Alma's Coffee Tragedy & Building Community One Cup at a Time
Most of us know what it feels like to be desperate. It's an uncomfortable, breath-stifling feeling that can take hold with an uncomfortable intensity. Henry David Thoreau famously wrote about desperation in "Walden" which was published in 1854. "Most men (and women) live lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation..." He then repeated his sad observation that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."
On a day to day basis, there are many ways to overcome a sense of desperation or an uncomfortable feeling that something is not right. One way is through community. There is nothing like sharing coffee to abet any sense of gloom and doom. A well-made cup of coffee, rounded off with edifying and meaningful conversation, can uplift us and prepare us for the tasks at hand. Beautiful, wonderful coffee!
So it came as a surprise during a visit to my friend Alma Schneider's house that it was hard to get a cup of coffee. Alma, Founder of Take Back the Kitchen, has written convincingly about how important it is to know how someone takes their coffee---it signals more than a good memory, but a sense of respect and caring. But on that day, coffee was hard to get. Alma related to me her "coffee tragedy".
Here's how it happened. Until recently, it was possible to to enjoy a nice cup of coffee made in Alma's 4-cup Bialetti. This machine is an icon of Italian design that boasts a stunning profile. It consistently produces a cup of smoothly brewed coffee and a scent that lingers and envelopes Alma's gorgeous kitchen. Unfortunately, one day, a very dear friend burned it while making coffee. "This can't be," Alma and her husband said to each other. But it was. Finally, after four bouts of acute denial, they figured out that that Bilaetti wouldbe no longer...So, there was another Bialetti--a small, 2-cup espresso maker. It just so happened, that when they went to use it, the handle broke. They took it to a local coffee-bean merchant, known for carrying high-end European coffee makers, and it could not be fixed.
So...on to the next option. Alma's Presto percolator, circa 1940's, inherited from her grandmother---a cherished heirloom with a graceful sloping spout. A coffee maker that can make a super-hot robust cup of coffee---for at least 25 to 30 people...Even for coffee-lovers like us (Alma, our friend Dennis, and myself), it was too much. So finally, Alma found the solution. The Melitta fall-back. In this case, a red, molded, elegant sturdy plastic model with rounded edges. Alma put her plastic Melitta on top of a cup and voila---there was coffee. We waited patiently while she boiled the water and finally the coffee--a robust Kirkland Brand brew from Costco---was in front of us. It was perfect. Our coffee desperation was eased and we had a very productive and fun conversation!
Note: Special thanks to Dennis Dawson for photography (without the benefit of a cup of coffee beforehand).