To sit and sip—to truly savor—a well-made cup of coffee in the morning is a pleasure unrivaled in its simplicity. From the first tentative exploration, steam singing your nostrils and scalding your lip, its aroma twining pleasantly through your neural pathways, it’s a deeply sensual journey. The sepia layer atop a deep black americano, or the bloom of cream through the darkness if you take it like that, are a small beauty to cherish and add to your catalog of minor pleasures. The initial chuffing and blowing and barely letting it touch your tongue, the frustrated longing for a full round mouthful while it’s still too hot to drink. The gradual cooling and revelation of complexity—chocolate and dirt and secret starchy roots, or blossoms and citrus fruit and spice (or whatever you happen to taste). The heft of ceramic and its comforting warmth flowing into your hand.
Of course, there are other moments, other cups. Hastily quaffed, thin and sour from paper or Styrofoam when you just need the drug that’s in there, or the reassurance of hot liquid. The desultory cup of decaf that must (must!) accompany dessert, no matter how old and bad it is. The frosty iced espresso with lots of cream, ice clunking against plastic, drunk on a languid summer day.
I’m not talking about any of those. I’m talking about the perfect cup, the first cup, the ultimate cup. Black. For here. Drunk slowly, observed as it cools, appreciated at each stage for what it is in that instant. (A quality cup of coffee, of course, should taste just as good lukewarm as piping hot, the last sip as pleasing, in its own way, as the first.) Leaving a few speckled grounds as a portent to be read and pondered. The lingering flavor, staying with you as you get up and move on, an intimation of timelessness in the midst of the here and now.
The perfect morning coffee is more than a drink: it’s a refuge from daily demands, a reminder that to give oneself over to small enjoyments, to delight unreservedly in a humble occasion, is the basis for a satisfaction that abides long after the coffee is gone.