So two weeks ago I was drinking a freshly roasted, and dark enough for a change on my small roaster, Sumatra Mandehling from a Chemex filter in a Hario v60 pour-over filter holder. It was good but really overly refined for a Sumatra coffee.
You see, Sumatra coffees are famously funky; grown on volcanic soil and notoriously poorly sorted has meant that for more than twenty years there has been a sort of typical Sumatran flavor that was reliable crop to crop. Some of that was due to, of course, to the unique growing conditions of the tropical South Pacific Island and its volcanic soil. But, a great deal of the earthy and unpredictably unstable quality was due to the coffee being mostly grown and picked on small family lots or yards and poorly picked through leading to a diverse lot of beans that varied in color, size, and density.
These days, a lot has changed. Twenty or more years of success in the market has meant that Sumatra has better coffee growing conditions, better pay to farmers, and more strict quality control measures than twenty years ago when I first had a cup of coffee that was single origin designated.
That cup was darker, more uneven, and had a wild quality that took that funk that I would describe as orange clay earthiness and layered in complexity with bright overtones and periodic notes of white orchid aromas and pungent citrus that was just short of the sharp smack in the face of grapefruit. The overall quality was wild and dark, like being chased through a dense forest by an unseen tiger.
These days Sumatran coffees are more regularized. They have a more sophisticated, straight forward predictability. It is ecotourism compared to my fearful flight from the teeth of that clay come to life in stripes. This is advancement. Everyone involved is benefitting from these advancements, but I cannot help but miss that cup that first captivated and chased me two decades ago.
I have an odd memory for flavor, I guess, but this moderated coffee has reminded me of Epictetus’s maxim that you can’t step in the same river twice. Now he had never eaten at a McDonald’s, but he lived at a time when the world was still wilder, even than now. Though it should be noted that the trees of Greece were already being lamented by other voices.
Coffee is a fruit, an organic substance that is grown not manufactured, and it changes lot to lot, season to season. I cannot ever have that original cup of Sumatran Mandehling, even if I could find the exact yard those beans were grown in, could process them the same way, and brewed on the same machine. Not one stage of that hypothetical is remotely possible.
How many pursuits in life are a search for that moment when something magical happened, when the right set of circumstances came together in a perfect moment of revelation? Life is a river that moves and dances, always with new circumstances coming upstream or down, with new growth on the banks, new animals and fish, different climate effected by volcanoes or factories a world away. Everything moves, and the water for my coffee is not the same today either.
Life is never caught, never repeatable. We remember but from a constantly new place. Even our memory is created. I am God-obsessed and think God must be a weaver at the loom of creation, moving the shuttle of this moment across billions upon billions of threads, pulling together themes and re-tying broken or lost or ended lines. Every single moment the coming together of a universe in a verse of the song of creation, a line in the poem of making.
This cup of coffee is a new thing, a taste of the creation coming together from several places in the world all at once. Water from a cold Great Lake watershed, beans from a yard turned field on a tropical volcano side, gathered by locals and sold to a processor from Milwaukee who wanted to do good, who shipped by way of a freighter from Norway whose Chinese captain now claims Canada or Oakland as home, delivered by American men of so many descents they are a confusion of history to my father’s warehouse in Mississippi, where I bagged them up myself, unaware of how much of the world went into that bag of burlap.
Yes, I roasted them at home on a small roaster that it takes forever to get up to heat in our midwestern fall as the snow drifts over my green yard for the first time this year, and I recalled that first cup of Sumatran coffee I ever had two decades ago.
Dear reader, I hope you are a creator. We are children of the God of the Loom, makers and creative caretakers of the world. You were designed to work the loom of creation, bringing together threads and themes in new and fascinating ways, whether you are making a cup of coffee or teaching children or running an office or painting a landscape.
You are a maker. Creation is the work of weaving the threads of the existing world and its constant changes and movements into new moments of creativity. A businessman looks at the people in his office and, knowing them, weaves a marketing plan that utilizes their unique skills and abilities and personalities to enable clients to reach potentials that would be impossible without his imagination and prophecy. A craftswoman takes a file to a rough metal housing and shapes the sounds of a concert pianist fingers from force to force of sound through miles of metal cord. What will you do with the raw clay before you? What breath will you breathe into creation? You have been given the breath of God at your making, O little creator, O child of God.
Make something new.
Taste and see that the LORD is good. Psalm 34:8
*Take a look at our family business. Coffee Bean Corral: You can find Sumatra coffee and all the stuff a maker of coffee needs, including roasters there.