COMMENTARY, July 9 — Covid-19 has taken lives, wreaked havoc, closed entire nations from their neighbours.
It’s been months; we all know this now.
What we don’t know, some of us, perhaps most of us, is how to get by day by day. When your life has been touched by grief and loss; when you’re fortunate enough to be healthy, but you’ve been let go from your job or had a pay cut so you can barely make ends meet: what do you do?
It’s all very overwhelming.
Like so many others, we know this well. Few have escaped the pandemic unscathed.
For us it began in March, when we were stranded in Auckland, with no way home for the foreseeable future. Who could prepare for that?
It’s nice to be prepared like an Eagle Scout but if we’re not, we can still adapt faster than we give ourselves credit for. As Amanda Palmer advocates in her book The Art of Asking, we learn to ask for help. Help doesn’t always arrive, not all the time, but it comes often enough to matter.
We give thanks for the kindness of strangers and friends alike. We were genuinely surprised when one friend offered us space in his home; more so when his tenants, two British women working in New Zealand, welcomed us without question.
The very first morning, one of them, Nicole, who was a barista and had worked in one of the cafés downtown, made everyone coffee with her French press. She told us her boss told her to take the beans home since they won’t be serving any customers anytime soon.
She didn’t have a grinder at home so she ground them before closing shop and took the coffee back in a tightly lidded container. She lifted the lid that morning and let us smell the grounds: it was coffee, alright, and it felt like a benediction.
We were blessed and comforted. Some normality seeped its way back to our day. Coffee is just coffee but it’s so much more when your world has been turned upside down.
Confession time: Me, I’m hopelessly addicted to the stuff. Nary a day goes by without a cup or two. It doesn’t matter if it’s an espresso or a kopi O kaw, a flat white or a Nescafé tarik.
Whatever some coffee snobs tell you, coffee is coffee. It doesn’t have to be single origin or painstakingly harvested by velvet-gloved hands. It’s liquid caffeine. It’s what wakes most of us up on most days of the week.
Coffee is about rituals, for me, at least.
Every morning I will go through the motions of getting my brewing paraphernalia out: my coffee dripper with its turquoise cover and coaster, a pot I hunted down in Tokyo just for its olive wood handle and lid, my pair of double-walled glass tumblers, a digital coffee scale I bought with winnings from a casino in Macao, a hand grinder from Germany, filter paper from a discount shop (because, clearly, I am now broke after splurging on all the equipment like a coffee nerd).
Home baristas are hobbyists, are otakus. We crave something to occupy our time. Instead of cosplay or miniature figurine painting, we make coffee and make a huge fuss about it. A performance no one witnesses but us and whoever happens to be at home. (Our
It’s about adding some order to our morning, and when our morning starts right, the rest of the day is less scary, feels more manageable somehow. We all need to manage now.
Even the coffee beans we buy is a choice, a life decision. Support your local coffee shop if you decide to buy some for home brewing. During the movement control order (MCO) period, many businesses have seen their revenue drop to zilch; some have closed down for good.
Buying coffee beans from my neighbourhood café, getting a kopi ais takeaway from the nasi kandar shop around the corner — these are small ways we can support our communities.
Small decisions, yes, but we exert control over our circumstances. We impose order where none appears to exist.
More often than not, I make my own coffee at home these days. (The #StayAtHome spirit doesn’t disappear so easily.)
Waking up and preparing everything I need in the right order — filling the kettle with water, measuring the right dosage of beans, dusting clean the grinder after using it — before a single drop of water hits the coffee grounds is calming. Meditative, a balm during trying times.
On other mornings I could be scooping out a spoonful of instant coffee into my favourite mug before adding boiling water. The way we did back in Auckland. I remember how there was no sweetened condensed milk, which felt as though it was the only thing we should add to instant coffee. (How Malaysian is that?)
Even most of the ordinary fresh milk was gone from the supermarket shelves, save for some non-homogenised, organic milk. It sounded too fancy. We bought it anyway, stirred it into our instant coffee and saved the day.
Begin the morning right, with your own private rituals, and you feel invincible, like you’ve won the day. And vulnerable as we are, we all could do with feeling a bit invincible right now.
For more coffee stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com/coffee/.