Little Beans of Wisdom is going to take some time off to raise babies and teach owlets to fly, thereby expanding the wisdom of the world.
We’ll be back periodically to surprise you!
Meanwhile, keep stretching your beautiful writing-wings . . . .
What’s Floating in My Coffee Cup?
Other than frothy hearts of cream?
Well, I think that most java drinkers would hope for a smooth, silky elixir to jolt their neurons into a creative, colorful state of existence.
And for those who have followed this series, you might remember that I’ve been exploring the rainbow of coffee bean colors. I delved into blue and purple and a hint of red, but, this time I’m going to step outside of the rainbow . . . into that sky of inky black.
Black has always been a favorite color of mine. Because of it’s spectral all-inclusion. It doesn’t discriminate; it embraces community. It doesn’t scream: “Look at Me, and Me only!” It’s quiet, yet bold. It’s straightforward, yet mysterious. It plays a great background; it props up other colors from pastel to the fully-saturated; it outlines dynamically.
My private world is rather safely outlined in black and I live comfortably inside of that playground.
But now to the coffee carousel. And it’s not filled with painted ponies this time around. It’s noir.
It originates in northern Thailand. From Arabica coffee cherries that are eaten by a troupe of 20 or so elephants living in a refuge. It’s a brand known as Black Ivory Coffee – a majestic name that suggests imperial princesses sipping the brew from delicately painted ceramic cups in lush gardens.
Black Ivory has been described as “very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee” and is among the world’s most costly decoctions. It’s available at only a few luxury hotels in this solar system, and, I’ve heard that its price tag is $50.00 (US) per cup.
It’s sounding more and more regal. But what is the connection with the elephants, you may be wondering.
Well, they provide the sweetness through the assistance of their digestive enzymes, which break down the coffee’s protein. Protein = bitterness in the world of coffee.
So, imagine this: A large portion of coffee cherries being turned like a chile roaster inside the stomachs of 20 elephants for up to 70 hours. A fine aroma develops as the beans go a-courtin’ and marry among the other gastro-ingredients.
Elephants are herbivores and their systems use fermentation to break down cellulose, as most human vegetarians can attest to. But we can’t produce splendid, flavorful coffee even if we masticated coffee beans for years.
So, what’s the secret?
If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s elephant poop!
Yes, not for the squeamish, but it’s a fact. The exquisite essence of this dark, enigmatic drink is collected from the feces of elephants.
The expensive price tag is due in large part to the mathematics of an elephant’s gastrointestinal system. How hungry they are, how well they chew, and how far deep into the bush they choose to excrete.
What can be harvested intact is precious, indeed.
And many thanks are owed to the mahouts, the people who are assigned to this family profession in childhood; the people who bond lifelong with their special elephant . . . training, handling, and sorting through their droppings all for the palatial enjoyment of a handful of coffee connoisseurs.
*Source: Wikipedia and other uncredited internet articles.
A Whale of a Bean
I’ve always adored small, independent coffee shops for their intimacy. They tend to feel like a neighbor’s kitchen and that gives me a sense of safety, however false a sensation that may be.
So with this in mind, I’ve been a little less inclined to visit Starbucks.
When I hear the name, I think corporate first, and, then, political. They seem to be transitioning into an empire all their own. Not just in terms of financial wealth and the power that money gifts a person or business; no, this is more global. A force akin to Facebook or Amazon. The CEO and cadre appear to have a vision way beyond frothy coffee-hearts and stock market mergers. A muscle of sociopolitical grandeur pumps aloft in the media comments from Howard Schultz. Listening to him build his body of followers makes me queasy.
All of this desire to control countries instead of tending the local percolator has me quietly quivering with some inner questions. Are they a coffee shop or a cult?
But a couple of things that I’ve recently learned have endeared me to the Starbucks Corporation.
The company was founded by three gentlemen and scholars: Gordon Bowker (a writer), Zev Siegl (a history teacher), and Jerry Baldwin (an English teacher). These dreamy-eyed, creative academics simply wanted to bring the best coffee to Seattle back in 1971, where they opened the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market.
The store was so pure at first that it sold only beans. It pretty much had its eye on the post-hippie culture: Those looking to nurture a homegrown lifestyle in an urban setting.
And it succeeded at this for about twelve years, when Howard Shultz stepped inside the trio as director of retail operations and hugged the Italian coffee bar concept.
But back to origins, I love the three tenors of tan beans who themed their business after Moby Dick. So literary and so quintessentially American, they leaned on academia to mold a business image. And they did so with esoteric references from this onetime “Great American Novel.” This story that is a metaphor for identity, a Platonic ideal that writers aim to mirror in their work.
Well, these fine fellows wrote a tale with coffee beans that likely had some aim toward identity.
Originally the company was to be named Pequod’s, after the name of Captain Ahab’s boat. But, as the legend goes, once they heard the tagline, “Have a cup of Pequod,” spoken aloud to them, the triune founders decided to change the name to Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate. Yes, the very one who warned Ahab to stop chasing the white whale.
So, their simple notion may have been corrupted over time, but, that’s almost predicable in life, isn’t it?
What I’m left loving, though, is the foundational connection of coffee with writing, reading, creating, musing-in-the-moment . . . a full chorus of caffeinated ideas being contemplated.
And I’m betting that these core values are still in the brew, somewhere at the base of the grounds beneath the froth and Frappuccino.
Purple Coffee Beans and the Colors of Anxiety
In my second post of this Little Beans of Wisdom series, I explored the origin of coffee through my version of a folktale based in fact.
I found a shepherd frolicking with Woodstock-induced goats to be enchanting. And this very intimate connection with the romps of retro-bohemian life coiled my mind with a scarf of jaunty colors.
The vision inspired me to imagine coffee beans as more diversely colored that mocha-brown. Let’s say: Blue, for beginners.
So, in the third post of Little Beans of Wisdom, I theorized about blue coffee. And a little research revealed that it exists. On the blue Caribbean island of Jamaica. Perfect!
By now, I’m starting to think: Rainbows.
How about purple coffee beans?
Well, by golly, it’s back to the exotic land so far away, the land called Ethiopia. Seems that in the forests of the southwestern highlands, an indigenous shrub produces coffee cherries that mature to purple. In order to be taste worthy, these must be “hard-purple” beans, which have a higher sugar content than “soft-ripe” purple.
I’m guessing that “hard” means a muscular brew. Something with a robust flavor that would jolt the bursting biceps off of Popeye.
In other words, a high level of caffeine resides inside purple, along with sugar.
And this is when anxiety crawls into the story, because one of its primary triggers is caffeine. (Remember those rambunctious goats??)
My delicate constitution is such that caffeine unzips its tiniest sensitivities and turns them inside out. It unravels me beyond goat-romping status.
Sad, because I find the aroma, and now, the colors of coffee to be so exquisitely enticing that I yearn to indulge.
When I find myself on that brink, I go peripheral and visit a coffee shop, instead. I drink the vicarious fragrances and sounds, and find that I’m inspired to write or be creative in some form of expression.
So here’s my hypothesis: I’m a sponge-sucking empath who inhales the vibrational energy and color of coffee, and, since I’m naturally prone to anxiety, that bouquet is transformed into an urge to create in order to subdue anxious tendencies.
It’s a survival mechanism in my soul.
Some further observations . . . after engaging in a creative act, I frequently note that anxiety was not present. Some anecdotal support for the theory.
I also “feel” the days of the week in terms of tranquility levels. Tuesdays are aquamarine. Calm and smooth as butterscotch. Good days for solitude and contemplation.
Sundays are royal blue or royal purple. Regal. Days as plush and safe as velvet. I love to dive into a good book and swim between the elegance of its beautiful language on Sunday afternoons.
Saturdays are red. Often too devoid of structure, they have a tendency toward spawning unease in my heart.
So, this all seems to add up to me being a bit of sponge. But, I make it my own in some way, shape or color.
When I opened this virtual coffee shop, I never imagined what thought-detours I’d take. Seems that exploring the world of coffee has given me a rainbow to pursue with insights galore.
SAVVY COUNTER CULTURE
I love this use of The Dress controversy. (Remember the one posted on Tumblr by a 21-year-old singer from Scotland that Broke the Internet?!?) Well, it was re-cut into a moneymaker for the coffee shop counter culture. Yay!!
I don’t know the results of the experiment, but, if I find out which color scheme won, I’ll let you know. For now, though, the researcher claims that this spontaneous study reveals that we can’t fully trust our brains. They alter our perception in order to keep things consistent. Memories are even less reliable, she states. I find it fascinating how much neuroscience is becoming real for people through this seemingly innocent post by one curious woman seeking fashion feedback.
The Dress … and tips! Psych study being run by local coffee shop: Relationship between color perception and tipping behavior.
Just for the record: My eyes must be ambidextrous, if that’s even possible!! I first saw white & gold. Then, the dress morphed into blue & tobacco-brown.
HERE’S A LITTLE BIT OF COWBOY COFFEE LORE TO CAFFEINATE YOUR DAY . . .
Several centuries ago, back when American was busy becoming the Wild West, coffee evolved as a sacred commodity for the cowboys and townsfolk alike.
There’s a certain lore to the whole notion of it that lurks in the American consciousness: Images of Conestoga wagon cooks brewing up a hot pot fireside; sheriffs having a second pot of coffee as they guard a wily prisoner long into the night; a farmer lingering over his cup of coffee in the Wild West before beginning his daily chores; a duo of cowboys leaning up against their weary horses – silent silhouettes against the backdrop of vibrant purple and orange sunsets.
The pioneers leaving the East are rumored to have perfected a technique for preserving the coffee berries using a combination of eggs and sugar. Blending the two, they formed a wash that coated the beans. Secretly, this recipe added a little protein and sweetness that further helped to sustain these lonesome wanderers and kept them worshiping longer at the campsite.
Once camp was set up, the green beans would be roasted on an open skillet and then put into a bag and crushed. The handle of an axe or a wagon jack served well as an implement for pelting and pummeling. And once the little beans had been successfully spanked, they were placed in a coffee pot and nestled within the fire. After boiling for a spell, it was time to enjoy a robust, satisfying cup of coffee in the Wild West.
Coffee thus became a very important staple for pioneers, townspeople, ranchers, cowpokes and farmers alike. Gathering ’round the campfire became, perhaps, the original American coffeehouse. Serving to soothe the souls and unite a people in a common cause, regardless of whether they were conversationalists or not.
And so the wagon trains and townsfolk had their tradition, and they shared with others passing through. But it was the cowboys who originated a variation; something that only resourceful loners would conjure up. Out there on the trail with no wagons in sight, they used their dirty socks as coffee filters. They filled the socks with coffee beans, immersed them in boiling water and then squeezed the coffee into their cups. Adding the fetid flavors of clay dirt, sweaty soles and fungus to their brew.
And thus, the authentic American Cowboy Coffee was born.
A happy, hearty squeeze to you . . . Grounds up!
NEW ESPRESSO BAR IN OUTER SPACE
As much as I love exploring different coffee shops, here’s one that I can’t quite imagine stepping into. Why? Well, I’m extremely claustrophobic. Plus, I’m uncomfortable in aircraft of any sort. So, visiting the International Space Station for coffee shop conversation would be an enormous stretch for my constitution.
Yes, it’s beautiful being out of the earth’s grasp of gravity and gazing back at her blue and green glory, no doubt. It would be the reverse of stargazing – one of my favorite reflective pastimes. How fascinating it would be to flip that view around and look backward on Mother Earth.
But for that role, I commend the astronauts for their bravery. I’ll make do with photographs and my imagination.
By now, you’re probably wondering why an espresso bar ended up in outer space. It seems as though instant coffee has been a staple on board space flights, along with the proverbial Tang, for quite a few decades. But now that some Italian astronauts occasionally stop by the station, there’s been a special request for home brew.
And that request is being fulfilled by a special machine called ISSpresso. I-S-S for the International Space Station.
So there we have it: The ISSpresso Coffee Shop. I guess it has a somewhat galactic rhythm to it.
Anyway, to provide the beverage, an Italian company designed an espresso maker, about the size of a microwave.You put in a pouch of water, add a little capsule of espresso and press the button marked “brew.” The espresso comes out in a second pouch. To make the sipping experience more authentic, the Italians are still trying to develop a little cup that will work in zero-G’s.
Nobody’s sure how all that coffee and steam will behave in zero gravity, and they’ve had to take extra safety measures, including steel tubing and lots of sensors. The machine’s architect says he’s confident, though, that hot espresso won’t squirt into the cabin.*
Once the machinery is perfected, a true espresso bar will be available for all folks visiting from outer space. It will become a happy meeting place for all space wanderers seeking good coffee, conversation and rejuvenation.
I’d love to offer everyone a “Grounds Up!” from Mocha Muse, but, that may be a dangerous blessing in zero gravity. So how about: May the coffee rise up to meet you. . .Gently. . . with each savoring sip.
*NPR’s The Salt