Why We Should Turn Coffee into a Ritual

            It's been a while since I last posted on this blog. This has been a busy summer at Honeybee, and I can't complain about that. We're growing and improving and that takes a lot of concentrated effort. An unfortunate side-effect, however, is certain projects (like this blog) get put on hold. I felt like this post would be a great way to resume, because it's all about using rituals to give ourselves a small break.

            The rituals of our lives ground us in reality. They are precise, deliberate, focused. Rituals act as a soft reset, a re-centering of an outwardly spiraling series of events. They offer us a chance to collect ourselves, take a breath, do something solemn and ceremonial that the outside world gets no say in. Many of us participate in rituals daily. We meditate at the start of the day, take communion at church, pray before a meal, write in a journal, the list goes on.

           Yet rituals are distinctly different from habits. Every day you might tap your fingers as you read, but this does not mean your finger tapping is a ritual. I would argue, however, that a habit can be turned into a ritual by simply reframing our perception of the act. Absent-minded finger tapping is a habit, but consciously choosing to tap your fingers to focus, calm yourself, and sort out your thoughts transforms it into a ritual. These acts, often small, give us a feeling of control and peace because they are familiar, and we grant them importance. Many of us habitually drink coffee, but I think we would all be better off turning this habit into a ritual.

           Making time for a new daily practice is difficult. We are busy all the time. Imagine everything you already do just to get ready in the morning. Adding one more step to this process would likely seem annoying or exhausting in an over-crowded schedule. But most of us (especially those of us interested in a coffee blog) already drink at least one cup of coffee a day. What I'm asking you to try won't add chores to your day, it's simply a shift in your mindset.

           Many of us, myself included, often use coffee as a fuel. It is a utilitarian drink we need to jumpstart a groggy morning or boost a lagging afternoon. Sometimes it's even an excuse to use a chair and some wifi for a couple of hours. But this attitude does not do us or our coffee justice. Coffee offers us a chance to participate in an important ritual, and we should take it. When you brew or drink your daily cup, do it deliberately. Do it with an attentive mind. Clear your head and appreciate your moment of silence and clarity.

           Coffee is complex. Its flavors, its origins, its processes are all rich with areas to explore. Its complexity offers us many opportunities to focus our thoughts. If we choose to ritualize it, we can tailor it to our interests. There's nothing worse than a boring ritual. If we're bored we're not paying attention, completely negating the whole process. Find what interests you about coffee and center your ritual around it.

           Working in a café, I have come to appreciate the process of making coffee. Good coffee demands that I be precise. This serves a practical purpose because it allows me to control brew variables for repetition or tweaking, but it also serves a ritualistic purpose. If I want to brew coffee correctly, I have to be attentive and deliberate. First, I must fill the kettle with water and set it to 205°F. Next, I must weigh out 22 grams of coffee beans. The beans go into the grinder at setting 7.5. Then, I have to unfold and re-crease the filter. By now the kettle is hot, and the hot water goes into the filter, warming the ceramic and removing any paper taste. I then have to dump that water and put the coffee grounds in. I make a small indention in the center like a bird's nest. I zero out the scale and make my first pour. 50 grams of water, then I must wait 45 seconds to let it bloom. Then 100 grams of water. Wait. 100 more grams. Wait. The final 100 grams. This entire process takes about 7 minutes.

           So I just took 7 minutes to make a cup of coffee, but the most important thing is that I didn't think about anything else for 7 minutes. I didn't think about paying my rent. I didn't stress about meeting my deadlines. I didn't worry about my family. I didn't distract myself with my phone. I was 100% present right here and right now. I'm not sure about everyone else, but for me, that is a rarity. I am constantly bombarded with information, tasks, distractions all day every day with no end in sight. But for 7 minutes a day, I am free from all of that. My ritual gives me a brief moment of peace. And that ritual helps me, in a real way, feel more content. I look forward to it every morning, and not just because there's coffee at the end. I appreciate the process, so much so that grabbing a cup from the pot now feels like cheating.

           "But Alex," you might say, "I don't make coffee, I buy it." That's perfect. You can turn the act of drinking it into your ritual. The point is to take this already daily habit and be mindful and deliberate about it. Give yourself a process and follow it. Let drinking your coffee be an act in and of itself, not a background thought or a race to refuel. Be present with your coffee. Feel it in your hands. Follow the warmth coming off of it through your fingers and into your palm. As you sip it pay attention to how it smells and tastes. What does it remind you of? Is it a dark chocolate orange on Christmas night, or is it a piña colada by the pool?                                                    

            You can also try mentally tracing your coffee back to its origin. Think about where your coffee came from. The hillside in Colombia that nurtured it or the farmer in Ethiopia who picked it. Think about the importer who shipped it across continents and oceans. Think about the roaster who coaxed the best flavors out of it. Think about the barista that woke up early to make it for you. For just a minute or two, let the coffee pull you out of your world and into its own. If done successfully, your ritual will give you a tranquil moment in the present, saving you from what lies outside the little bubble you made.

           Unfortunately, we can't exist in our bubbles forever, but these daily little bits at a time add up. Making coffee a ritual elevates it above a source of energy and gives us a few minutes a day to be mindful, appreciative, and calm. If you try it for a while, you might find that you think a little more clearly, have a little less anxiety, and look forward to something you used to take for granted.


Author: Alex Wuethrich

Norris Hill