Tea and coffee
I fill the kettle with water. I know it should be cold, but I don’t care. Soon it will be boiling, and that’s all I want. I eye the glass container, with its hard and oily insides, and think that the colour of dark roasted coffee beans is almost perfect. I like hearing the metal scoop ring out against the glass.
One. Two. Three scoops into the grinder. Then one more.
I also know the beans should be coarse ground, but I grind them until they are almost powder. Into the coffee pot. I like glass containers, I like being able to see what’s inside things. (I’m still waiting for the x-ray glasses I was promised as a child.) I pour the boiling water on top of the beans and I stir the liquid with a wooden chopstick. I put the metal press on top, but don’t plunge it. I watch the powder settle and the water turn black. Silty, I think. Very good.
Where is the evaporated milk?
Where is the demerara sugar?
It’s refined down the road from me, but the bag I have has come all the way from Mauritius. I have to look it up on Google Earth. I want to see if I can see the sugar plantations. The island, it turns out, is very small and lies to the east of Madagascar. (Sadly, it also appears to be under imminent attack from a bunch of little red airplanes.) I can see the fields and the satellite image makes the whole place look like a piece of moldy green cheese, but I know it’s volcanic and that under the water dwell a multitude of coral instead. I’m not sure if that’s good for growing sugar, but I’m fairly certain that the island is one of those places where weird plants and animals thrive. You know, like the Galàpagos. Or Madagascar. Vital places. Teeming places. I wonder if the people working in the fields and refineries that made my sugar are Hindu or Catholic or Muslim. (The CIA World Factbook says those are my choices.) Do they wonder who eats the sugar? Do they know how far it travels from them?
The coffee this sugar is about to meet comes from Indonesia. Sumatra. Muslim. Colonised by the Dutch. Do the workers in the coffee fields stop to pray? Worlds away, in India, I imagine whirling dervishes in a coffee pot as I plunge the press. The coffee sinks to the floor, exhausted from its ecstatic dance.
The press itself is French, with a little Italian in it too. (I’ve also heard that the French colonise other people while the Italians submit their own.) Apparently the press produces a most unhealthy version of coffee. Too pure. Excessive just like the islands it comes from, concentrated like the evaporated milk.
The coffee hits the white mug and I see that colour again. No longer black, but closer again to being perfect. The milk runs into the coffee and then disperses slowly. The dervishes return.
And I sit down to read.
In Africa, they say, are countries where almost all the men have died in battle and now the women are left to rebuild their communities and nations. A new Peruvian mummy has been found, and they think she may have been a warrior princess. In jungles near there, I’m told, are tribal people who can’t eat their meat rare because it reminds them of cannibalism. And downriver from there live people who grind the bones of their dead and add them to squash soup.
I read that the tropical glaciers in Uganda and Congo are melting. Things will die, they say. (But things die every second.) Car bombings. Infection. Further north, I learn, a woman is declared eligible for fertility treatments after she has been unable to conceive for one year.
And just over the mountains from her live people who mummify their fetuses with the same loving attention given to those who live a lifetime amongst them. Elsewhere, plagues of illegal immigrants. ‘We must protect our own!’ the people cry. National borders tighten, but the Chinese are starting to travel, 100 million annually by 2020, they say. The people are afraid of outsiders. What if they come from the places where people dispose of dead babies like any other kind of bodily waste? Or that place so overpopulated that the men are kept in cloisters to prevent further reproduction. But it’s okay, the colour this summer is white! ‘It’s all about innocence and hope,’ they say. (Of course.)
One more cup of coffee, I think, before it gets bitter. I try not to spill it on my shirt of innocence and hope. It’s all I have to protect me from natural disasters, from corporate deception, from failing national athleticism. Too late, the coffee is bitter. My shirt is brown. I step outside. It rained all night and the streets are still wet.
The sky is grey flannel. It’s so easy to disappear on days like this. No one notices. The music pounds through my headphones. I feel the concrete under my feet tremble. No. That’s me trembling. I stop to breathe. The air smells good. Like damp soil with only a hint of metal. I turn the sound up and keep walking. One foot, then the other. Someone told me once that walking is controlled falling, but sometimes I’d prefer to fall. No control. Am I there yet? One more block. Two. Where is it? Damn it. I’m late. It’s gone. I turn the corner. Maybe it just took a step to the left. No. Right? I disappear. Back inside, I make tea.
(On the 3rd of December, 2002, a man suffering violent hallucinations burst into his neighbour’s home and attacked her. ‘It was the jasmine tea that made me do it!’ he claimed.) I make a different kind, just to be safe, and I start to read again. 19th century loves. 17th century craft guilds. 15th century boat voyages. We still traffic in people and stories, I think.
I pour more hot water into the bowl holding the monstrous shapes that have unfurled from the jasmine pearls. I picture the hands that pick the green tea, that gather the jasmine flowers, that lay them out on the floor together, that tend them night after night while the fragrance is strongest, that roll the scented leaves into balls, that package the tea to be sent across the world, to blossom in my bowl. The hands are beautiful. They know how far their reach is.
I begin to feel strangled and step outside again.
By Anne, 24 May, 2006; direct link.