Discovering notes of flavors in a good cup of coffee has never seemed peculiar to me, not in the least. And it's been a blessing, indeed, the times and places I've heard distinctiveness breathe unabashed while cradled in my hands a cup held music! Albeit nothing more than someone humming as they cut firewood beside the kitchen in a centuries-old home outside of Oberammergau with fat sausages and black bread and mugs of pan-roasted coffee served with fresh cream for breakfast.
Or the sound of a deftly-fingered recorder wandering past and through the less-travelled streets opening back of a tiny café in Florence, an afternoon destination my impromptu guide called home, the association has been indelible: wonderful coffee, honestly prepared and openly enjoyed brought music to mind.
Horns and Timpani, Vivace
Those wonderful coffees didn't come to the foreground assertively. Life held too many marvels, too much to begin to learn, to clumsily try and select between and pursue as only slow seeds of hoped-for wisdom and patience touched dark fields unheeded; coffee held but a niche reserved for the times of solace, precious hours scattered through intervening months and years when I played music of my own, listened to others sing. Those places were less frequented, but they existed first and foremost because of their coffee and my feet brought me there, and my hands took tiny, thick cups of dark coffee and smiles broke across my eyes as I found lovely, distinct notes waiting. A dry chocolate bite twined through by a startlingly unmistakable floral note approaching orchids, sipped and swallowed touched a cellist watching a girl braid wildflowers in my mind's eye.
Absolutely, during the preoccupation of R&D shops in the high desert as jets screamed overhead, to dive boats just outside of enormous kelp forests as the dawn sharpened liquid colors, coffee was companion if never exclusive. A distant tenor with a serviceable bassoon, fresh cups I drank through those years rarely broke through the commercial buttressed access of the name-brand and pre-packaged, though I had some notoriety for an abruptly precipitous foul mood whenever I might find stale coffee in a cold, unwashed pot!
And then the fates sent a memo to coincidence and my world turned sharply on its heel. Time passed unheeded; and slowly, a blank slate, I began a life again...
Flutes and Recorders, Andantino
Fifteen years ago, I walked into a specialty coffee bar that had opened barely a month earlier. The confident girl behind the counter seemed a cheerful priestess to the two-group brass deity bathed in small spotlights on the granite-covered altar, uh, countertop flanked by large black steel machines topped with inverted glass canisters. On shelves flanking them were double-rows of single-serving French presses. And in the background, by the far wall, someone was caressing music from a twelve-string guitar, music the likes of which I'd never heard before. I took a double shot, neat, into my hands, sipped from the heavy, warm enameled cup and swallowed, and smiled. It was a single-origin Kenyan, and the notes in that cup held melodies for my mouth so marvelous that I glanced up to the chuckling voice of the waiting girl and met her eyes.
"It's been a while since you've had a good cup of espresso?"
With care, I set the coffee down, and tried to say something suitable, failed. "Uh, yeah. Years and years."
I determined to find some way to keep at least good quality pre-roasted single-origin coffees in my home as often as possible, those ensuing years. I brewed with a steel percolator on the stove, and didn't mind balancing the grocery budget with rice and beans a little more often. It required real patience and no little luck to escape the cities, but asthma's grip gave no quarter.
It's a quieter life in these mountains. Water boils at about 195 degrees Fahrenheit, and timberline looks close enough to touch on the rising forests outside the kitchen window. Necessity and simplicity and quiet are the prerequisites as my days have time enough to follow the range of a red-tail hawk, if only sometimes the physical resource to walk to the more distant perch and chance to see the hunt.
In a life somewhat removed, I have wealth in such time. And coffees are a given! The penchant to research something that would capture my interest is facilitated to degrees of astonishment as search engines have led me to coffee forums and international resources of opinions, budding technical research, and bulletin boards of enthusiasts and skilled professionals.
Violins, Violas, Trumpet; descant soloist; Vivace, playfully
It's been barely a year since I asked my hands to listen to the distant echoes from marble-walled streets in Italy behind, or down the hill from some duomo or other, but I've begun to roast my own coffee! Accommodating the worst weather, when I began, I'd thought to have a little electric coffee bean roaster to use indoors - but it didn't take long for the white-enameled kitchen to be permeated with, as one neighbor graciously put it, "It's the most lovely dusty-rose color, I suppose, especially if it's a bright day outside?" Meticulously scrubbing the kitchen followed.
The old, heavy steel wok was been pressed into new service outside over a camp stove; and the green beans I can afford rarely cost more than five dollars a pound, delivered - so the grocery budget survives... but the coffee is truly wonderful! The occasional blizzard or three-day rain sees me move the roasting into the garage with ease, humming under my breath. Chaff removal requires nothing more than opening the overhead door and using a hair dryer (no heat) over the cooling beans while they're stirred.
An aluminum stove-top espresso pot was delivering very acceptable service through it all, until the day I was caught up in preparations for a pistol competition. By the time my nose all but screamed at me, I felt lucky I hadn't managed to burn the kitchen down! I paid more attention to the forums as I tried to save up enough in spite of Mr. Murphy's inescapable Laws as the months wandered through the calendar.
Curious about the perceptions of friends in EMS and other emergency services in the area, I brought both PCRS and the sheriff's department some of my home roast this spring. It was about a pound of half Guatemalan and half Kenyan I'd finished two days earlier. With the simple directions to brew one level teaspoon to each cup of water, and not to worry about trying to keep the coffee for more than that day I went back home and all but forgot about it as I was trying to get new drapes finished and hung.
Word reached me circuitously that the coffee was being hoarded! The day shift would make a short pot, and then hide the stash from the night shift! And the sheriff's deputies weren't behaving any better! The problem was, they all wanted me to just roast for them - they weren't even considering doing it themselves! The consensus was the coffee beat anything they'd had, hands down; that mitigated things a bit and had me laughing a little about their dreamt-for convenience.
Spanish guitar and Cellos; Pianissimo
And then, late one night not long thereafter, I got a call from Rescue. A family had lost a loved one to a car accident, and they, as well as close friends and a few near-by relatives, were at Base and would likely be there some hours - could I do anything for about fifteen people?
The two loaves of fresh bread baked earlier that day, some cheeses, a locally-smoked summer sausage, and two pounds of three-day old home roast were a start. Snickerdoodles - I had a dozen and a half in the freezer from the weekend prior. A bag of apples. The whirly-blade coffee mill, some cutlery and plates, and I was out the door.
Rescue Base was pretty crowded. Adding two units from the sheriff's department and another from State Patrol, as well as the second-out night crew and a few others, I was looking at an extra dozen tired, stressed people. A tray of broiled cheese toast, with sliced summer sausage and sliced apples went out next to the thawed cookies just as the first pot of coffee finished. Slowly, the first dozen sipped and nibbled. A few looked up, looked around and came to the tiny kitchen.
They asked about the food, commenting on the coffee. Their eyes held pain that outsiders to such grief can rarely stand even to share a glance, but to see gratitude, to see the simple songs in those cups reach them and help even just a little - I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It ended up being an evening that lasted until the eastern sky held wisps of pink before Base was empty save for the crews and me. I set the last of the coffee to grinding as the crew that had run the accident call came in from cleaning and restocking the first-out rig. The food was gone, hours since, but I had clean ceramic mugs out and waiting.
I never found out all of the details of that call, but when grocery shopping recently, a few members of that family stopped to thank me, and then asked where they could find more of "that coffee." Answers brought more questions, until one of their phones rang. Before they left, they had a card with three sites named on the back, CoffeeGeek on top.
Orchestra and choir, theme; Andante
The longer I live up here, the more I come to understand simple pleasures and ordinary necessities both can occupy the domain of the feasible without intrusive extravagance. You slow down a little when you're a little further off the beaten path; it's sensible to keep pantry dry goods measured in twenty-five pound bags, and firewood to at least five cords. Green coffee never really falls below twenty pounds, and I don't mind tucking some good chocolate and a bottle or two of syrups into a corner.
While there is an enduring love for the food I prepare in my kitchen, I know none would ever consider, even with earnest effort to mark a special occasion, talents and abilities deserving of the unqualified title of chef be mine. Too, as I relish the aromas from a fresh cup or pot of my own roasted coffees, it doesn't hold the myriad subtleties and mysteries handed regularly from truly skilled and gifted baristas.
It took me fifteen years, but I succeeded, by the way. An older chrome Elektra Microcasa a Leva resides in the kitchen next to a new, red Innova grinder! A love of music, of hand-made food, a delight in discovering notes in cups I make with my own roasts – I chose an instrument, not a computer-driven extraction machine. I must've read and re-read all of the threads and all of the posts on at least three different forums before I was sure. It's required some courage to believe in songs of my own making up here, where the forests never cease whispering and only the crass talk so loudly that they can be heard all the way down the valley.
Oh, the girl behind the counter fifteen years ago? Come to find out, she was born above timberline in these mountains. We've never been apart for more than a day...
And I swear there are always at least two distinct notes in the coffees served here.
Her fiftieth birthday recent history, Trisha Marie Neimi is a volunteer with Platte Canyon Rescue Service, Inc. With her partner of fifteen years, Kathryn, she cherishes the free day spent canoeing and fishing the lakes and streams of the Rocky Mountains. A five book epic, "The Ring of the Lavender Angel," approaches the half-way mark in manuscript, to date.