I’m pretty sure my abuelita allowed me to suckle her coffee dampened finger when I was barely old enough to hold up my head. How else can I explain the innate love of the aroma at such a young age? Coffee matters more to me than the first meal of the day.
Aficionados are born, not made.
When I was a little girl, I would offer to carry my mother’s mug to the sink to wash it. This kindness was actually a ploy to sneak what was leftover, and I was overjoyed when the pediatrician informed my mother that coffee helps in the event of an asthma attack. At my doctor’s discretion, Mami allowed me to sip black sweetened coffee to abate any chest tightness.
I began to suffer from chest tightness daily.
Preparing coffee has become my celebratory morning ritual. I rise when the sky is dark but refuse to ruin the stillness of the dawn with harsh fluorescent bulbs. To honor the sunrise, I light enough candles in my apartment to bring a subtle glow to the living room and kitchen. I strain my grounds through a muslin cloth just like Mami taught me before we could afford a proper coffee maker. I now own a Greca, a French press, and an automatic CoffeeMate, but my preference remains rustic and cheap, a holdover from childhood.
My ritual is as follows. First, I set the water-filled cezve on the burner. I add finely ground espresso beans, turn on the stove, and wait for the water to rise. Once it reaches the brim, I quickly cut the fire and pour the coffee through the muslin strainer and into an oversized mug.
I pour my abuelita’s serving before my own and sweeten it. I set it beside the window and with her spirit, I watch the sunrise. Usually, I take my coffee straight and black but the occasional indulgence won’t hurt. I add two teaspoons of sugar and stir. The scent of the coffee hits my face and I inhale. Deeply. I always pause to enjoy the smell before taking my first sip. Finally, after allowing it to cool, I bring the mug to my lips, allowing the warmth to envelop my taste buds.
I think of my abuelita’s stories. These tales often began with a declaration that she’d been born four months after the Titanic set sail. With a laugh, she’d swirl her ever present cup of coffee and add that the ship sank five days later. Meanwhile, she persevered. She said that it was coffee that kept her going. Caffeine shepherded her beyond the century mark. She lived to be one hundred and one years old. Every morning, when I drink my coffee down to the last drop, I think of Flora. Cafecito keeps me going, just like her.
Lisa Marie Zapata is a freelance writer and consultant based out of New Jersey. She specializes in food, beverage and salsa dancing.