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.

Twenty Years Ago

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

Downtown Dallas, from the 2017 Dallas Tweed Ride

Oblique Strategy:(Organic) machinery

I was cleaning up the directory structure on my laptop and happened upon some more of my old journal that I put online (these were the days before blogs) starting in 1996. I wrote every day for ten years or so. I navigated to December 17, 1997, exactly twenty years ago. This is what I wrote then.

—————————

The morning cup of coffee has an exhiliration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.
—-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

I managed to get almost all of my most pressing stuff caught up so I took a half day of vacation this afternoon.

I braved the stores and bought an espresso maker to give to Candy for Christmas. I hope it’s alright. There’s eighteen gazillion different kinds of these things: steam pressurized, pump pressurized, Braun, non-Braun, cheap, expensive, built-in grinders, plastic, metal, with and without Stainless Steel Frothing Pitchers, even a tiny backpacking model. I finally decided on one with an Automatic Froth Generator – whatever the hell that means. It is my hope that this will make the construction and blending of a proper Cafe Latte easier. I believe this is the concoction she purchases at Starbucks.

I only hope the damn thing doesn’t explode.

Candy went to pick up the kids and I hid her present ’til I can get enough courage to wrap it (wrapping paper and I don’t mix neatly). We were going to surprise the children with the fact that I was home from work early. Candy called, though, and said that since the day was so nice the kids wanted to go to the park. I decided to finally dust off the old mountain bike and ride down to surprise them there.

Man, am I out of shape. It felt good to ride again after so long, but my legs were rubber and my chest was heaving.

It appears that I will join the rude crowd, the mass of lemmings, and get on the New Year’s resolution train; joining a new health club and trying to whip my lazy aging carcass into some sort of presentable shape by spring. Wish me luck.

—————————

So things have changed and they have stayed the same. You forget how strange and new the idea of espresso coffee was only twenty years ago. Candy bought herself a Keurig this year. I am still struggling to ride my bike – though I do better now.

And I still can’t giftwrap worth a crap.

Their Prowess is Potent

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time.
The green light flashes, the flags go up.
Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup.
They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank,
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank.
Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns.
Their prowess is potent and secretly stern.
As they speed through the finish, the flags go down.
The fans get up and they get out of town.
The arena is empty except for one man,
Still driving and striving as fast as he can.
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
And long ago somebody left with the cup.
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns.
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns.
—-Cake, The Distance

Bicycle Drag Race, Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge (Large Marge), Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: It is quite possible (after all)

I was sitting at a bar, I had a few minutes to kill before my meeting, drinking a cup of coffee. This was in the cold, dark, heart of urban hipsterdom. There were two millennial women sitting near me, talking with the bartender/barista loud enough and close enough I could hear clearly.

They were discussing “old people.” I could have interrupted and said something, but I did not – they were enjoying themselves too much.

What I could have said was, “You know that old man you see every day shuffling down the sidewalk, using a cane to keep from falling into the street, head bowed, moving with incredible difficulty as if he was walking through a sea of invisible molasses. You see him and wonder where he is going, why he is using such energy for so little purpose; you wonder why he even bothers to get out of bed – that is if you think of him at all.

Now you see that sixteen year old boy shooting hoops, jumping high, not a care in the world.

Remember, they are the same people. Those are simply two points on one line. In his head, the old man is still the sixteen year old boy. It’s hard to understand, hard to believe, impossible for you to comprehend, but undoubtedly true.”

Cause he’s going the distance.
He’s going for speed.
She’s all alone
In her time of need.
—-Cake, The Distance

Daily Writing Tip 41 of 100, The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Imagination Works Slowly and Quietly

Source – If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland

Now some people when they sit down to write and nothing special comes, no good ideas, are so frightened that they drink a lot of strong coffee to hurry them up, or smoke packages of cigarettes, or take drugs or get drunk. They do not know that good ideas come slowly, and that the more clear, tranquil and unstimulated you are, the slower the ideas come but the better they are.

Good advice… I guess. Still like my coffee, though.