A Coffee Consciousness

Peet's Coffee started in a small store on Vine Street in Berkeley. I remember, as a lad, going with my mom on Saturdays to pick up the week's beans. This was the original store, where they actually roasted the coffee on site. The roaster, a big brass and black iron thing, with wheels and pulleys and a door like a bank vault to protect the precious contents, was behind a big, thick glass wall, so you could watch the machinery work. For a little kid, it was one of those magical things. They'd put green beans in the big machine, and they'd come out dark and oily and delicious smelling. Often, the beans we took home were still warm, and their perfume would fill the car. If we had other stops to make, it was always great to get back in the car, filled with the wonderful aroma of freshly roasted coffee.

We used a hand grinder at home. Dad was a purist, and thought electric grinders had no place in the ritual of coffee. If we had company, which was often the case, every one would get a turn at the grinder; coffee was a community thing. We brewed using a Chemex pot with those big round filters that you'd fold into a cone. Somehow, mom always knew exactly when to take the kettle off the stove so the water was at exactly the right temperature. The hot water would be poured over the fresh grounds, and I'd watch with fascination as the beautiful, rich brown liquor would drip from the point of the cone, the steam rising in delicate wisps, perfuming the whole house with its inviting, enticing fragrance.

I didn't really get to drink coffee when I was little - mom said it would stunt my growth - but I'd get a sip whenever I wanted, and I got to join in the fun of making it. But, as soon as I was "old enough," which probably really meant that mom didn't want me to grow anymore (I was always the tallest kid in school), I got to enjoy my own cup, experimenting with cream and sugar, learning how to dunk cookies from dad, and too often fishing the mushy remains from the bottom of the cup with my spoon. (It would take years to approach dad's mastery of this delicate art.)

It's no wonder that coffee has always been special to me, more than just a "cuppa joe." Peet's has grown to the point where they need a full scale roasting plant, that beautiful little roasting oven long gone from the original store, I now freely admit to using an electric grinder, and prefer a French press type maker, though I still have a Chemex for special occasions. But those early memories are still a profound influence in my daily ritual.

Buying beans is still an important weekly event, and each morning brings with it the grinding, the heating of the water to just the right temperature, and the brewing of a pot of the sacred liquor. tTasting that first sip never fails to recall those wonder filled days of childhood. It's one of the very strong connections with my past, with where I came from, that still lives on. Sometimes, gazing into the glistening black mirror in my cup, I get a brief glimpse into the events that formed my life, and the rising steam seems to form images of the future.

There's magic in them beans. Besides, I just love the smell of coffee in the morning...