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Reflection in a Cup: Coffee – A Love Story


December 3, 2009
By Stuart Daw

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A toastmaster of long standing, I recently entered a “Humorous Speech Contest” for Florida and the Bahamas. Of seven District entries, I was runner-up, outclassed by a lady who spoke of her solution for sagging body skin. Pretending to take the loose skin of her scalp and pulling it up into a large knot on the top of her head, the speech became a bit risqué, for her breasts became earmuffs … quite a funny thought.

A toastmaster of long standing, I recently entered a “Humorous Speech Contest” for Florida and the Bahamas. Of seven District entries, I was runner-up, outclassed by a lady who spoke of her solution for sagging body skin. Pretending to take the loose skin of her scalp and pulling it up into a large knot on the top of her head, the speech became a bit risqué, for her breasts became earmuffs … quite a funny thought.

For the reader or perhaps conventioneer, one might recall the “Continuum to Contentment,” a speech/essay piece I have given on tracing coffee on the path from green bean to cup. Here is that “five to seven” minute speech as given at the contest:

Many years ago, all my friends and family insisted that I spoke too fast, and that I simply had to learn to speak more slowly. The University of Toronto was offering a one-evening-per-week winter course in what was called “Mrs. Tugman’s Class on the Development of Self-Expression.”

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I enrolled, and on the very first night Mrs. Tugman had me stand in front of a class of around 40 students and read a line from a poem as follows: “It makes me laugh to see the calf go down the path a mile and a half to take a bath.” Of course, I raced through it, and Mrs Tugman said, “Stuart, your problem is with your vowels.”

Holding my lower abdomen and wearing a concerned expression I said, “I don’t think so, Mrs Tugman.”

“No. Stuart, I didn’t say bowels, I said vowels,” she replied, while pointing out that to speak more slowly one had to elongate the A, E, I, O, and U, and that one can not stretch out the consonants such a “buh,” a “cuh,” or a “duh.”

And so, she had me re-read the line, which surely did get stretched. Thus this continued all winter, and by the end the class had chosen me as valedictorian; giving me the honour of presenting a lovely bouquet of red roses to Mrs. Tugman.

But 30 days later I was talking faster than ever, so I began to wonder if maybe my problem was genetic, that maybe I was born talking fast. And maybe I should cool it and adjust what I say to my talking speed, for I was training young coffee sales boys and girls at the time in the story of coffee from bean to cup.

I had published something called “The Continuum to Contentment,” setting out the seven main variables on that path. Starting with green beans, you can make good coffee with good beans, but you can make bad coffee with good beans too. And you can make bad coffee with bad beans, but you sure can’t make good coffee with bad beans. So the first variable became:

“The better the bean, the better the brew; the poorer the bean, the poorer the brew, all other things being equal.”

Now, you can’t make coffee with green beans. So you roast the beans, taking them from room temperature to around 430 F, and through a process of hydrolysis convert the inert material in the bean into a soluble form of coffee liquor, soluble in hot water. And the darker you roast the beans, the darker the colour of the brewed coffee will be in the cup. Thus line two:

“The darker the roast, the darker the liquor, the lighter the roast, the lighter the liquor.”

But you can’t make coffee by just throwing whole beans in a brew basket, so you grind the beans down to the proper particularization for optimum extraction. So goes line three:

“The finer the grind, the stronger the brew, the coarser the grind, the weaker the brew, all other things being equal.”

Hey, we already have the first three variables. And since we are talking fast, let’s try to say all three in one deep breath:

“The better the bean the better the brew, the poorer the bean the poorer the brew; the darker the roast, the darker the liquor, the finer the grind, the liquor comes quicker.”

Then remembering that we need hot water for actual brewing, we can create line four (within limits).

“The hotter the water the stronger the brew, the colder the water the weaker the brew, all other things being equal.”

Now that we have great coffee, let’s ensure its freshness with gas barrier, moisture barrier packaging material. Thus line five becomes:

“The better the bag the fresher the brew, the poorer the bag, the staler the brew, all other things being equal.”

And then, of course, comes sufficient weight, so we can safely say line number six:

“The better the weight the stronger the brew the lighter the weight, the weaker the brew, all other things being equal.”

Now our beautiful coffee is ready to go public – restaurants, clubs, taverns, hotels, the hospital and health care fields. (Holding up a brew basket: “You all are familiar with this, the humble brew basket. But see what happens when we pop in a filter paper and add the coffee – the humble basket’s name changes to “filter bed.” Just imagine that beautiful coffee lying softly in her own filter bed.)

(Loudly): AND GUESS WHO WANTS TO CLIMB INTO BED NOW? It’s that water, that HOT water. And so he does enter the bed; but ladies and gentlemen, don’t think of this as being naughty, think of it as being the height of romantic idealism, and the closer the water and coffee come together, the longer they hold each other, the stronger their relationship becomes. So there’s our seventh line and variable:

“The longer the time the stronger the brew, the shorter the time the weaker the brew, all other things being equal.”

Stand and face audience: “Watch as I pour the coffee into a plain little paper cup (Place cup under the lecturn and quickly pour it into a golden coloured cup, hold it up to the audience and say: “Notice when this beautiful coffee touched the humble little cup, the cup turns into a chalice of gold. GOLD! GOLD! (simulating the current TV commercials on gold) Then proceed:

I just love to stand with the golden cup touching my lips, and as I take the first sip and that soft, warm, brown Yirgacheffe Ethiopian liquid from darkest Africa courses through the erogenous zones of my mouth and throat, I love to just close my eyes and listen to the throbbing, the beating of the native drums.

Kiss cup and hold it high:

“Thank you, Mrs. Tugman, for all you did for me in the past.”

End of continuum.