On the Merits of Weak Coffee

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“What do you mean by merit?” asked Karan, a sound healing therapist from Belgium.

We were enjoying slices of papaya, pineapple, and watermelon with pancakes for breakfast. The two of us were seated on cushions on the floor of the main Rancho house at the low dining room table. The aroma of the freshly brewed coffee filled the room. It was a pungent, chocolatey smell. The volcanic soil mixed with the Central American sun and temperate highland weather gives Guatemalan coffee a unique flavor.

“By merit I mean positive qualities,” I replied.

“Ah. Well, this coffee is not weak, it just could be stronger,” she said with a note of disapproval as she looked into her mug at the dark steaming liquid. Karan usually makes stronger coffee in her stainless steel French press.

“Why do you like it strong?”

“I like the full range of flavors you can taste when the coffee is stronger.” 

And so our discussion continued…

I can enjoy a strong cup of coffee, but it is a rather insistent experience. It puts me in a work mode of do!do!do! rather than be.be.be. Caffeine is chemically similar to adrenaline, which accounts for that lovely rush of energy strong coffee provides. Sometimes I revel in the coffee high, but it can also leave me jittery, overstimulated, and impatient. Too often, coffee is presented as a shortcut for masking chronic fatigue or as an indulgence laden with sugar and milk that is more toxic than tonic. When I have strong coffee, I tend to overextend myself and feel depleted afterwards, thus necessitating more coffee to overcome the deficit. The result is a cycle of dependence and addiction rather than savoring and treasuring the coffee experience.

We do not offer coffee during classes and retreats at the Mystical Yoga Farm. Cacao is the drink of choice here and we have many different kinds of teas available, much of it grown on the farm. The environment we cultivate promotes rest, relaxation, and heart-opening. None of that happens when you’re wired on caffeine. However, during this quarantine, Karan and I indulge in coffee from time to time.

Guatemalans usually drink their coffee weak, more like a tea with some sugar than as an astringent brew. The effect is pleasant and mildly stimulating, suggesting that you be more awake rather than demanding that you be. And you are welcome to a second cup without having to suffer the acidic bite of strong coffee in the stomach. You also have less diuretic dehydration caused by the caffeine. You can sleep better and more easily because it takes you longer to metabolize all the caffeine from a stronger cup of coffee than from a weaker one. Caffeine has a long half-life, half of it will be gone in about three to four hours. That cup of joe could be keeping you up at night, even if you had it before noon.

Choosing weakness can be revealing. Gentleness, softness and surrender can often accomplish more than to force something. These are forms of weakness, of allowance to what is rather than how we want something to be. Han Suyin said “There is nothing stronger in the world than tenderness.” By being tender, we can find the inspiration and grace to accomplish things that require feats of the imagination and of the heart, not of willpower.

Reading that quote was illuminating for me. I thought being strong meant to always be in control and to make things behave as they should, which is tiresome. When all you have is a hammer, you see nails everywhere and pound away, smashing things into submission. In the past week I’ve been adopting an attitude of tenderness in how I approach life, especially in how I regard myself and others. I feel more ease, comfort and happiness.

While writing this piece, I am savoring a second cup of the weak coffee Karan made this morning. It is serving me better than the stronger stuff she usually makes. I’m able to sit still for longer and be focused without the urge to race through the creative process. There is balance. The weak coffee is an aide, not a taskmaster.

I peer over the railing of the porch from where I’m writing to see coffee plants growing. They have been trimmed to be about chest high to increase their productivity. Their solid green leaves have a shiny waxy sheen. I leave my seat and walk over to the plants. Bunches of green coffee berries are growing from the thin branches. They will eventually ripen into a bright cherry red. The precious beans are hidden inside. I reach out to fondle the berries tenderly. I commune with the coffee. I’m reminded that coffee is a plant medicine and muse from the Earth, not a corporate prescription for doing everything faster and with more force.

In closing, here is my recipe for the perfect cup of coffee: brew the coffee with a stick of cinnamon, add a splash of hemp milk, no sweetener. And make it weak, or strong, depending on your preference.