My first sip of Clover

I first heard of the Clover coffee machine when The Coffee Ethic opened just off the downtown square of my hometown, Springfield, Missouri. This $11,000 coffee brewing machine was supposed to make the best coffee ever, one cup at a time, through some fancy weighing, heating, and water distribution processes. Coffee Ethic had managed to grab one of these machines before Starbucks bought the company that made them, preventing anyone else from getting a Clover machine, but I still hadn’t tried any Clover coffee despite Coffee Ethic opening well over a year ago.

Since I had some time to kill before April’s class ended, I thought I would come try a cup. I have to say, the difference is quite remarkable.

I’m not really much of a coffee snob. I avoid a number of different coffee blends (Folgers chief among these) because they really upset my stomach. I don’t know if it’s the high acidity or the poor quality of ingredients, but the lower-end coffees really screw me up. Most days I drink 8 O’Clock Coffee, which is very cheap and available from Wal-Mart, yet was rated #1 by Consumer Reports several years ago. Most of what I get from our local coffee shops is safe for me to drink as well.

I usually grind my own beans, though most of the time I don’t think this is to much benefit, and we have a relatively expensive and very nice drip coffee pot at home. Coffee is good, and I enjoy it, and I can note differences in its flavour based on temperature, type of coffee, acidity, body, etc. However, it all tastes pretty much like “coffee” to me, and there is little subtlety to it.

This cup of coffee, made with a Clover machine, progressed through four different flavours in my first sip. It is far more robust than I am used to coffee being, far more complex, and far more enjoyable to drink. This cup of coffee is an experience in and of itself, similar to smoking a pipe, and I think I could enjoy just sitting here and doing nothing other than drinking it just for the joy and challenge of tasting the coffee.

I’m not actually a fan of this coffee, ((I tried a dark Sumatra roast. It is a little more earthy in the middle than I like, but I asked the young man assisting me to describe the different coffees and, of the two available, this seemed like the one I’d most like)) but I can say without a doubt that I am not fond of the coffee, rather than having my opinion tainted by the brewing. This is clearly a superior brew, giving far better insight into the beans and the roast (which was perhaps a slight bit too much, I think) than other coffee pots can grant.

At almost $3 a cup, I certainly won’t be drinking Clover coffee every day, nor am I ready to give up my coffee pot at home or the office. Maybe my Dunkin Donuts blend via the Mr. Coffee at work isn’t as complex or wonderful, but it’s still hot, satisfying, and good. Most of the time I’m drinking coffee as a beverage and for the caffeine, with only about 30-40% of my desire being for good taste. ((It has to taste good, but if good taste was my primary requirement, I’d be Clovering it up every day)) During most days, I want coffee in mass quantities, and that’s not feasible with Clover at this time.

But it is delicious, and the next time I’m going out for coffee with someone, I think The Coffee Ethic is where we shall go. The Mudhouse shall certainly remain the place for fancy coffee drinks and longer-term work (writing and studying), and I love Hebrews when I can get there on a weekend, but for a great brewed coffee experience, I don’t think anywhere will beat Coffee Ethic’s Clover.

Long, relaxing weekend

I took a day of vacation today, so after a few morning errands and chores, I have spent most of the afternoon on the sofa reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. April and I have been renting some of the older movies (we have recently watched numbers two and three) and I was in the mood for a better quality of Harry Potter. April lay on the other sofa with a purple blanket and Ophelia upon her, and Viola was curled upon a beige blanket near my head. It was pouring down rain outside, we were warm with fresh bread baking in the kitchen, and all was right with the world.

Listening to the rain drum on the chimney cover, I realized the room we were lounging in was half the size of our old apartment. April asked if I’d like her to bake some cookies and I said no, I wanted for nothing, and I was cozy and enjoying that the two of us were sitting in the same room for such a long period of time. It’s not that we don’t have free time where we sit in the same room, but every moment is to be cherished. I will remember today.

A moment of guilt reared up for not writing as I poured my fourth cup of coffee, but I shrugged it off and returned to my book. We need these good times, and besides, what would be the fun of life without them? I know of writers whose passion drove them to write constantly, who felt a burning, pressing need to get all their words and ideas out and onto paper. They foreswore their families, friends, and health to get the ideas written.

I want to be happy and enjoy my life. Writing makes me happy, so I do it sometimes. Lying on the couch with April and our snoozing cats (for I enjoy them much more when they are snoozing) makes me happy. Playing World of Warcraft sometimes makes me happy, coffee almost always does, and being warm and dry while it is raining outside is simply blissful.

Today is a good memory. It is part of a life worth living.

Permission

I remember the kitchen of the Potter’s House, all natural wood cabinets and a tiled floor, with a white countertop of that cutting-board material right in front of the angled freezer where they kept fresh fruit. Several blenders always waited for smoothies or frozen coffee drinks, and the giant refrigerator/freezer hummed quietly, filled with ice cream and more fruit. The bar was of a dark material with several oak stools beneath, and a college student generally stood on the other side to take orders or brew espresso for mixed drinks. A stack of IOUs sat beside the cash register, left by those who didn’t have any money but who weren’t turned away, and a similar stack of textbooks rested nearby where weary students had left them so they could play some Chinese Checkers or Chess.

And there would be Samson, that bald, powerfully built black man, dancing in the middle of the kitchen with his arms raised, singing to Jesus as if only the two of them were around. “Lord, yes!” he’d yell, his feet pounding back and forth as he’d swing blenders, scoop fruit, pour flavoured syrup, exclaiming with love when anyone called his name. Samson was almost always worshiping, and I swear his energetic smile powered the lights of that little house.

It was watching him worship the Lord, dancing like nobody was watching, arms raised in the middle of a coffee shop kitchen, dark skin gleaming with sweat while taut biceps strained at the tight shirts he always wore, that I found the grace to worship God. In Samson’s boldness I was given permission to serve God with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul, and all my strength. I got a glimpse of what it would be like to live free and honestly before my God, and it was good. I wanted that, I wanted it so badly, I just needed to figure out how to get there. Learning from Samson, it seemed appropriate to begin by dancing.

When I worship God, I’ve got to move my feet. When I pray, I’ve got to sway. I can’t hear a beat without dancing a bit to it, and I know that I’ve really been connecting with Jesus only when I’m sore, sweaty, and filled to overflowing with joy. This is what I have learned from Samson.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love, 1992

Design Speaks Directly to the Soul

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. See that initial post for a table of contents of all articles in the series.

As Ryan observed, design is more than making something look pretty. It is the first line of assault against your senses, charging in to make room for a deeper truth–for the greater message being communicated through the whole of a piece. Design is the underlying foundation of everything, and much like our own skeletons, it is likewise hidden and sometimes forgotten.

There are two things I understand decently well amongst all the things in the world, and so it is those two upon which I will focus in the context of this series. The first is architecture, with which I will begin because (of the two) I understand it least. The second is writing in general and poetry in specific.

Architectural design is not something with which many Americans (by which I am referring to the residents of the United States of America) are preoccupied. We might admire a fine building and snap a picture while on tour, but it isn’t something we study, stare at, and marvel. Yet architecture is one of the great fascinations of my life, and when I am in a distant city, I spend the vast majority of my time wandering the streets, eyes fixed to the walls, roofs, and doors of all the buildings I can see. I have spent hours lying on the lawn of Westminster Abbey so that I could look upon its vast facade and out across the square at its neighbours. Days beside the river Thames marveling at the wall that skirts the river, or wandering the streets and hills of San Francisco, or the wide sidewalks of Chicago. I derived a great deal of enjoyment from comparing German Switzerland to German Germany and the similarities and differences in how the walls meet the roofs, the materials used, and the arrangement of their towns. Architecture fascinates me in a way similar to the hypnotic stare of a dragon preparing to pounce on a meal.

The USA is very utilitarian in its construction, but once upon a time architecture was not just a pragmatic means of getting a building upright. Rather, it was an art designed to communicate something to the passerby. A non-Christian friend admitted to me once that she began to cry as she entered a cathedral in Europe simply due to its beauty. This is a design done right. This assails our senses, demanding entry to our heart because of its power and majesty.

And it is not unique to architecture. Though you may not admire buildings as I do, I imagine that you can sympathize with and understand what I have written above, because it is a very obvious example of the purpose, power, and presence of design. Less obvious is the placement and depth of a thumb scoop on a MacBook, the resistance and length of a switch on a coffee pot, or the arrangement of words in a poem.

I can communicate an idea to you with a straight-forward statement of fact in a simple, well organized sentence, and in so doing you will understand the words and potentially their implications. Yet such a statement will not touch your heart, nor will it influence your soul, for that is the purview of poetry. There are many who malign the ambiguity and obtuseness of poetry, wishing instead that the writers would be more direct with their intentions, but that directness is not of the greatest design.

There are times when communicating with your head is sufficient, such as at work or when figuring out where to go for lunch. But there are other times when that will not do, when I will need to build a bridge from my heart to yours if you are ever to truly understand what I mean. A simple sentence will not suffice. And it is in these instances that the power of design is made manifest in writing.

A good design not only joins our hearts and souls, but it satisfies something deep within our selves. No, the switch on a coffee pot is not a cathedral or a poem, but you will know it is right. You will flip that switch to turn the coffee pot on and think, “Ah, there we have it. This is good.” A good design is more than just functional, it is beautiful. It was created with love and an attention to detail that surpasses a mere statement and that goes beyond simple pragmatism.

Good design, like our skeletons, holds us up and drives us forward. It is a powerful charge we can only refuse by closing our eyes and ignoring the world.

Amateur Coffee Connoisseur

Though modern grinders are electric, they rarely do a better job.
Though modern grinders are electric, they rarely do a better job.

I recognize that there are a great many people in the world who know more about coffee than I do, but I like to think that I’m fairly well versed in the topic. I know something of the history of coffee, the explanations behind its many names, and have brewed thousands of pots over the years with close attention to boldness, acidity, grind, water temperature, etc. I’ve also had coffee from a variety of shops, countries, and brewers.

That being said, I don’t have the best of tools for brewing coffee, and I know that this makes all the difference. If you’re making coffee with a $10 grinder and a $20 pot, you’re simply not going to get the best brew. But most of us have only these tools at our disposal, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to invest in better ones.

A lot of people, regardless of the quality of their tools, believe that grinding their own coffee will produce better results than purchasing ground coffee from the store. The common wisdom is that fresh-ground beans produce better flavour, but having ground my own coffee for years and compared it with pre-ground, I am coming to the conclusion that this is patently false, and potentially just a marketing pitch by coffee companies and those who make coffee grinders.

The problem is that cheap coffee grinders don’t produce the consistent grind needed for a good cup of coffee (let’s not even start discussing drip vs. other coffee makers). Either your grounds end up still having whole or split beans, rather than ground up coffee, or they over-grind, so that your coffee isn’t coarse enough to produce a good brew.

Coffee companies have industrial coffee grinders that produce a consistent blend and grind every time, so your coffee grounds are homogeneous and produce the best results with drip coffee makers (which, let’s face it, are what most of us use). These pre-ground bags of coffee, in my opinion, therefore produce better flavour than grinding one’s own coffee.

It’s a terrible pre-emptive argument to make, but I do suppose that people who think their personally ground coffee is better than pre-ground are probably fooling themselves. Because they’ve spent the extra time and effort, they think it tastes better. I think they’ve bought into the marketing pitch and are trying to justify to themselves the extra expense.

Of course, you still have to buy good coffee for pre-ground to be delicious, and to that end I always recommend Eight O’Clock. Rated #1 by Consumer Reports a few years ago, it’s both cheap (which is what the majority of us are looking for) and fantastically good. I also had Dunkin Donuts’ grocery-store offering recently, and it was as fantastic as I recalled DD’s coffee to be when I was younger (and there was still a DD here in Springfield). Sadly, recent experience with their chain’s coffee has been rather lackluster, but the bag of coffee I bought was really delicious.

Image Credit: Hisks

Going home

We’re leaving the conference in about 10 minutes, maybe to grab an early lunch or some sort of brunch or something. I’m particularly excited about hitting Starbucks at the airport since we got a $5 gift certificate yesterday.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo. You can keep up with my work by reading and/or subscribing to that blog.

Deluge

Upon arriving home earlier this week, I commented to April that it felt like I had only begun my work day about 15 minutes prior. That’s how busy I have been this week.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten some solid overtime in, enough to pay for the pair of pants I shredded when an errant net (the one by the softball field which marks the pitch-practicing area) was blown into my handlebars as I rode by, causing me to fall/fly/roll off my bike onto the rocky ground.

April and I are going camping today, and intend to return tomorrow, should the Lord tarry. I know I haven’t done hardly any writing this week, because I’ve been busy every day and busy/exhausted every evening. Two nights ago, I had time to write, but I crashed on the couch with a book and a glass of scotch and didn’t move for several hours. I fell asleep at 8, April woke me up sometime later and I read some more, then slept until 5:30 a.m., like I’ve done all this week. I don’t know what’s waking me up at 5:30 everyday, but I shake my fist at it.

I’m taking some really good books, and my notepad/pen as well. I won’t have my laptop, so no longer pieces will be completed, but maybe I’ll get a poem or two written. Hopefully, I’ll also get rested, because I’ve been exhausted. Truly. exhausted.

By the grace of God, I will carry on.