Monday, January 24, 2011

coffee prana

I love coffee. I love the taste, the aroma, the tang on my tongue from a good cup of recently-roasted, freshly-ground beans. I love the way it settles my gut first thing in the morning. I love the texture of coffee, the slurry sludge of strong brew. The Turks say that “coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” The speakers of Sanskrit have a word, prana, “vital life,” a gift made to the individual to help him along in his journey, a gift not of necessity but of comfort, not something to help him live but to help him feel more alive.

Like nearly everyone else I grew up smelling coffee early in the morning in my parents’ house. Also like nearly everyone else, I gagged on the first cup I snuck. Their instant coffee was watery, weak, like a brown crayon dipped in a cup of hot water, nothing like what I smelled. That scent was more like plowed earth after a summer rainstorm, what you might smell with your nose close to the ground. I didn’t have my first real cup of coffee until I was 30. I was at a Rainbow Gathering near Lutsen, Minnesota, 10,000 naked hippies in the woods. It was shortly after midnight and I’d dropped 2 tabs of acid earlier that evening and didn’t want to sleep. The Gatherings have multiple impromptu free kitchens set up all over the site devoted to specialties: there’s High Tea, Lovin’ Oven, Taco Mike’s, and Rice Dream. I stumbled onto one called The Mudhole, where a lone guy in western regalia tended an old pot that was brewing cowboy style over a fire pit. I said, “Got any water?” and he said, “Nope, got mud.” “Got any coffee?” “Nope. Got mud.” He gave me a steaming mug of the stuff, threw a sprinkle of sugar in it, and we sat on logs, gulping it down. It was a shot of adrenaline straight to my brain and I felt reborn, or more accurately newly-born, the sort of sensation Hare Krishnas say you’ll have when God touches you. The next thing I remember I was on top of the mountain watching an ornate sunrise of yellows, ochres, oranges and reds drawing mist out of the trees around me.

Twenty years later I can’t go a day without the stuff and I’m not at all certain I’d want to. It helps focus my concentration, settles me into my morning routine, and keeps me regular. I mix up a strong brew first thing at about sunrise, using a rough estimate of 10 spoonfuls of unground beans for 12 cups of manic juice, mixed with a little milk to sweeten the sting. The feel of it first thing on my tongue is like I’ve licked a live wire, but by the time it reaches the back of my throat it’s mellowed so it’s like a river of warm, thick, comforting prana blessing my life.

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