On Coffee and Choosing the Path of Most Resistance

Yesterday at Colonnades dining hall I tried four different desserts:
  1. A cheesecake in a cup where both filling and crust surely came out of a box marked “instant”
  2. A lemon bar that probably came out of a similarly marked box
  3. A pumpkin pie tart with long strings of canned pumpkin intact
  4. A cinnamon bun, fresh from the can

I hated all of them. I couldn’t take more than a couple bites of each.

None were terrible, but none were remarkable in any way. They had no character, no soul; they were empty, overly sweet, and still had a slight tinge of chemical taste from the factory. And I realized, we’ve gone too far.

We’ve worked so hard to make our lives easy, to freeze dry the tough parts and fit them in a box (just add water!) that we haven’t realized that we’ve removed the soul along with the work. A homemade cheesecake doesn’t just taste better because of the real, fresh ingredients; it tastes better because of the work (and sometimes love) that went into it.

Everything today is digital, disposable, individually wrapped, and cheap. It’s easy, but the joy is gone. I am fighting to regain that joy in my life, the joy of doing things the hard way. I’m learning to love the process as much as the result, and I’m making investments that may seem silly to replace the disposable things in my life.

Last week I decided I would like to occasionally drink coffee in addition to tea. Since I don’t have a coffeemaker in my dorm room, I figured instant was the way to go. So I picked up some “gourmet” instant coffee in fancy little individually wrapped packets. And I hated it. I hated everything about it, from the wasteful packaging to the nowhere-near-coffee taste. I hated it so much that yesterday I went out and bought a French Press.

My French Press is small; I bought it at Starbucks with a gift card. And the process isn’t simple compared to the automated ease most of us are used to. It’s hands-on, and it takes attention to detail to do it perfectly.

The chamber of the french press is warmed with hot water; that water is emptied; course coffee grounds are carefully measured out and added to the chamber; then hot water is slowly added (the water has been boiled and then allowed to cool to just below boiling) first saturating the grounds and then filling to an inch from the top; the floating grounds are turned over to ensure all are exposed to the water; the top is attached with the filter/plunger up; the coffee steeps for about four minutes; then the plunger is slowly lowered, extracting the grounds; and delicious coffee is poured.

And the coffee is delicious; phenomenal, perhaps the best I’ve ever had. It is rich and smooth, powerful, but with subtle nuances. The full character of the roast is captured with intensity and immediacy. In short, it is a truly exceptional cup of coffee, worlds apart from the watered down burnt-tasting brews we often settle for.

I think that we get so caught up in being busy that we miss out on the joy of craftsmanship, the appreciation of quality, and the intense pleasure of a thing done right. These are the things I’ve started to focus on the last few years, and the French Press is the latest extension. Perhaps in this blog I will share a few more of the things that I enjoy, and some of the ways that we can get back in touch with the elegance and simplicity of doing things the hard way, and getting rid of the disposable parts of our lives.

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