Coffee and the Art of Slowing Down

As I write this, I’m drinking English Breakfast tea out of a handmade mug. It’s my favorite tea mug, tall and lean with a tiny bit of a bulge just barely lower than halfway. The foot is black, the rest of the body is tan, and the design details are subtle and intentional. All four of my fingers fit into the tapered handle.

When I drink coffee, I make it with a handmade pour-over cone, draining it into one of two mugs, also handmade, one featuring a bear singing into a microphone and the other a bulbous, blue-glazed thing given to me by a homeless stranger over a decade ago; he told me he had been a fan of my newspaper column during his stint in the city lock-up.

Handmade pottery, particularly the functional variety, is an invitation to pause in the often rote processes of eating and drinking. It’s an invitation to be present: This mug or that? Which feels right for this drink?

The pour-over coffee takes it one step further with its multi-step, automation-free process:

  • Put an unbleached basket filter in the cone and wet it; add ground coffee. (If we were more persnickety, we’d grind our own beans. Not so, as of yet.)
  • Boil water. (There’s a perfect temperature which is a bit below boiling but, again, not terribly persnickety.)
  • Wet the grounds with just a little water and watch as they bloom and settle back into the cone.
  • Pour more water over the grounds; this is where I usually fill the filter and then tug at its edges to get rid of any air bubbles that are preventing the coffee from filtering through at the appropriate rate.
  • Lift the cone and check the level of coffee in the cup.
  • Pour in more water in a circular motion, wetting as thoroughly as possible while guessing at an amount that will get the mug close to full without overflowing.
  • Check the level in the cup again.
  • Add more water if needed or move onto the next cup.

It’s not efficient, not like the drip coffee pot I used to use. Instead, it’s beautiful and interactive. It’s a quiet asynchronous interaction with the potters who made each piece. It’s a reminder to be present in my life, even in the smallest ways. It’s a creative process that leads to the reward of tasty coffee in mugs I truly enjoy using.

A habit I have yet to adopt is one in which I gather all of my needed things to go out into the world and then set a meditation timer for just three minutes. When I pull this off, I sit with my things in my hands and tucked around me. That’s it. I just sit. Sometimes, I remember something I had intended to also bring; sometimes it’s just a moment to breathe.

Though it’s only three minutes, it often feels like an impossible amount of time. Life is whirling around me and my internal pressure to go, rush, now proves too much.

Making coffee in a pour-over builds in a much-needed slow down. I have a few such intentional inefficiencies in my life.

And you? How do you find breath in this world that asks us to go, rush, now?