Saturday, Kim and I went to a coffee tasting put on by Phoenix Coffee and sampled five Indonesian coffees. Had we tasted one of them this week and a different one next week, we may not have been able to taste all of the differences. We probably would have been able to pick out our favorite – the Sulawesi. We drink a lot of it.

The tasting was a lot of fun and side by side there were differences that would most likely have been too subtle to notice otherwise. The Phoenix staff did a great job of presenting the geographic and political background for each region. They also talked about what we should taste in the cup and why. They took us through the differences in dry and wet processing and showed us the different green beans that were roasted and brewed. They talked about the right roasts for the different beans.

Kim took careful notes on the sheet they provided. It was prestained with coffee so we didn't mind spilling a little here or there as we tasted and drank way too much coffee.

At a formal tasting, I think the coffee grounds are mixed directly with the hot water in the tasting cup. Here we had full cups of brewed coffee from Sulawesi, Java, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Sumatra. Water and little bits of bagel cleansed the palate in between. I wonder if tasting is something that can be learned. It seems that there are so many variables that are controlled after the bean is harvested. The depth of the roast and the style of brew all seem to change what rolls over your tongue.

The owners of the Phoenix had two daughters who were helping distribute prizes and collect donations. So cute. The eldest was nine. Side by side you could tell one from the other. There are people who are good at tasting the differences in coffees and people who are good at remembering the differences in people. I don't tend to be very good at either. I had the hardest time figuring out which of Kim's cousins were which for the longest time. It didn't matter that they didn't look that much alike. I would have to ask her "which one is that".

Even though we could easily tell Maggie from Elena – whether side by side or not – we would often call one by the other's name. I worried about that a lot after Elena died. Calling Maggie "Elena" when Elena was in the other room was no big deal. Making that mistake after Elena died was something else entirely.

It was a fairly common mistake. Many who would come visit us in the days after Elena died would look over at Maggie and quietly ask me "how's Elena doing?" Once I understood what they meant, it was a lot easier to answer.

I've wondered if each topic will lead me back to Elena. While she was alive it often did. I would see something and smile and think of one of my girls. Like calling out the wrong name, this mental path back to her feels different now that she's dead.

Something as simple as tasting five different coffees.

It could be that Elena loved helping me make coffee in the morning. If we were using the vacuum pot she would help me grind the coffee. She would turn the grinder until her arm grew tired. Then I would place my hand on top of hers and whirr it around until all of the beans were ground.

If we were using the french press she would stir the grounds and later press the plunger down slowly all the way. If we were using the espresso machine she would tamp down the coffee and turn the buttons on and off at just the right time.

The espresso machine isn't working lately. I've been shopping for a new one. I've compared prices and features and have spent way too much time on the whole process. I may be stalling. You see, I've looked everywhere and no one sells one that includes Elena as an attachment to help me brew coffee in the morning. 

Published in: on March 28, 2006 at 8:55 am  Comments (8)  

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  1. Of course the other problem with getting a new espresso machine is that it won’t be one that Elena used/touched or has memories of Elena associated with it.

    And in some ways, getting a new espresso machine will mean letting go a little bit of the memories of Elena and the old machine.

    It might be worth looking at if the old one can be repaired…

  2. I expect that everything in your house would remind you of Elena at one time or another. My only thought is that, that is a good thing. And perhaps it is really the memory that matters, not the thing.

  3. Daniel-
    I come here every day. I read. I cry. I wish we out here in cyberspace could fix it for you- to somehow join together and make it right. I wish we could do something, anything, that would help change it. Give you back… everything. We, all of us, fear that we may also lose… everything.
    My 10 yr old ran out the door this morning, late to the bus. I worried that I didn’t tell him that I loved him as he left. Absurd, irrational, unjustified fear. Paralyzing terror of… that which is beyond our control.
    But I need to go on, to function through the day. So I push the fear down deep inside, try to bury it, so that I can answer the phone, respond to emails, tick off another Prioritized To-Do item. And I’ll hug my son tightly tonight when I see him again. He’s old enough that he doesn’t want me to hug him in public, but he’s young enough that I still can in private. I’ll take what I can get.
    Irrational fear- you showed that it’s not so irrational, that it does happen. My worst nightmare is in fact someone else’s reality. You showed us that we can indeed lose everything. But you also showed that it’s not the end, that life goes on. That Kim and Maggie are still… everything.
    I notice sunsets more. I notice my kids more, and try not to notice the mess they leave behind. I pray more. I treasure each day more. I pray that I’d have half the strength of heart, of character, of compassion, of insight that you are showing. I pray harder that I never have to find out.
    So many out here cry for you, even though I know that’s not why you write. So many out here wish that we could change it. Again, I know that’s not why you write. So many of us out here hug our kids more, recognize our blessings more, show our loved ones that they are- loved. I hope that gives you some small measure of comfort as you write.
    I’ll come back tomorrow, I’ll read, and I’ll cry. And I’ll hug my kids again.
    Thank you, Daniel.

  4. After my grandfather died, my aunt, who is an accomplished baker, could never get a particular cake to turn out right. This cake happened to be my grandfather’s favorite cake. In the weeks after his death, my aunt baked this cake at least 4 or 5 times, and for some strange reason that she could never figure out, it always came out partially baked in one section. She kept throwing the cakes out, and beginning again. In the years before my grandfather died, my aunt had baked this cake numerous times, same ingredients, same temperature, same oven, same everything, and never had a problem. My family interpreted the problems with the cake as being my grandfather’s way of telling my aunt from beyond that he was o.k. We all took great comfort in that sign from him. Perhaps the malfunctioning espresso machine is Elena’s way of telling you the same thing. I hope so.

  5. The expresso maker isn’t the only thing that’s broken around here. The playground really seems to be malfunctioning. It used to be a lot of fun to let the kids all run around for a while after school. It should have been a lot of fun yesterday – it was beautiful out – sunny and nice. Many kids stayed to play, parents to visit and catch up after the long winter hibernation. I just kept standing there thinking how wrong it is that Elena wasn’t there. Jack recently told his teacher, “I just didn’t think she was really going to be dead, dead, you know?”. I guess that’s where I am too. The shock has worn off and left behind this terrible ache. I miss her and can’t even imagine how if feels for you three. I don’t know what else to say. We love you guys.

  6. I think the thing that I treasure most about you is that you are you – consistently, triumphantly, and unapologetically. The universal value in the voice you have captured throughout this experience is your ability to be so transparently yourself. Though I can’t imagine myself having three different coffee makers (right up there with yeast, easy, kids, and fun in the same sentence), I am heartened by what you say because your level of detail opens the door for each of us to easily insert our own details and our own stories against the backdrop of hope, sadness, and searching that you so adeptly paint.
    Thank you for the guidance and wisdom that you share so easily because it is so outside of what you are trying to accomplish.


  7. >>You see, I’ve looked everywhere and no one sells one that includes Elena as an attachment to help me brew coffee in the morning.

  8. Worth Reading

    A few blog posts I’ve read lately:
    Mitchell Lewis: Three Years Later

    “Three years ago today, I sat in my HMMWV at the south end of the western runway at the Saddam Baghdad International Airport and wept as I listened to BBC reports of crow…

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