The Aesthetics of Coffee


When I was little, I would beg my dad to let me make his coffee after he got up from his afternoon nap. He’d always get up before dawn to get work done before my sisters and I arrived “on the scene,” as he’d say. So a coffee post afternoon nap was necessary (as was the pot of coffee in the morning pre-dawn).

I loved making coffee: filling up the carafe with water (two cups on the carafe equaled one of my dad’s mugs), taking out the old grinder, measuring out just the right number of beans, covering it and pressing the button, shaking and grinding for exactly 30 seconds (count them!). Then pulling out a fresh paper filter (always brown, never bleached) and folding the edges just so in order for it to fit in the basket. Scoop out the grinds – one for every cup, plus one “for the pot.” And then the clicks: the clicking down of the lid after filling the water reservoir, the click of the filter basket closing, and the last few clicks of the carafe sliding into place before the click of the “on” button and the glowing red light signifying magic was about to happen.

Slowly, the smell of coffee would permeate our kitchen as the water percolated through the machine and dripped into the carafe: what a delicious smell, so extraordinary, so luxurious, so different from any other smell! Pouring the cup, and just enough half and half.  Nowadays my dad drinks his coffee black, but back then it was hypnotizing to watch the colors swirl together, the dark liquid turning shades of tan as it swirled together, like a moving picture of the galaxies we’d study in school.

Once I took a sip of the coffee before giving it to him, and my magical coffee world came crashing down around me.

How could something so wonderful, so amazing, so satisfying to prepare taste SO VILE???

My dad smiled, and told me it was “an acquired taste.”

Over the years growing up, I decided it wasn’t worth my effort to acquire the taste for coffee. I was content with the process of preparing the coffee for my parents, and watching them sip the bitter brew.

In high school, my older sister started drinking coffee and would beg my mother for a few dollars to buy a latte before school at our student-run coffee shop (“Why on earth would you pay two dollars for something you can get at home?” was always my mother’s response).

But I, I just coveted those students who got to make the coffee (the job title “barista” had not made it to my hometown yet). I would look for summer jobs in coffee shops around town – the best cafe was fittingly called “The Coffee Shop,” where my friends and I would sit for hours playing ERS and sipping chai lattes (what I wished coffee tasted like). But none of the coffee shops would hire me – not because I didn’t like the taste of coffee (I never got far enough to tell them that), but because they needed someone who could work longer than a three-month-long summer.

It wasn’t until college, when I got a position as a barista in the college coffee shop, that my world changed. I discovered the art of making espresso, tasting the deliciously nutty shots, making the perfect steamed milk. I spent several years working in coffee shops, and over that time developed a taste for the deliciousness of coffee in addition to the added pleasures of preparing (and drinking) espresso drinks. I never let myself get too addicted to caffeine though: it is a powerful addiction that sneaks up on you. I’d switch to decaf early on in my shifts when no one was looking, and I’d often take “weeks off” from drinking coffee entirely. My coworkers thought I was crazy, and I probably was. It only takes a week for coffee’s addiction to leave your system, but it’s one of the hardest weeks ever.

Now, I look back at my relationship with coffee and I realize that for me, drinking the coffee has always been an afterthought. More important was the preparation: the ritual of measuring beans, grinding them, foaming milk, pouring the mug, and serving it to others (or later wrapping my hands around my own mug to smell the steam). It’s the ritual of coffee.

The ritual was always more important, that is, until this past week. I’ve woken up every morning with a foggy head and pressure that has lead me to cup my head in my hands at the kitchen table while David fixed his breakfast and cry out “Why does my head HURT so much??” as the hot water kettle rattled away heating my water for my French-press coffee.

This morning it hit me: I think it’s time to de-caffeinate and start over. I’ve never done this without still getting to experience the ritual of making coffee for others. Next week is going to be a long week. I think I’ll miss the ritual the most.


The above photo is of my friend A’s coffee that she made me one morning while I was visiting her on vacation. It was one of the best homemade espressos I’ve ever had!

4 Comments to “The Aesthetics of Coffee”

  1. mmmm i had no idea you brewed coffee. It’s cool to read about the ritual process of making coffee, and its importance to you. For me, it is almost a ritual process in drinking it- that I want it in a ceramic cup, for here, that I like to watch the pour over process. I don’t want to rush drinking it, or to have it while doing something else. Sometimes, I even get to hear a bit about the coffee, its origins and the barista’s opinion of it.

    i just went to dwell time earlier today, they have this new technique for making pour overs, its pretty good. also, seems that cambridge is on the map for artisan coffees I’ve been learning more about different coffees and roasters and the process at Voltage.

    • Thanks Kawan. There is just so much that is wonderful about coffee! I appreciate the link as well – I had heard of Hi Rise’s new place, but not dwell time or RJ Gourmet. I will have to check them out! I too have a favorite ritual for drinking coffee: my all-time favorite way to drink most coffees is in a white ceramic cup with handle and saucer, a small teaspoon, and an amaretto or other small cookie to cleanse the palate at the end. I particularly enjoy coffee with friends. Delicious! It’s probably my favorite since I rarely have time for it, and don’t have a cup/saucer of my own. Someday… :)

  2. What a wonderful description of the experience with coffee! Thanks for sharing the memories, perceptions, and emotions. How amazing these common routines truly are …! Love, Dad

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