Develop a Coffee Ritual
Whenever I begin to talk with someone about coffee I always ask, “What do you look for in your coffee?” My aim is to find people’s preference in terms of flavor and roast profile, so I can better guide them to their ideal cup, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Often, the response I’ll get sounds something like, “I want my coffee to wake me up.” Fair enough, but let’s make something abundantly clear right off the bat: coffee has caffeine, and in the vast majority of situations, caffeine, when ingested, will wake you up. If I asked you what you look for in a car, odds are low that you’d stop talking after “I want it to take me places.” You’d probably have a thought or two about storage capacity. Fuel efficiency and reliability would probably make appearances, too, but when it really comes down to it, a true connoisseur can pontificate for hours about an ideal driving experience. In coffee, just as with cars, there’s no need to settle for a gas-means-go mentality.
The ritualized coffee experience
Now that we’ve gotten the strictly utilitarian aspect of coffee out of the way, let’s make this conversation about the aroma, feel, and flavor of the coffee you are drinking. Let’s talk about creating your own ritual and savoring every sip.
By definition, a ritual is a solemn ceremony that consists of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. We could all use a few more moments of solemnity in our lives, and what better way than to fit them in while enjoying your favorite cup of stimulants? Here are a couple examples of classic coffee rituals from which to draw some inspiration:
Ethiopian coffee ceremony. It begins with roasting the coffee so the aroma of the roasting coffee permeates the room. The freshly roasted beans are crushed with a mortar and pestle then spooned into a jebena, an Ethiopian and typically clay coffee pot. Water is added, and the jebena is place on a fire to heat to near boiling.
- The coffee is served in a social setting where the guests and host drink the brew and visit with one another. The coffee is served with a healthy dose of sugar.
- After drinking the initial cup of coffee, more water is added to the jebena, not more ground coffee. The second serving is drunk, and water is again added without adding more coffee. This third cup is said to bestow a blessing.
- This ceremony is a social event and lasts two or three hours.
Arabian or Turkish coffee ceremony. A social ceremony intended to honor a special guest, in this ceremony pulverized coffee, often with ground cinnamon or cardamom, is added to sweetened water in an ibrik or cezve, which is a small, traditionally copper or brass coffee pot. The mixture is heated to near boil in a specific fashion three times.
- The sweetness of the coffee served in this ceremony is determined by the guest. The more joyful the events, the sweeter the brew.
- While it is not considered an insult if a second cup is refused, it is definitely good for the guest to accept more.
Developing your own coffee ritual
The thing to notice in both of the preceding ceremonies is they are coffee rituals centered around social events. As a coffee enthusiast, I like my coffee rituals to focus on the coffee itself. The ritual I describe below can certainly be used to enhance a social event, but it can also be a great way to lend some solemnity to hectic mornings and calm you before your daily commute.
The first thing to do is brew the coffee well. Make things even more special by using a brew method that is different from your everyday brew method; you can even select a special coffee. I designate 45 minutes to an hour just for my coffee ritual, which I enjoy at least once a week. Think of it as meditation, but you also get to enjoy a good cup of coffee with your enlightened state of mind. My ritual:
- I prepare the items that I will need for brewing and drinking, and begin heating the water.
- I measure and grind the coffee. Grinding is done by hand, with an antique Zassenhaus Mokka grinder. I use this because it is very tactile; I can feel the beans crunching and crumbling, allowing me to become more in touch with the coffee-making process.
- I prepare the brewer, a Clever Dripper immersion brewer. Pouring boiling water through it preheats the brewer and washes away impurities.
- I then add the ground coffee and begin the brew cycle.
- Once the brewing is complete, I always let the fresh coffee rest for a moment. When you do this, you can contemplate the curling steam as it rises or stare into the dark ambrosia you’ve brewed.
- The initial taste—a quick slurp that sprays coffee all across the palate, creating an aerosol distribution of the aromas—allows me to take note of the smells, tastes, and general mouth feel of the coffee. Repeat this a couple of times. Are there any specific flavors that come to mind?
- After some reflection, I relax and enjoy the cup in its entirety, while remaining mindful of the changes in the brew as it goes through its life cycle, as it cools.
In a group environment, we’d discuss all of these processes, from grinding to how the coffee changes over the time it takes to drink. The experience is highly sensual whether or not it’s shared.
Coffee is about the flavor experience, not just the burst of energy you get from being caffeinated. Whether you’re trying to add a little more calm to your morning commute or truly enjoy a special roast you picked up, a coffee ritual that makes you more mindful of each part of the experience can only heighten the taste of the brew. I want everyone to have the best coffee experience possible, but a well roasted bean can only take you so far. Build your own ritual, and drink up.