06 September 2011

Kahve: The Joys of Java

"Ca Phe Sua Da" on the verandah
Vintage Coffee Packet Label
The Coffee Tribe

Once upon a time in the U.S., a "good cup of coffee" had less to do with the coffee's roast, grind, brew or flavour, and everything to do with the beverage being hot, plentiful, and cheap. 

As progeny of a people who prepare coffee as a ritual rich with significance and laden with fierce, happy memories of family, community, and leisurely late-night celebrations of friendship and bargains struck,  I grieved at the lax American coffee-brewing and joe-slinging.  I missed the Java Liturgy:  coffee is love, to share coffee with a friend is to share love.

Coffee = Love
Within my family tribe, when we tease one another about the Sacred Bean or the Holy Brew, it is only half in jest.  [This just in:  I'd written one of my nieces about how my friends and I meet for coffee after church.  She wrote back, "Yup, our church has a Starbucks in it, I'm getting a toffee nut latte, vente please!"  Sacred bean, indeed.] 

Guests at my parties share the inside joke about my Coffee Altar, the specially-designated chest standing at the entrance to my kitchen:  it is filled with coffees, coffee gear and paraphernalia, favourite cups curated during my travels, arranged by the mood or activity that each one suits -- one for watching the sunset from my patio, another for the end of a too-long workday, a bone china cup and saucer with delicate brushstrokes of gold for when I need to restore a sense of elegance, a deep-bellied Italian mug hand-painted in exotic jewel tones by an unknown artist, perfect for work/think/smoke sessions.
Worship at the Java Altar
Thankfully, with the advent of Starbucks, the coffee experience in the U.S. began to reclaim some of the joy kahve had always signified for me and, better still, I could at last share the joie d'java with my friends and neighbours.
My most sublime java joys have been celebrated intimately -- in offbeat cafes, sidewalk bistros, in a convent among nuns from Nova Scotia, and in the homes of friends met during my travels.

One particular coffee encounter I cherish happened with Viet Namese friends, when we took "Ca Phe Sua Da" on the verandah of their home.  In Buon Ma Thuot, a coffee-growing region, authentic "Ca Phe Sua Da" is made with velvety dark Trung Nguyen Culi varietal blend, in a medium coarse grind, with faint whispers of dark cocoa and cardamom in its finish and in the wafting aroma.
Yeh, Starbucks'll Never Do This

Coffee as a Work of Art

Ca Phe Sua Da is coffee as a work of art:  prepared with a special metal filter that sits atop a tall, narrow, heavy-bottomed glass, the rich, fragrant might-as-well-be-espresso liquid slow-drips directly into the glass, an exercise in self-control and anticipation.

As we wait and watch, our host explains how every family has its own special ritual, their own personal style for preparing and serving Ca Phe Sua Da.  In her family's tradition, the glasses of coffee were brimmed with smooth chunks of coffee ice, then a thick creamy-blonde ribbon of sweetened condensed milk was layered to fill the bottom finger or two of each glass.   As she presents the brass tray with our individual glasses, Tui posed mint sprigs and enameled stir-sticks at the lip of each glass and showed us how to sip and swirl, sip and swirl, until everything but the mint and the bittersweet memory was consumed.   The first long draught erases the sweaty day, the second ushers in a sultry night paced for a leisurely late evening chat-fest.
When Isn't It Java Time?
Starbucks can never come close to the aesthetics of such renascence alchemy with their plastic and paper cups, and the mint sprig would certainly wilt in their corporate touch.  Just the same, while chatting with my mates on some sun-drenched 'Bucks patio, I've imagined how wonderful it would be to raise a toast to our friendship with a round of this icy, bitter-sweet elixir.  True love.
Life Sublime - Java, Smokes, & Friends al fresco
Gotta go, I've talked myself into a java frame of mind.
See you on the patio ;-)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are cool and we welcome your thoughts. All comments are subject to editing, moderation or deletion. If you use ALL CAPS, troll, trash talk, or thou art a knave, don't expect your comment to be shared.