Friday, April 10, 2020

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Journal of a Lockdown No. 29

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Brewed coffee at Midtown Diner, along Padre Faura corner Bocobo Streets, Ermita, Manila. I miss Kuya Ruel, Ate Angel, and the staff there.

I often think of the hours I whiled away in caf├ęs. When sufficiently quiet, they are good places to think, pray, and read--even to get some writing done. These days I subsist on kapeng barako gifted to me by a patient. Whenever I make a fresh serving a few minutes after waking up, I remember the faces I met on the opposite side of the consultation room. My work never really leaves me; it hovers around me like a perpetual bittersweet reality. The ritual is like a silent meditation. The coffee, ground finely, has a gritty and powdery texture. I scoop portions of it using a plastic spoon my brother otherwise uses for baking. I use a stovetop espresso. It is also called a moka pot, a term I refrain from using due its association with an internet channel synonymous with fake news--let us not go there, I want to enjoy this cup.

Espresso is, for me, the best way to savor the hints and flavors of coffee. I don't claim to be an expert, but after years into the habit, I can at least tell whether a certain brew is acidic, earthy, and so on--and aren't these adjectives about the soil that, when confidently applied in a sentence, can give the subtle air of expertise? The espresso is not the most popular way to drink it, even among my friends, but it is the most pretentious. It took me a while to appreciate that bitterness is also a flavor.

"Double-shot espresso, please," I would tell the lady at the counter.

"Maliit po 'yan, Sir, ha," she would say.

"Okay lang po." I would appreciate her concern. I imagine that previous customers had ordered espressos served in demitasses and complained that it was not worth 100-plus pesos.

Most of the time I can't tolerate milk or sugar in my coffee, but there are days when I fall into the sugary trap of the Filipino tastebuds. But, hey, to each his own.

My friend, Racquel, adds a tinge of milk and sugar--most of my friends are like her. Fred and Mervyn, too. A little sugar and a sprinkling of milk to counter the bitterness. Paul B. ovewhelms the coffee flavor with milk and cream, much like how Kris Aquino likes hers (yes, I follow her Instagram): I don't know how Paul B. will appreciate the simile. And then there are black coffee drinkers in my circle: LH (Harold, his actual name, but it's a long story), who likes a hot americano; my brothers, who also like americano and feel strongly about Kulaman coffee sourced from Sean's patient who has a coffee farm in Sultan Kudarat;  Luther, who is now into espressos after his trip to Milan. He sufficiently warned me not to order capuccinos during lunchtime; otherwise the Italians would give me incredulous looks. I heeded his advice.

During my ER posts as a second-year resident, I subsisted on instant coffee, iced, from the ER Kiosk worth Php 15; it was served in transparent plastic cups. I can't imagine the number of lives Kopiko Brown helped us save because of the artificial sustenance we derived from each sachet. Those were simpler, safer times.

What's your coffee story?

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