Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Morning Coffee & Writing Ritual

I've been fine-tuning my morning writing ritual since 2008. I like writing in the morning, preferably by the light of an oil lamp if it's the wee hours, and the coffee is as much a part of the process as the ink and notebook. 

Sometimes, I have tea. Sometimes, I'm in a car. Sometimes, I'm at a picnic table in a campground. Sometimes it's in a cafe. Sometimes, I don't write at all-- but that's quite rare these days. 

I call it a ritual rather than a routine because I have such a reverence for the block of time I spend making my the coffee and then writing. It helps me think. It helps me stay sane. It helps me figure things out, get grounded. It's a meditation practice. I've called the writing "morning crazy talk" and "morning dump." I go to sleep pretty excited about my morning dump. Maybe that's what helps me wake up early without an alarm: the anticipation for this rather pleasurable ritual.

There might be a few days every month or two when I do not do the morning writing, either by choice or by chance. Those days make me treasure my ritual even more.

My mode of coffee-ing has varied from making Vietnamese-style drip coffee with condensed milk, to using a French press, to a moka, to making cowboy coffee. This pourover method is the latest, and I have a feeling it's going to stick.

I take this ritual with me wherever I go. Friends expect to see me with my coffee kit now when I roll into town.  

Electric kettles only recently entered my life. And oh, how fantastic they are. I thought I wouldn't prefer them over a regular kettle, but I do. I do.

I fill it to the count of 20.

This particular kettle is in the Noble Hotel staff kitchen for NOLS instructors (and interns) passing through Lander.

This is the travel kit this time around:

- a manual coffee mill (babysitting it...)
- #4 drip cone and paper filter
- my favorite mug
- whole coffee beans

I keep a small amount of beans in the tin, and the rest in an airtight container. Freshness is key to good coffee. Along with process.

I use two tablespoons (sometimes heaping) of whole beans for an 8-9 ounce cup of coffee.

These beautiful beans are from Dark Horse Coffee Roasters in San Diego. I'd tell you which one it is, but you really should go down to your local roaster/coffee shop and check out their beans. Another favorite is Raxakoul in Berkeley.

Dark Horse has a shop in Truckee now. All the more reason to hang out in Donner Pass next summer.

So, I cultivate particularities. Such as this.

I like to fold the seams of my coffee filter so that it rests more snugly in the drip cone.
I'm not sure it actually works, but it gives me good feelings.
By the time I've gathered my coffee bits and folded my filter, the water has come to a boil.

I pour some into the cup to warm it.
I wet and warm the paper filter. I like to think it helps ease away paper flavors, and that it allows the coffee to flow through more tastily.

This process is much easier than a French press when camping because there's no need to wash anything.

I'm not sure whether the mass manufacture of these recycled, biodegradable filters uses more or less water than it would take for me to rinse out a re-usable filter each day. Thoughts?

While the water eases off the boil, I quickly grind the coffee.

I've counted the number of turns it takes. On average, it takes around 70 turns for my morning cup.

It is easiest to grind with the mill between your thighs.

Go head, snicker.
After I open the grinder, I usually take a deep, glorious whiff of the freshly ground beans. It's one of the best parts of the whole process.

I put the coffee into the cone and slowly pour in just enough hot water to soak them, watching the lovely, pale brown "bloom" appear.
When there is a creamy bloom such as this, I know the coffee is going to be good.

Once it subsides, I try my best to pour in the rest of the 8ish ounces in a slim stream, making sure to create turbulence all around the cone (more frothiness!). This part of the process can be mesmerizing, so be careful not to overfill the cone. This will lead to some over extraction or a weak cup, not to mention possible spillage.

It's happened to me a couple of times.

And then, voila. You have your cup. And it is beautiful.

My cup has a patina (stains). Please don't let that distract you from the fact that this is delicious.

Don't sip it too much too soon, though. You'll burn your tongue. And that will be sad.
I carefully take the steaming cup of coffee to my designated morning writing area, where I reverently take a few sips.

Then, the crazy talk begins.

The red hanky is there because I'm afraid of dripping ink on the table. I write with india ink of various colors. The pen is a wooden chopstick that I drilled a hole into. I wrapped it in electrical tape for grip. The notebook is from Art Alternatives.

And there it is. My mornings (mostly). I hope you create/nurture a ritual of your own that nourishes you. Maybe it doesn't involve writing, maybe it does. Maybe it involves caffeine, maybe it doesn't. What I do know, after six years of doing this, is that it feels really good to have at least a little time and space with your thoughts in the morning.

I started with just one page in a wide-rule notebook, and maybe twenty minutes. It all starts somewhere. All it takes it starting.

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