In the military, coffee is one of those commodities that can raise spirits immediately. At times it can be the only tangible manifestation of comfort in otherwise cold and dreary circumstances. Rations can often be eaten cold and the chill that sets never quite leaves the bones and joints. With long periods of standing and observing, the mind can wander as it tries to hold focus, but it never quite lets go of the misery of the environment and conditions.
Without having experienced these conditions; the frozen feet, numb fingers, and with eyes battling to stay open, one might not be able to appreciate how cathartic a simple cup of lukewarm and not very good coffee can be. I can still clearly recall the single cup of bad coffee I was once handed during a course I was on. After coming in from a patrol with boots soaked, pants torn, teeth chattering and only pride holding my will and composure together, the offering was small and cooling quickly but, oh, how it hit the spot. Any catharsis drawn from the coffee in a moment like this is fleeting for certain, but the memory of those warming sips can carry impact well beyond what even the best dose, from the best machines, in the best coffeehouses can offer.
In Afghanistan the cold wasn’t necessarily an issue, at least not the way it is in the depths of a Canadian winter. Nevertheless, when you are far from home, under stress, tired and lacking certain comforts, a cup of coffee can go a long way.
Now, there was access to decent coffee most of the time, and it was generally always hot, but this alone did not perpetuate the dream to build a coffeehouse. The one thing that really fueled the dream was ritual.
Despite having easy access to decent coffee, most of the time, I developed a ritual around a French Press and coffee beans sent from home. This became vitally important to each day. It was definitely more work and the coffee wasn’t significantly better in quality, but the ritual of boiling water, grinding beans, measuring and preparing was comforting, and stoked the inner craftsman. Letting the coffee steep built anticipation and then, once it was ready, the most critical part became realized – a shared cup with peers, and for a short period we could all just sit and enjoy, both the company and the coffee, and let everything else go for a moment.
Sharing became central to the ritual and they just reinforced the dream and the need to create more of these moments, with and for others.
Once the coffee was done, another ritual, the clean up, would commence and then everything was reset for the next day, or opportunity.
That French Press is still well used today and has been on many a camping trip and adventure. Coffee has always brought people together and sets conditions for conversation and debate. I believe that ritual and craftsmanship are necessary parts of the coffee experience and it is a central part of the service model of my coffeehouse dream.