I once had a friend visiting and in the morning as I was grinding coffee, he asked to smell the fragrant, freshly ground beans. I passed him the grinder lid full of fine brown grit, like earth. After several deep inhalations, he grinned, handed the lid back to me, and pronounced the coffee amazing.
It struck me as such a simple thing to do—to inhale the aroma of the source of this favorite morning beverage. To appreciate. To be in the moment.
So ever since, almost every day after I grind my coffee, I pause Time.
I experience the fragrance of the grounds. Sometimes I walk away with coffee dust on my nose, and later chuckle as I see it in a mirror.
But I have added to this ritual, and it has become a ritual of gratitude and far-reaching connection.
First, I simply acknowledge that I am alive. I have risen for yet another day of this mysterious, befuddling, beautiful thing we call life. I did not pass in the night. Which, at 57, is something that is not out of the realm of possibility. Time in this body is fleeting, and my spirit’s leaving could be at any moment. Recognizing this is important. Each day. But as I inhale, my spirit’s leaving is not in this moment, and I am grateful.
Next, I think of the coffee’s growing. I thank the soil, the sun, the wind, and the rain. I thank them for their complex interactions that foster climates in which we can grow things, even as the climate shifts in profound ways. I thank the pollinators. I thank them for doing their daily work, even as we humans challenge them with neonicotinoids and habitat loss.
I thank the coffee planters and the growers. I picture them on a mountainside—a high altitude, subtropical region. I picture the coffee bushes with their shiny green leaves and red berries (who knew the beans were once red?). I picture the harvesters, and am grateful for their hard work and long hours, perhaps for not much pay though I hope they are paid fairly.
After that, I think of the traders—for my coffee brand, a trader who believes in equal exchange. I picture them in conversation with the coffee growers. I picture burlap sacks of beans, money exchanged. I picture the truckers, driving the coffee north. I think of the Vermont company that buys the beans and roasts them. I think of the employees doing the roasting, the sound the beans must make as they turn and slide in the roaster, filling the air with an acrid coffee scent. I think of the coop employees at the store that carries my coffee brand. The people in the coop who receive the shipments and stock the shelves. The person who sold the coffee to me in the checkout line. But … it doesn’t end there. No, the threads of connection travel far.
Trees were felled for the paper bag that holds the coffee, and the paper filter that I will pour the hot water through. I am grateful to those trees. There are mills that process the lumber into paper and many workers there. Then there is the petroleum raised from the ground to go to the plastics factory, and all the workers that make that happen. And of course there are machines that fashion the plastic bag that keeps my coffee fresh while it is in the store, and the little twist-tie that holds the bag closed. I think of the metal that was mined to make those machines that transform petroleum into the plastic bag. The engineers who designed the machines. But it doesn’t stop there.
There was an artist who created the logo on the coffee’s paper bag. And there was stone harvested and ground up to create the ceramic mug into which I will pour the coffee. There was a potter, turning the potter’s wheel. And more metal was mined and fashioned to make my kettle that whistles on the stove. Not to mention the coffee grinder and all its intricate parts. And then there is my well that draws the water to put into the kettle, and all the parts of the well and lines and water pump. Which of course needs electricity, which follows out onto a grid that connects a profound web of more raw materials, people, and equipment. The miners, the transporters, the factories, the machines, the boxes, the store that sells kettles and grinders. It goes on and on. And, well, there is just so much that goes into making a cook stove itself.
By this time, I am in awe. Only a few moments have passed while I have stood inhaling the fragrant grounds from the grinder lid.
Each tiny thing we do is woven into the fabric of all the other tiny things that other people are doing, all over the world. And without that fabric, that weave of interconnecting activities and passions and tasks, I would not have a cup of coffee to drink in the morning. Perhaps only water, sipped from my cupped hands at a streamside.