December 22, 2011

The Third Dimension of Making Coffee

I'm going to steal a line now, a problem which is compounded by the fact that I don't recall from whom I'm stealing. "Minimalist running is running in 3D." Or something like that. The basic point is that, even on pavement or concrete, you're more aware of your foot placement, and thus more aware of the entire experience of running. That sensory feedback, after you're attuned to it, makes the whole movement feel almost accidental or, perhaps better, inevitable. It becomes like breathing, in that stopping would take conscious effort.

Now I'm biased, on this point. I was not a runner - not really - until I stumbled in to a pair of Merrel Trail Gloves. I had thought, before that, that mediocre 5Ks were the limits of my abilities, and that running was a thing to be endured rather than enjoyed. Now, my times have dropped in to the "somewhat respectable for a recreational guy" range, and my better race performances seem inversely proportional to the amount of stuff on my feet.

But you've almost certainly heard enough about barefoot/minimalist running recently. It's an omnipresent trend, even outside of the running bubble. It's done all the good things for me that you're sick of reading about, so I'll stop here. What I will do, after several paragraphs of blustering, is bring this thing around to coffee.

The concept of "running in 3D" struck me, not just as something I actively get, but as something with pretty good crossover potential. One might do anything "in 3D", which of course, to me, leads to coffee. Minimalist runners talk about "ground feel", the rapport your feet share with the earth that informs everything else your body is doing. The point is that you put as little material as possible between yourself and the experience.

This, I think, correlates quite nicely with the growing trend in the coffee business of pour over bars. We remove the mechanical element, involve ourselves in the process, and feel how we maneuver the grounds. The extraction rate, immersion, temperature, and everything else, is up to us. And yet it's not, when at its best. When it really goes right, the whole experience becomes thoughtless. You aren't "going through the motions", as if brushing your teeth, but rather embodying the Confucian ideal of effortless action.

Of course, a certain amount of neurosis can disrupt this. A great number of would-be-barefoot runners still don't trust their body, paradoxically, and so end up fretting over the minutia of form. They don't trust their senses to give them the feedback they need, or their body to respond correctly. When we worry too much about the "right" way to do a pour over, we lose the intimacy of the preparation. It becomes a formula rather than poetry.

The ideal, then, is something like trusting the feedback your eyes and experiences give you. You know, on some level, what the slurry ought to look like, how it ought to swell and bloom and writhe. Simply make that happen, trusting what you see, and what you feel. That, I think, is preparing coffee "in 3D". It doesn't require bullshit gimmickry. Quite the opposite. It requires a stripped down connection with the activity, an immersion that leads to bliss.

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