Morning's First Beam

94 readings

1

Art detested coffee, as a concept. He, like most overly socially conscious, urbane young professionals, felt righteously indignant on behalf of the underpaid coffee bean pickers and roasters. He couldn’t stand the irritating obsequity with which all his friends — who, by no coincidence, were also all overly socially conscious, urbane young professionals — treated their addictions, repeating pithy self-effacements when it came to their dependent coffee habits. “I’m so addicted,” they will say to Art, as they stand in line at any one of the eerily interchangeable Brooklyn indie coffee shops, “that I drink cold brew, like, twice or even three times a day.” When Art fails to summon whatever degree of shock his friends expect at such a pronouncement, they will ask him, “You know that cold brew is way stronger than regular coffee, right?” Art did know.

What bothered Art most about coffee culture was the way in which the beverage was treated as an art in and of itself, as if the mere act of drinking coffee were some indication of civilized refinement on the same level as the opera. The endless proliferation of Starbucks and its homegrown copycats, all adorned in wood and granite. Those chalkboard signs advertising new “artisanal” and “local” items, as if there were anything really local to be found in New York City. The acoustic folk rock incessantly playing on the coffee shop radios. The hairy young men and tattooed young women who served him, all people who seemed to emanate an aura of, “I’m actually an MIT engineering graduate who’s decided to pursue art instead, but I bet you don’t care.” These all nauseated Art, who hated the fact that he was utterly un-unique in his addiction to coffee, that he and the people in line were like soldiers awaiting rations to be handed out by their officers, the haughty baristas. About a year ago, Art quit the business of standing in line to order his coffee, and he now holes himself and his quiet addiction up in his apartment. He’s got a grinder, a programmable coffee machine, and If You Care Brand Certified Compostable coffee filters. And he likes his system the way it is, thank you very much.

As an addict of some means, Art buys high-dollar coffee, roasts from obscure reaches of the world with packaging that boasts of humane treatment of workers alongside stenciled, earth-tone graphic designs (which designs were always, no matter where he bought the beans, the same on some fundamental, indescribable level). He had reached a routine acceptance: grind the beans en masse after purchase and refrigerate; brew an entire pot of expensive, silky dark coffee each morning; and drink the entire pot over the course of the morning at his desk, absurdly large tanker in hand. This process often saw repetition each afternoon at around 2:17ish PM, when Art would begin to squint and ache and find his eyes sliding out of focus with fatigue. But it was no matter: Art had mastery over the bean. He was in control.

But then, of course, his urbane young professional friends had discovered The French Press, a device that supposedly raised the entire experience of coffee to a “totally different and amazing, like, level, Art; you just gotta get one, stop using that machine. Even my office has switched!” Art wanted no part in a new craze he saw as nothing more than yet another escalation in the Artsiest Coffee Preparation and Consumption War; as fate would have it, unfortunately, at one of Tonya’s recent dinner parties — wherein the main topics of conversation were subtle brags about career advancement and unilateral praise of the latest David Sedaris essay collection that a couple of that night’s guests clearly hadn’t read but exalted anyway — Art had been served dessert and a cup of French Press coffee. It was as Lyle, Art’s unctuous sommelier friend, had put it: love at first sip. Art cursed himself quietly as he savored every drop of the rich, black, jaw-jittering warmth. Before he’d gone to bed that night, Art had placed an order for a 100% Stainless-Steel Triple-Filtration French Press.

This morning, Art wakes with the usual implacable dread and, out of habit, seeks relief by padding over to the coffee machine. Art stares blankly at the inanimate machine, devoid of chemical stimulus or activity, for a solid 30 seconds before realizing that he had begrudgingly switched to the French Press as of today. It took another 13 seconds for the consequences of his conversion to sink in: he had to start making the coffee. From scratch. “Fucking Tonya,” he mutters, nearly tripping on his way to the stove. Art grabs the kettle and moans at the noise the faucet makes when he fills it. The kettle gives off those weird groaning sounds on the stove, while Art, seriously withdrawing, himself groans into his folded arms at the table. One minute, thirty-two seconds pass. The kettle has gone quieter. Art leaps to his feet and almost falls in the process, remembering that part of this new ritual involves grinding the beans fresh.

Stumble to the pantry. Grab beans from the Mason Jar (an aesthetic choice he hates himself for appreciating). Stumble over to grinder. Shakily unscrew jar, spilling some high-dollar beans. Shake beans into grinder, spilling even more high-dollar beans. Grind and endure some highly unpleasant mechanical whirring. Discover that the grinder had been set to too fine a setting for French Press. Deposit grounds into garbage. Ignore pounding head. Reset grinder to “coarse.” Spill more beans. Wince at whirring.

Art almost faints from panic and noise-intolerance when the kettle begins to shriek alongside the grinder, which grinder he now sets down before he runs to the stove to remove the kettle. He grabs his 100% Stainless-Steel Triple-Filtration French Press from the drying rack (Art’s no fool when it comes to post-manufacturing residue on his cookware) and dumps the coarsely-ground, Fair-Trade Certified beans into the press’ bottom. Art then pours the boiling water into the cylinder, and he watches in stuporous fascination as the water swirls with the grounds, immediately turning a rich, turbulent brown. He stirs with a fork, as per the Alton Brown video he had watched last night on proper French Press practice, and he places the toilet plunger-y filter on top. Art then looks at the clock. 5:41 AM. He must wait for four whole minutes for the coffee to steep.

Art is almost weeping with longing. Had he not tasted that stupid cup of delicious joe, he’d be on his couch right now, sipping from his tankard, blissfully warm and chemically satiated. Instead, he had tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and he suffers at the cold kitchen table, staring at the clock and French Press. Art stews in hatred. Hatred of the dinner party and his snobby friends, of David Sedaris and The New Yorker he was going to read this morning, and most especially, hatred of his addiction to this awful, contemptible, damn it, delicious and life-giving drink.

After what feels like an hour, Art places a shaking hand atop the stem of the plunger and gently begins to push. He stares, mesmerized, as the grounds form little whirling patterns in the dark brew beneath the pressure of the Patented Triple Filtration Technology. Coffee brewed, filtered, and at long last ready, Art pours a gentle stream into his tankard. Steam tickles his face. He just barely makes it over to the couch before collapsing into its plush warmth. Art smells. Art sips. Heat and pleasure breath vigor into his soul. Caffeine tingles the long-deprived synapses of his groggy brain, and fog gives way to a trickling awareness. It is, in one angelic word, delicious. A flood of the sweet, potent brew fills his mouth, flushing the scum of sleep. Art stops cursing himself and his coffee. Alone in his apartment, in the dark and on the couch, 5:47 AM on a Tuesday, hopelessly addicted to this empty socialite pleasure... and Art smiles.

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