Coffee as Myth and Poetry

The seed is sleek, glossy, and resembles red grapes somewhat, or cherries, and is swollen from the sun and the rain. Along the latitudes of our planet that are the hottest, it grows along the branches of the coffea shrub. It contains caffeine, which is poisonous to some grazing animals but attractive to pollinators, who carry the genetic material contained in the seed from shrub to shrub, and thusly does the dance of the generations go. None of it coordinated. All of it happening, as it were, because it must, because it works, because it stands the test of selection. 

Coffee - the roasted version, finely ground, over which water is poured, water which gathers the phenolics from the grounds and which colors the water mahogany and renders it intensely aromatic, and, especially at first try, hideously flavorful - just so happens to grip us in the much the same way it grips the fumbling fat-bees who spread the coffea shrub around. It compels us. It is seductive. This is fascinating in-itself, because it tastes awful, and Post Cereals used to lie to us about how poisonous it was (coffee is poisonous only insofar as water is poisonous, or the air we breathe), and yet, if we give coffee the chance, it grows on us. We quit screwing our faces up when we taste it. We begin to notice the roast-flavors, the maillardization, the cacao and the mineral and the loam and the Cuban tobacco hints. We begin to appreciate the zing, the pep, the brio we soon feel after drinking it down. We ask for more. We pay for more. We soon feel, sometimes only a few months after having first gagged it down and become habitual sippers, that we can’t live without it - that coffee has opened up some new territory in our minds, that we possess some new capability for paying attention and doing the hard work of writing, or learning, of really “diving deep” into a book or a jazz record, say, or that we possess some new capacity for being productive in an occupational sense. We feel augmented.  

 

And, of course, addicted. We hear-tell that to “come off” an extended reliance on coffee is to experience disorienting headaches, and to, ironically, lose the very focus that made the beverage so vaunted in our estimation in the first place. One even hears, occasionally, and usually from some mythomaniac relative who claims to know who killed Kennedy, or what will happen to Ghislaine, that quitting coffee once caused some poor citizen to go on a shooting spree, or to burst spontaneously into flame. This writer has never experienced any such effects in quitting coffee - though, admittedly, I’ve had very few moments in my adult life where a cold glass of Mendehling or Yirgacheffe or Antigua was not at my elbow. I did quit twice, though, and never suffered from any deleterious effects. I only found myself missing it - which, I suppose, is only making the claim differently. 

 

In these early decades of the 21st Century there has grown up around us a sense, rather unpoetic and stentorian, that we must, every one of us, steel ourselves against anything irregular - that we must not let our children play outside, for instance, because it’s “dangerous,” that we must block each day of their young lives into time schedules, that we must wear our seatbelts whenever we drive, that we must watch what we say, to the extent that, if we are unsure as to whether what we utter may offend one single, and often conjectural, person, then we shouldn’t say it. As we all live, to some degree or another, under this austere cloud, it may sound strange for you, dear reader, to hear us laud coffee to the degree that we embrace its addictive qualities. That, if we are in the business of selling pour-over coffee to all and sundry, we shouldn’t mention how on-edge your teeth can set when you go without it. But what are we really telling ourselves when we buy into the lessons of our censorious age, when a word spoken rashly can end a career, when your auto insurance company that spies on your driving habits (with our unwilling consent) can raise your rates for not wearing a seatbelt, when your neighbors judge you harshly should you allow your child to play according to his or her own proclivities? What we are really doing is denying that life is ugly, short, hard and painful, and that it may not have any point at all aside from what we imbue it with. In other words, we deny that we need all the help we can get in getting through it with anything like a sense of achievement and pride, a sense of wonder and curiosity. We deny that we need coffee, in other words, as we need music, as we need the arts, as we need the messy dynamics of companionship.  

 

 At the risk of belaboring the argument to the point of casuistry, to the point of running the treads bald, we claim that coffee is myth. That coffee is poetry. We give all for it. We spend far too much money on it than is perhaps sensible. It becomes a part of us, in much the same way that reading Crime and Punishment for the first time changes our way of thinking about justice, in much the same way as when, upon entering The Gardner Museum for the first time, the sight of J.S. Sargent’s El Jaleo arrests the imagination and causes tears to brim over, as the contemplation of the majesty, mystery and pain of human artifice comes into poignant focus. (How can such an extraordinary piece of art come into being, for instance, and how sad is it that it can only happen once in just that way, and that many other works similar to it die before they are ever born, when the person who might have created them is instead stuck behind a desk, or behind a gas pump, or dead at their own hand before they might have made a real go of it?) Coffee is both a tool and a piece of art in itself. It empowers us, though it comes with a cost, as all things do that benefit us. We must again believe in costs if we are to fully appreciate the incredible liberational potential of coffee. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our thirst. Life is hard, and it can end at any time. Many of us need a beverage as flavorful and aromatic and potent as coffee, as, paradoxically, healthy as coffee (coffee has not been proven, when consumed black, as it should be, to do any harm to our health), in order to clear a space in our daily lives broad enough for focus and appreciation, when so much about our daily lives serves to distract us, to make us docile and obedient. 

Finally, the myth, like all good myths, points us to the future. A future where we finish our work efficiently and with a certain measure of pride. A future where we, as the rain slashes the windows outside, can better appreciate a piece of music. A future where, once the masks can come off again, we sit across from someone we find irresistible and have a meaningful conversation - with twin cups steaming at our elbows. It is wonderful that Kaldi, so long ago, noticed how high his goats got when they munched the ripe seeds of wild coffea shrubs. We are the beneficiaries of that keen observation, as we are the beneficiaries of so many more phenomena that we never notice, and are never compelled to feel thankful for. 

 

Thank you so much for your attention. In our next piece, we’ll meet Jason, Just Pour’s founder and operator, and learn a bit more about him, and the purpose of his company. 

For now, please allow us to cordially welcome you to Just Pour. Let us all enjoy this delicious and utterly amazing beverage together, shall we?

 

Written by

Brett Crehan

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