A good friend of mine is living in the "in-between." He is in between jobs. In between housing. In between lifestyles. I was happy to offer him my little monk's transition room, a sparsely furnished bedroom, as an interim resting place while the various aspects of his life work themselves out.
He brought an espresso machine.
I've never been in the same house with an espresso machine before. Until last week, I couldn't quite understand why people savor them so.
This no longer true. It isn't just the coffee; it is the ritual. When I settle onto a kitchen stool in the early morning to watch espresso being made, it is an experience of pure delight. I've entered into a tea ceremony for coffee lovers. First comes the careful choosing of the appropriate bean for the day. Then, the grinding. The smell fills the house like a happy weather front.
Then the filling of the espresso-measuring-cup-thingie, tamping the ground beans down so the steam won't travel too quickly through the coffee.
I watch the coffee reach down into two tiny espresso cups, frothing just a little. A touch of soymilk turns the color a red-toned caramel. Finally, a quarter of a teaspoon of raw sugar is stirred into the cups with a chopstick. (A spoon would cool the coffee too much.) The espresso is ready.
A sip. A sip. A sip.
One more sip and I'm off to today, happy ever after.
By day two of the ceremony, I decided, given my penchant for either buying local food or raising it myself, to grow my own coffee plants. The reaction to this, my newest quest, has been mixed, ranging from 'You'll never find coffee plants in the Northwest' to 'If you needed a sweater, would you buy a lamb?' Undeterred, I started calling nurseries, and lo and behold, the Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Ore., has coffee plants. Two now live with me.
It turns out that growing coffee, if you start with a plant, is not that big a deal. One could grow coffee from unroasted coffee beans, but they need to be germinated for about sixty days, and then you get only a living plant from about one of fifty. Better to buy a plant that is at least a couple of inches tall. If you can't get to Territorial and live in Portland, the Portland Nursery has some in stock. In the Seattle area, Molbak's has some in the indoor plant department. If you can't get to any of these places, Gurney's will mail you some.
Coffee plants are pretty little things, shiny-leaved, with dark green coloring. When they flower, the flowers appear in small, fragrant clusters. The fruit is what we're waiting for. Coffee fruit is called a cherry because of its red skin. (A few yellow types also exist, so don't think your yellow cherries are sick. They're just yellow.) Each cherry has two seeds. Those seeds become the espresso of our lives.
Coffee likes a combination of shade and sun. Most of all, coffee likes sitting in a front window for the Northwest's winter months and then heading outside as soon as the temperature reaches around 60 degrees. At 80 degrees, they'll whine to come inside where it is cooler. If they are left out in freezing temperatures, they will curse you forever and then die.
We can grow coffee here.
The experts tell me that I'll need to start pruning the main stem back within the first year. That way the small lateral stems, the ones that bear the coffee, can get stronger and bear more flowers and fruit. As the plants grow, they can be repotted into bigger and bigger containers, up to about three gallons. They'll want fertilizer along the way. At the three-gallon point, the plant will have room to grow to about four feet tall.
Here's where the Buddhist part comes in. In Buddhism, one of our paramitas — behaviors that help us be slightly less irritating to the world around us — is patience. The vow is, "May I be patient." You'll be saying this often since it could take about four years for those beans to show up.
But then, oh, the espresso.