Rituals: Coffee

coffee guatemala antigua royal gorge french press

Every morning is pretty much the same for me: Get up. Make coffee. Live.

Sometimes when I go to bed a night, I fondly ponder that first cup the following morning. I tell myself I can stop any time. But I don’t. I’ve cut down or increased volume, intensity and frequency at various times. I’ve tried doing workouts before coffee but I never feel quite right the rest of the day. Yet, I’ve been unable to workout right after coffee since I spend more time stopping to piss than exercising.

Back when I was a full-time bike racer there was always the mad rush to find that last minute jolt of coffee before heading to the start line. One teammate used to travel with a bullet thermos full of espresso for just such circumstances. As a result, I became expert in two things: preparing espresso on the road, usually with a bialetti, and taking a last minute leak on the start line. Not literally. Sometimes I was a few rows back.

coffee espresso moka bialetti bike racing

Since coffee is so important, especially away from home, I don’t take any chances and will travel with my own beans, grinder, french press and electric kettle. Especially if the trip involves a sporting event. It’s like a security blanket at this point.

I’m still looking for that perfect cup. I’ve come close a few times, but something in the quality of the beans or the state of my palette has changed in the last 10 or 20 years. I blame Starbucks and Peet’s for the over-roased blackness that passed for espresso stateside for so many years. I’m glad to hear that lighter roasts are making a come back.

The three best cups of coffee I ever had…so far:

  • Coffeeshop Transkei, Amsterdam, 1991: Dutch coffee, like an espresso but from a lighter roast, served with heavy cream. I had ridden my bike from Antwerp the day before and this cup made me human again.
  • My Apartment On Ivy Street, Wesleyan University, 1992: my roommate had tipped me off to whole beans from the Middlesex Fruitery and I brewed up a pot of medium roast Kenya AA that was transcendent.
  • Some Hole In The Wall, Antigua Guatemala, 1996: after two weeks of enduring a brown, runny substance they called “cafe” at the Tour of Guatemala, some local girls brought us to a place that roasted and brewed — one cup at a time — the high-quality indigenous beans for which the volcanic slopes of Antigua are renowned. The contrast alone was an epiphany.

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