Mornings are not what they used to be. Not since our local coffee shop closed. Not since Mary and I switched back to coffee from tea. And especially not since I began the ritual of the pour-over.
“What’s the pour-over,” you ask? And so glad you did.
Pour-over a method of brewing coffee. The rage some might say. Better-for-you others might say. We found it when Mary and I started paying more attention, read a piece about all the bad stuff swirling around in our French press, bad enough to get us to try something new, to buy the Chemex and filters, to read-up on the process, even watch a Youtube or two, follow along with baristas from Seattle and New York telling me exactly what to do for that perfect cup. What I didn’t see coming is the Zen of the pour-over.
My first exposure to the method some forty years ago, when first working as an assistant in a photo studio. Tony Filipe a large format commercial photographer with a single-word sign over his desk — Keep it Simple! Burnished letters on a small piece of carefully cut matte board. Life lessons when and where we least expect them. A Letraset lesson. Tony’s eye for simple beauty in a set-up delivered loyal clients. We worked on the second floor of a renovated A Street mill building near US Shaving Headquarters, but more importantly, across from The Channel where we once danced into the night with George Clinton. In this first real job, my day started the same way — simple. Bike ride to open Tony’s studio. Make the coffee. Expose the film and make the day.
“You have to pour it slowly,” Tony would plead. I don’t think I did — pour slowly. At twenty-five, engine hot, there’s no slow.
“Got it,” I’d say, never pouring slowly enough.
“You start by wetting the grounds and letting it sit,” he’d say.
“What are we shooting today?” my answer. Moving on. Impatient.
“One thing at a time,” he must have replied.
Twenty-five-year-olds incapable of ‘one thing at a time’. Anathema. ‘Let’s get moving’ our mantra. Easy to see now, decades later, as I try to slow down, take it all in. Time. Life. The simple things, like pour-over in the morning.
Last year, when our local coffee shop closes, owner and friend Allan leaves us with one hint.
“What’s a burr grinder,” my obvious question? Which Mary explains.
“Those other grinders pummel the beans. The burr grinder produces a consistent grind,” Mary explains to her idiot husband.
Of course Mary knows this, and so much more. She living to look-up a new word, to learn, to explore. She spent high-school and college learning, years I spent… well, let’s not get into that. Late bloomer.
My days begin differently now, the pandemic establishing a rhythm never before experienced. No morning alarm. Just eyes open. About six thirty. Thank the heavens for this, for another day on this earth. Another waking breath. I now close my eyes at night looking forward to making that first cup, to pouring near boiling water over freshly burred beans. Who does that? Look forward to the slow pour of one hundred- and ninety-five-degree water over measured grounds. Whom have I become? Not my instant coffee parents.
Yesterday, Mary and I pull into Dunkin for mid-day jolt.
“Ew. That’s horrible,” I say. “Burnt.”
All this pouring turning me into some kind of expert.
“And yours!?! Rancid!!!” I nearly spit.
“Dunkin’s never been any good,” Mary’s response, which might be true, though I couldn’t tell due to abundant use of heart stopping cream masking bad flavor. I remember learning the true cost of a Dunkin cup of coffee — two cents. The donuts much more labor intensive, so the real money comes in coffee. Maybe that the reason for name change to Dunkin’.
“They take the pot off after eight minutes, and if it’s not all gone when the timer goes off, they throw it away. To keep it fresh,” I seem to remember someone telling me when our agency pitched for their business.
“Not today,” I think. “Yuk!”
So my days now begin slowly, pourly, with a nod to perfection, to learning what it means to slow down and watch the day and grounds flower before all the sand flows through my three minute hourglass timer. To paying attention to the little things, to Oat Milk and pre-warmed mugs, to the whistle of boiling water sitting to cool, just enough, then to another five minutes of brewing, to ever so slow flow, to wrapping the Chemex in colorful kitchen towels that lend it to mimic one of Mary’s rare bird sightings. A ticker. Our song-bird whose colorful silence calls in the new day.
“Perfection!” Mary texts from her third floor zoom yoga class. He virtual Jamaican retreat complete with coffee delivered.
Coffee makes all the difference. Pouring over makes the new man.