Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bean a Good Boy

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, Starbucks, 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.

10 Comments:

  • hehehehehe is your blood composed of 50% coffee yet? because i know mine is! have you ever tried turkish coffee?? if not, do so! its heaveeeeeeeeeeen!!! as for starbucks.its so damn expensive..i miss being in Bahrain where my daddy pays, and i can afford an occassional frapacino or cupacino (spelling i know!).. but *sigh* here in canada it costs almost 10 bucks to have a large cuppacino..and i prefer to buy food with that 10 bucks! man it sucks being a student! and PS: therez nothing better than smelling like coffee..besides it gives you the workholic look :P

    By Blogger saba, at 4:36 AM  

  • I don't drink coffee. I drink coka cola or pepsi, if I have to. My first cup of coffee was in Turkey while I was on an army camping trip, and I was working late at night, tending the pressure washers which we were using to clean our trucks with. I was cold, wet, and tired, and was very disappointed to find that the coffee the army had chosen to provide tasted a lot like boiled wood chips. I have not gone back to the beverage since then.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 9:59 AM  

  • Oooh! the aroma. Someone here is getting a fix from the vending machine and the aroma is wafting to where I am. At times, too much of it can be intoxicating.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:47 PM  

  • Before you pour that next cup of coffee or head to the corner cafe, have you think about your health?

    Drinking even moderate amounts of coffee may raise your risk of heart disease, according to a Greek study. They analyzed that at coffee's effects on the heart have shown conflicting results. This study is the first to focus on coffee and inflammation, one of the key mechanisms linked to the development of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

    80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.

    BEWARE !!!

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 1:25 PM  

  • meh i would say coffee is one of my least concerns...therez a lot more nasty stuff we eat everyday...

    By Blogger saba, at 4:13 PM  

  • Saba
    I think it's only 30% coffee. I'm being careful.

    Yes, it's unbelievable how much people are willing to pay for coffee nowadays. I remember back in (ARRGGH, I hate saying that!) my college days coffee, for most Americans, was still a 35-cent staple. I used to go to a nearby European-style cafe with my non-American friends and students (I was teaching English to foreign students at the time). The clientele there was about 90% foreigners, and my American friends thought I was nuts to go there and pay A FULL DOLLAR for a cup of "way too strong" coffee (especially on my $40 a month spending money budget)!

    Now many if not most of those same Americans are perfectly happy to shell out $8 for a latte. Go figure.

    Pa've
    Considering how famous Turkish coffee is (which I have yet to try), I find it ironic that you were turned off by lousy coffee in Turkey! Then again, it was U.S. military coffee, so taste is among the least of its concerns. ;-)

    Happysurfer
    Oh, no...don't say any more about the aroma of coffee! I've already had my cup of the day (plus one...shhh)

    l.c_d
    I've heard many "reports" about the ill effects of coffee, but that's the first time I've heard that particular one. On the other hand, I've heard a Japanese medical report that says coffee is good for your heart as well as one from the U.S. (I think) that says it's good for the digestive system as a whole (but not necessarily the stomach).

    I don't follow your liver/gallstone comment. Are you saying drinking coffee reduces the risk? If so, why is it bad?

    There are a lot of conflicting reports out there. As for me, I look at the large number of people that drink coffee without any trouble, and I say, "Just don't go overboard, and you should be fine."

    Saba again
    Heck, I'd be worried about a lot of what passes for tap water these days! And to think some companies actually bottle their local tap water and sell it as "mineral water"! (Of course, if they get caught...)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 6:07 PM  

  • Hey moody, I use my hand cranked mill all the time! Coffee always taste better that way. One good round for every shot of espresso. Now that's music. Starbucks French Roast eh...tried it on ice before? It rocks!

    For espresso, I take the smooth Guatemala Antigua any day; and its seasonal exclusive variant is a bonus.

    By Blogger agus, at 1:24 PM  

  • Agua
    No, I haven't had the opportunity to try it iced yet. Mr. Ogawa doesn't really care for iced coffee, so we don't really have the fixin's for it in the music office. Also, I don't drink coffee at home because my wife can't stand the smell.

    Yes, I like the Guatemala Antigua, too. Tully's also has a Colombia Antigua that's really good. Sometimes either Starbucks or Tully's puts out a limited-edition, seasonal blend that's really good. I always enjoy trying those out.

    Say...what about Kahluha? ;-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:09 PM  

  • If only coffee can be emailed... =) You are making me crave for coffee...

    By Blogger Kurakat, at 10:27 PM  

  • Kurakat79
    You saying that makes me crave it, too, so I guess we're even! ;-)

    BTW, welcome!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:00 PM  

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