I do not like coffee. I do not drink coffee. So why not leave the grinds alone?
In the countryside in Haiti, people often poor coffee from their tasse before drinking their morning coffee: Libations to those who have come and left before us. Libations to thank the ones who have put us in the living world or pushed us into or through life.
When I was little, I knew nothing about libations. I did not even know the word. I just knew that on weekends and vacation days, there was no sleeping in or morning Popeye show once I could use the stove. Just like Popeye needed his spinach, my mom needed her coffee before leaving for work. There were no Starbucks in the mid-70s and 80s, and if I even dared to think to suggest that my mom grab a cup of styrofoam coffee at the hospital, she would put me in my place and remind me who she was going to work for...whose private school tuition needed to be paid. (I love my mom’s candidness and fortitude! It’s all that coffee.) Drinking coffee was a sacred ritual done at home in one routine cup. The bitterness was supposed to remind you that you could face the bitterness of the outside world.
A Cloth Filter: wow! This picture brings back memories.
My morning ritual back in the days:
I boil the water hot. I put the scooped spoonfuls of the Cuban Bustelo coffee grinds into the cloth filter-now coffee-stained from daily use. I pour the water down the cloth filter that suddenly bulges and swells with the filtering blackish brown liquid. Then I heat up the coffee just before boiling point. If I forget and the coffee starts boiling, I know I have to start over.
Can this pass for coffee?
If I handed my mom a cup of boiling coffee, she would barely take a sip and push back the "tasse" towards me. I dared not complain. I knew I had tried to pull one over her.
Though, I made so many coffee cups for my mother while growing up, I do not drink or even like coffee. I tried to drink it. In those magical grinds lay my adulthood.
Will I ever be an adult?
Several times, I thought, "This is it. I will drink coffee. I will love coffee. I will crave coffee. I will need coffee to start my day." The promise of adulthood would reach down to yank me from the infantile world of juice and hot cocoa. Really, Natasha. Do you need some marshmallows with that, or do you want to be like the strong Haitian women you witnessed growing up drinking cafe anme (bitter cofee) without sugar? Grow up, Natasha!
I tasted it over and over again, but I shyly left my tasse filled with coffee a real adult would finish for me.
If the magic did not occur in New York, maybe it would occur in Haiti.
In Haiti, after hearing the huge mortar and pounding pestle and smelling the coffee grains turning to powder, I sat for a traditional very small cup of very dark coffee. I dipped the moist white bread. As I brought the now brown coffee-leaking bread to my lips, I thought this is it: I will like coffee. The soft cuddly bread will make it all better. It did not.
What happened to the cloth filters?
Once all the fancy termed coffee emerged, cappuccino or frappuccino (I am sorry I do not know the distinctions), my little sister eagerly urged me to taste the new craze. I thought maybe this modern coffee would make an adult out of me. She had just purchased a new machine. Fancy with little coffee containers. Truthfully, I do not know how most of these fancy machines work. I only own the coffee maker my mom bought for me after visiting my home many times and being irritated by a coffee-less house. Cloth filters are what I know.
No amount of sugar or milk could lure me to coffee.
For me, drinking coffee means being an adult. (Does coffee ice cream count?) Since I do not like coffee, I am convinced even as I approach my late 40s that I will never be the typical grown up sipping from a lipstick-stained coffee cup. (I can't take the feeling or taste of lipstick. Once again, I can't be a grown up without lipstick?)
Eventually, I thought maybe tea could serve as my badge of adulthood. I abandoned juice and hot cocoa. I am now a tea drinker. I used to drink lots of fruit teas with lemon and sugar, but recently my fruit tea boxes have remained full. I have recently realized that I prefer bitter teas like oolong tea or green tea in the morning and a nice chamomile mint tea at night. Perhaps I am growing up a bit? In a hot country like Haiti, adults drink dark strong coffee in the morning. Teas like a sweet lemongrass with floating petals of hibiscus or more bitter teas whose names elude me (because they taste yucky) are for healing.
Today, I have accepted the fact that I do not like coffee. Shortly after my mother died, the weirdest thing happened. After a stressful emotionally wounding week, I was going through the days in a daze: we are here, and then we are gone. One morning , as I approached my car I saw the Bustelo package illustrated below. It wasn't as if I had seen a Dunkin' Donuts cup near my car. It was the Bustelo coffee she loved. The coffee I made for her. The grinds I had to rinse out of the cloth filter as they clung despite my efforts. The empty package was lying near the front tire on the driver's side. Was my mother sending me a message? Was this her final goodbye, or maybe hello. I know it probably was simply someone else’s trash. As they say someone else’s trash is another’s treasure.
Well, no matter the source of this package, one thing is for sure. I may not be able to pour libations of coffee on the soil of Haiti since I live so far, but I did make coffee for my mom while she was alive: daily sometimes disgruntled libations from a sleepy daughter who just wanted to watch morning cartoons.
This is a picture of the coffee container I found by my tire. Where did that empty package come from?