Grind, grind, grind...
This has become a regular ritual for me at ye old academy. Almost every time I come to the school, for whatever reason, I wind up here in the music office grinding coffee.
I don't really have to do this. Over in the staff room they have what's called the ocha-kai
(literally "tea association" or even "tea party"), though in these modern times it has far more to do with coffee. Basically, the members of the junior high faculty pay a small fee to the ocha-kai
chief, and he or she ensures that there is a supply of coffee available in the staff room. Naturally, it tends to be regular, supermarket-variety fare. If it isn't instant, it is usually pre-ground, and if somebody does happen to bring in bean coffee, there is a very convenient coffee maker with a built-in, electric grinder.
It's quick, it's easy, it's convenient, it's readily available, and I wouldn't touch it with a three-meter pole. I far prefer coming here and grinding "gourmet" bean coffee by hand using an English-made, black iron grinder Mr. Ogawa received as a present from one of our visiting instrument clinicians. It's a lot of fuss and bother, not to mention slow, but I like it better this way. Just as real shodo
(Japanese calligraphy) artists prefer scraping ink by hand from an inkstone to using the bottled, ready-made variety, I like taking a little time and effort to prepare a good pot of coffee. It not only makes it more meaningful, and adds an element of love, but it makes one appreciate the end result that much more.
Besides, Mr. Ogawa insists that electric grinders wreck the taste of the coffee, and I won't argue with Mssr. Maestro.
Grind grind grind...
The coffee supply here in the music office is mainly provided by me at my own expense. There is a very good reason for this. In Japan there is a twin tradition called chugen
(中元 - mid-year gift) and oseibo
(御歳暮 - year-end gift). Basically, you're supposed to give a summer and winter gift to the people you feel have done the most for you. As a general rule, I always give them to the principal at the academy and the homeroom teacher I'm assisting. I also give them to my nakoudou
("go-between", i.e. the guy who talked my father-in-law into letting me marry his daughter). Since Mr. Ogawa has done so much for me both personally and musically, I used to give the seasonal gifts to him, too, but he got really irritated. You see, whenever you receive any kind of gift in Japan you're obligated to send an immediate return gift. It can be a serious pain in the neck, to be sure, and Mr. Ogawa apparently hates to do it even more than I do, so he asked me to knock it off. Therefore, I don't give him the seasonal gifts anymore. Instead, I try to keep the music office well stocked with coffee. He doesn't complain, and, since I drink a lot of it myself anyway, neither do I.
Grind, grind, grind. At least my arm is getting a good workout.
We sometimes experiment with different brands, but the ones we tend to prefer are Doutor
, and Tully's
. There's naught to be found in the Kashima area, so they have to be bought at the respective cafes either up in Mito or down in Narita. Starbucks is the most expensive of the three, but we seem to like Tully's a little better. It tends to have more character, i.e. it's more flavorful. One could argue that Starbucks is smoother and therefore more drinkable, (a quality MOST Americans tend to prefer,) and one would be correct, but Mr. Ogawa and I seem to like having our taste buds kicked about a bit.
Today it's Starbucks French Roast. Mmmmmmm.....
I've heard that Starbucks, Tully's, and Seattle's Best (which I have yet to try) have all been proven to have a far higher caffeine content than normal coffee. I wouldn't be surprised, but all I know is that they don't grind the same way as most. Supermarket and lesser-known brands tend to be dry, so they grind quickly and easily. Starbucks, Tully's, and, to a lesser extent, Doutor are all oilier, so grinding them is a tedious process requiring an occasional helping finger. Yes, I do actually put my finger in the grinder from time to time. Yes, I still have all my fingers. Yes, my finger does tend to smell like coffee. (Yes, I do sniff...hey
In fact, I've had several students tell me that I
tend to smell like coffee most of the time. Well, I'd much rather smell like coffee than sweat...or cheap deodorant...
Now I fit a paper filter into the drip funnel, moisten it, and place the funnel on top of the coffee pot. Once that's done, I pour the freshly-ground coffee into the filter, and a wonderful smell fills the room. Then, following Mr. Ogawa's advice, I put in a single drop of boiling water and let it settle for a minute. (Mr. Ogawa says that doing so reduces the "ambient bitterness". All I know is that it does seem to make it taste better.) Then I start pouring in much larger quantities of hot water, and an enticing froth wells up.
Ahhh...manna from Heaven...
Once the pot is filled, I pour a cup for Mr. Ogawa and another for myself. Then we both take our first sips and sigh contentedly. Our addiction is satisfied. At ye old academy, there is little better than relaxing in the music office with a cup of freshly-made "gourmet" coffee and enjoying the quiet (or classical music) and the solitude.
Actually, come to think of it, that might also be what it's all about. Ever since all that crap that happened back in 2000-2001 I still feel really uncomfortable being in the staff room for any length of time. I'm no longer in the state of "exile" I kept myself in during most of the 2000-2001 school year, but I'm still being rather withdrawn and reclusive. Even during the English department meetings, whereas the other teachers sit in a nice, cozy circle in the center of the room, (a habit started recently apparently for my benefit,) I still take up a position off near the corner. Face it: my privatensphäre
is still a very wide one, and I still need that distance to keep my wits about me. I probably will for some time, too, if not forever.
What the hey. If it gets me good music and good coffee, it's worth it.