anything to do except to go home. He thought of leaving the ring in his cup, but that was crazy. At his place he rolled it up in a ball of socks (bright purple ones – a present from an old girlfriend – so ugly that he never wore them – but the woman brought back fond memories so he kept the pair) in his underwear drawer.

The next day, and every day for a week he stopped by the coffee shop and checked the bulletin board carefully – checking for a notice of someone looking for a lost ring.

But he found nothing.

After two weeks he decided to choose a different coffee shop, one that was not quite as mysterious. He knew he would miss his waitress, but there would be another in the new shop and he didn’t want to get to the point that his harmless crush would seem creepy.

He lived for many, many years and when he died his nieces and nephews were given the task of going through his things. He was a man of simple tastes and it wasn’t an overwhelming job. For some reason, though, his favorite niece decided to unroll the balled-up purple socks, so out of place, and found the ring inside.

The family talked for days about this discovery.

“I’ll bet he proposed marriage and she jilted him, wouldn’t even take the ring.”

“No, we would know about that. He probably just loaned some money and the ring was collateral and the loan was never paid back.”

“Maybe it was his mother’s?”

“No, it is too plain for her.”

They speculated over and over again. Every explanation for the ring was offered up and rejected.

Except nobody could possibly even imagine that it simply showed up in a cup of tea.

A Lot More Than Just A Drink

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”
Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

I’ve written before about my AeroPress – It took me over sixty years but I have finally found the best way to make coffee. The AeroPress is a perfect brewing machine… I thought. Something has surpassed it. The only thing that could possibly surpass it – a better AeroPress.

The AeroPress Go.

The various parts of the Aeropress Go

The Aeropress Go, collapsed inside its own coffee cup.

For my birthday I was elated to get one. I actually needed a second Aeropress – one for home (kept with its parts in a small blue zippered case near the kitchen) for morning jolts – and one for work to make it possible to get through the day. The Aeropress Go is perfect for that. I carry it in on Mondays and home at the end of the week  – that way it is available to carry with me on my bicycle for sunrise stops to sip some Joe.

Is it better than the original? I think so. The coffee is just as good and it is very small and I even like the cup that comes with it (it is plastic – but quality plastic [precious resin is what fountain-pen aficionados call it] – but the little ridges keep it cool in the hand).

Now all I need is a portable grinder… and a metal filter… and a portable coffee container… and to get up earlier in the morning… and a coffee nap.

Reviews:

Review: AeroPress Go

If you’re serious about brewing your own coffee when traveling, this is the kit for you.

One thing I noticed in the AeroPress materials is how they highlight a water temperature preference of 175 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius), which is notably cooler than the just-boiled water from my kettle. So, I bought a kettle with six presets and paid particular attention to the effects of water temperature. Trying this out is part of coffee testing’s scientific method, but the insistence on 175 degrees also read like marketing hokum.

I immediately knew I was wrong in my first head-to head. With all other variables locked down, I made a cup with 175-degree water and another with water right off a 212-degree boil. Both made good coffee, but after smelling the 175-degree cup, I noticed it lacked the smoky/burnt/caramelized aromas that stuck out clearly in the 212-degree cup. Whether you enjoy those smells probably depends on how much you like burnt marshmallows.

The bigger difference was in the sipping. Again, both cups were good, but the 175-degree cup reminded me of high-end coffee-shop coffee, while the 212-degree cup had rougher edges and sharper flavors. I had been brewing with a medium-dark roast, so next I experimented with an oily dark roast. I found similar but less-pronounced results. Still, it was good enough to convince me to brew at a lower temperature in the future.

If you do tinker—give it a try!—just remember to tweak only one variable at a time and use coffee that you know you like. As long as you’re in the ballpark, it’s hard to go wrong, but Jessica Easto’s Craft Coffee is excellent if you’re looking for a primer on brewing methods.

Regardless of method, the Go is superior to its already excellent predecessor.

First, it’s made to travel. People like to talk about traveling with the original, and there’s an accessory bag you can get to do that, but the Go’s cup and lid make it much more compact, and less clunky too. Fly into a new town for a week, grab a bag of ground beans when you land, and your home kit is now your road kit.

Second, between the mug and the lid, you’ve got places to set things down as you work. The best thing I’d figured out with my original was to put a loaf pan next to my kettle, creating a little accessory bin so I didn’t have to set a wet, grounds-covered stirrer or slightly drippy brewer on the counter. It’s not perfect, but it’s better with the Go.

Third, packed into its cup with the lid on, it looks much nicer on a kitchen shelf.

Fourth, they both cost around $30.

Bikepacking Review – AeroPress Go

In their own words, inventor Alan Adler and the team at AeroPress designed the new Go version to “provide all the delicious brewing capabilities of the original AeroPress plus a convenient drinking mug that doubles as a carrying case.” I think that’s a fittingly anticlimactic summary of the AeroPress Go. It hasn’t been completely reinvented or seen any revolutionary modifications. Rather, it’s simply an AeroPress that packs into a 15oz mug for travel. It still brews the same cup of coffee, and it’s not meant to replace the original; the two exist alongside each other in the company’s lineup.

the AeroPress isn’t well suited to brewing massive cups of coffee—if that’s what you need to get going in the morning—but don’t let its diminutive size fool you. It’s designed to brew small, concentrated cups, and it does so exceptionally well. Personally, I like to make an extra strong brew and then dilute it with some water after, yielding an Americano.

The AeroPress Go comes with a generous 350 paper filters, and a replacement pack of 350 costs just $5. They’re very reasonably priced when compared to filters for other common brewers, work great, and have a tiny footprint. And it’s entirely possible to reuse your paper filters several times, just by giving them a quick rinse in between batches.

All that said, it’s worth considering picking up a reusable metal filter for your AeroPress or AeroPress Go if you plan to use it regularly. The one pictured above is a fine DISK filter from Able Brewing. At $15, it may be half the cost of an entire AeroPress kit, but it’ll last you a lifetime if properly cared for, and also means you won’t create unnecessary waste with each cup.

Aeropress Go Review: Is Smaller also Better?

Review: The AeroPress Go Is the Better AeroPress (Even If You Don’t Travel)

 

Coffee in the… Well, Sorta Wilderness

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

Nick and I had a desire to go on a simple camping trip for one night. We packed up and went to a campsite on Lake Ray Roberts, not very far north of the city. It wasn’t much of a wilderness adventure – but sometimes it’s a good thing to get out and sleep on the ground. I rode my bike around the paved trails in the state park – the route was surprisingly hilly. It also was pretty cold at night. I’m getting old.

But the best thing is making coffee in the morning. My trusty Aeropress and a burner makes a nice cup of Joe.

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

Oh, and I have discovered that there is a new Aeropress available – a travel version that collapses down into its own self-contained coffee cup.

I think I need to get me one of those bad boys.

 

Black As Night Sweet As Sin

“Black as night, sweet as sin.”
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

My coffee thermos.

Everybody gripes about Internet Ads and the little windows that pop up when you’re trying to find out who won the game last night.We are all bothered about lack of privacy in the online world. However, sometimes, you do find something interesting. When Firefox opens, a thing called Pocket throws up a bunch of article links that, I assume, some supercomputer somewhere examines your history and suggests especially for you. This is disturbing, yes, but sometimes these links can be interesting.

One the other day caught my eye. It was a semi-scolarly article about Coffee Naps. It talked about how caffeine competes with adenosine for receptors in your brain and if you take a twenty-minute nap right after you drink a cup of Joe – the receptors “open up” and allow the caffeine to work better. The upstart of this is that caffeine and a nap together is better than caffeine or a nap without the other.

So when I hit “publish” on this blog entry, I’m going to get my coffee (made in my Aeropress, of course) sip it down, and take a nap. Then get back up and go for a bike ride.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Opposites DO Attract: Coffee Naps, The Bulletproof Power Nap, Explained

Coffee Nap: Can Caffeine Before a Nap Boost Energy Levels?

I Tried a “Coffee Nap” Every Morning For a Week and It Changed My Life

A coffee nap? I tried it. Here’s how it went for me.

Science Says ‘Coffee Naps’ Are Better Than Non-Caffeinated Ones

How to Take a Coffee (Power) Nap The Right Way

A productivity expert says coffee naps — ‘nappuccinos’ — changed his life. Here’s how.

How to Take the Perfect Coffee Nap

 

 

The Smell That Separates Night From Day

“The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day.”
Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 

 

Aeropress, from Williams Sonoma

Ok, I have a thing for gadgets… we’ve talked about this before. Sometimes… not very often but sometimes… a gadget is worth it. I think this one is.

Some history first.

When I was a kid, my parents made a pot of coffee every day in a percolater – the worst way to make coffee in the world. It is a machine that re-heats coffee over and over, burning it, and jetting it up a pipe and off a translucent glass doohicky to bounce down onto a ring of ancient pre-ground robusta coffee. I remember my parents wouldn’t even have proper filters – sometimes they’d use toilet paper to line the perforated metal ring. What a godawful mess. Still, you have to forgive them, they knew not what they did. Plus, as a kid I didn’t have to drink the stuff and the process of heating and bubbling and shooting up looked and sounded cool and even smelt nice up until until the coffee burned.

As a more modern style of human I’ve never had a percolater but I’ve made coffee in a lot of different ways – drip, cold brew, Moka Pot (nice because it is essentially a bomb on your cooktop), espresso machine (cheap useless home machine), Keruig (coffee maker from hell), pour over…. My favorite was the French Press – easy, good, simple. I have fresh beans and an electric burr coffee grinder. But even a French Press has a fatal flaw – it is so hard to clean out. It was so bad I had taken to going out in the back yard and squirting out the grounds with a hose.

So I was still searching for the perfect way to brew a cup of coffee. Up until three days ago I had no idea such a thing existed. It does… it’s called an Aeropress.

I had an Amazon  gift card left over from my birthday and was looking for something that I would like but that I wouldn’t spend real money on. I have followed a group of folks that get up before dawn – ride to a common location on bicycles and then prepare coffee. That seemed somehow weird and attractive to me so I did a little research. I came across references to the Aeropress as the best portable way to make coffee. The descriptions though… “like a giant hypodermic” … “forcing hot liquid through a small paper filter”…”invented by a man who designed ring-shaped frisbees” … simply didn’t sound too appetizing. But, references to the thing kept coming through my computer from various directions (though I had never actually seen one) until I clicked on the “BUY IT NOW” button – as much for curiosity as anything else.

While I waited my long eighteen hours for it to arrive I started looking at Youtube videos on how to use the thing and on why it’s the best coffee maker ever. There are thousands of Youtube videos. People are nuts over the thing. There are international competitions to find who has the best way of making coffee in the thing. There are two main schools of thought – the “regular” method and the “inverted” method – with a thousand other variations of coffee type, grind, water temperature, filter type, filter pre-moistening (or not), stirring (or tamping), immersion times, extracting pressure… on and on. Despite all this brouhaha one message kept being repeated – even if you do it wrong… it’s still pretty good (that’s what she said).

So the box arrived and I took it out and made my first cup of coffee. And it was fantastic. It really does make great coffee. And it isn’t hard at all. All the picky details in the videos really don’t amount to a hill of arabica. Once you have the thing in front of you it’s all obvious.

For the record, I like the inverted method (because I can immerse the grounds a little longer without the coffee dripping into the cup) and the paper filter (which I discovered can be re-used over and over – for no particular reason). I’ve made hot black coffee – it comes out of the filter stronger than usual and can be diluted a lot with hot water and still make a decent cup. The hot concentrate can be poured over ice for a nice cold drink or mixed with milk for a passable latte – like beverage.

It is small and amazingly portable. Some of the Aeropress kits come with a tote bag – but that looks flimsy and I have a nice nylon zippered bag I bought at Goodwill for a buck that it fits perfectly. I’m going to go on a pre-dawn bike ride with the thing and carry it with a thermos full of hot water. Make some coffee somewhere and watch the sun come up. Really.

But the best thing… the very best thing… the thing that puts the Aeropress over the finish line a hundred yards over any other coffee maker… is the cleanup. Once you’re done, you remove the filter cap and give the plunger one last push and the coffee grounds pop out in a “puck” right into the trash. Quick rinse and you’re done. No fuss, no mess. Five seconds tops. That, my friends, is a game-changer.

So, if you like coffee… if you drink coffee… don’t hesitate – buy an Aeropress. They are available everywhere and the price seems consistent at twenty-nine bucks. The best gadget for making coffee. I promise.

 

 

 

All Work And No Play Make Jack A Dull Boy

Yesterday, I wrote about riding my bike and drinking coffee. I really like my little thermos that I bought years ago at a gift shop called Plum (now sadly gone) off Magazine Street in New Orleans. It is small and has a cool leather wrap printed with graphics inspired by The Shining.

 

It’s pretty cool and keeps the coffee pretty hot.

My coffee thermos.

Bad Coffee Is Better Than No Coffee

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”
David Lynch

My Xootr Swift Folding Bike, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

I had a tough winter – my allergies, despite my best efforts, knocked me out. The worst part of it was I have not been able to ride my bike as much as I wanted to and have lost a lot of fitness. So now I’m working on the long road back.

One thing that I have found is that I especially enjoy riding my bike if I have a destination. It’s no good to always be riding to a store or a restaurant or a brewery… so sometimes I create my own destination. For the three day holiday weekend I decided to get up as early as I can (which is not always particularly early), pack up what I need, and then ride out to some spot where I can stop for coffee, breakfast, read my Kindle, and maybe write a bit. I decided to ride my Xootr Swift folding bike – it is perfect for short rides.

I didn’t plan on riding very far, maybe five miles or so around the ‘hood, the weather is already getting hot, the wind hard from the south – but otherwise it was a beautiful day.

The only problem with this plan is the amount of stuff that I have to put together for such a simple thing.

  • Thermos of coffee
  • Bottle of iced water
  • Breakfast burrito
  • Kindle
  • Notebook
  • Fountain Pen
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • Helmet
  • Cycling Glasses with mirror
  • Reading glasses (my cycling glasses aren’t bifocals)

And it goes on and on. It took a long time to get everything ready… too long… and I forgot some things. So now, I make a checklist, make a pack with what I can put some stuff together ahead of time. The best part, though, is to plan where I’m going tomorrow morning.

Stuff on a picnic table in Huffhines Park, Richardson Texas.

 

We Are A Nation Which Cannot Remember Its Dreams

“Every reiteration of the idea that _nothing matters_ debases the human spirit.

Every reiteration of the idea that there is no drama in modern life, there is only dramatization, that there is no tragedy, there is only unexplained misfortune, debases us. It denies what we know to be true. In denying what we know, we are as a nation which cannot remember its dreams–like an unhappy person who cannot remember his dreams and so denies that he does dream, and denies that there are such things as dreams.”
― David Mamet, Writing in Restaurants: Essays and Prose

Downtown McKinney Texas


Oblique Strategy:
Retrace your steps

John Scalzi wrote critically about writing in a coffee shop:

You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop, you know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said “Looking For Sex.” Go home, why don’t you. Just go.

He expanded this simple idea into a book, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

He’s not wrong, of course. There can be a certain stuckuppishness about going to the coffee shop to write – either with a laptop or with a Moleskine.

With me, however, it’s different. I like to go to coffee shops sometimes, I like to drink coffee that someone else makes for me sometimes… and I write wherever I go.

For years, a long time ago, I took my son Lee to two hours of art lessons every Saturday morning. While I was waiting for him, I’d go to a nearby Starbucks with my laptop and write. I developed the ability to nurse one Venti coffee for two hours. In addition to getting two hours or writing done in an otherwise wasted window of time I perfected the writer’s ability to listen in to stranger’s conversations without looking at them.

This particular Starbucks was always crowded on Saturday mornings and the conversations were usually interesting. It seems that the main topic was to beg forgiveness and seek redemption for what had been done in passionate error on Friday night. There were some interesting stories floating around.

So I view Starbucks not as a coffee seller (which is good because their coffee is awful) but as an office rental space. For the price of an overly expensive cuppa Joe you get an office, internet connection, and conference room (if needed) for a couple hours. Good deal if you ask me.

Tonight I needed to finish a short story but there was too much going on at the house. I needed to be left alone for a few pages, at least. So I packed up and headed out to a coffee shop not far from our house. Of course, in my neighborhood you won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations, they are in too many different languages.

But at any rate, three hours and one Venti later, my story was done. And I didn’t care who saw me typing and didn’t worry that absolutely nobody noticed me.