But first, coffee

January 22, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

I like the sound of the word simple. The hiss of the s, the hum of the m, the soft landing of the p-l-e. I like the word simple for what it stands for and represents. In ‘War and Peace,’ Tolstoy states (rather simply) that: “There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.”

 A few years ago, I made a pledge to simplify my life. It was my response to a world that seemingly was, and still is, trying to turn us into addicts. We’re constantly being prodded to listen, look, swallow, swipe, click, buy, send. My response was simple: to make choices that would simplify my life. I wanted to focus on five to seven things that would ground and colour my life: family, health, books, words, and food. In some ways, I feel like the pursuit of a simple life is an act of rebellion.

When I think of simple, I think of my grandmother and how she fed her family — she planted and picked, bought the cheapest cuts of meats, and worked magic with leftovers. It was never fine dining, but it was simple and, in some ways, great (see Tolstoy). As I got older and learned to appreciate what she did and how she did it, I brought that same practice to my own kitchen. I try to make simple dishes that taste good while respecting what I learned from my grandmother. My pizzas are simple: dough, sauce, and cheese. A few sprigs of basil. A touch of oregano. I pay a little more for a good can of tomatoes and source cheeses with a good melt. When you buy quality ingredients, you don’t need to bury your pizza under 15 toppings.

And then there’s coffee.

I love me a good cup. Just black. No milk. No sugar. Nothing. Nothing but a good quality bean, water, and time. Simple. Magic.

It wasn’t always this way.

For a while, I flitted between Starbucks and Tim Horton’s (I’m ashamed). Tim’s was cheap; Starbucks was all about that drip, and that cup, and it was better coffee than Tim’s (not by much). Early in my teaching career, it was fast coffee all the time. If a teacher wasn’t buying, a student was. I was pounding so many coffees that, on some days, I felt like I was drowning in coffee and flying on caffeine. Eventually, I reached peak fast-coffee. I turned away from the brands and what they represented. I got tired of the coffee shtick and began to see what these places were all about. Everything that was wrong with the world could be spied at a coffee drive thru: idling cars; our need for convenience; garbage cans filled to the brim. All for a half-ass cup of coffee (at the end of the day, Tim’s tastes like bathwater; Starbucks just tastes burnt) Both give people what they want: bad coffee. I needed to find a simple solution to something that just got way too complicated. 

The first thing that I liked about Mochaberry was that you had to get out of your car to get a coffee. It needs to be a good cup of coffee because you have to work a little bit harder to get it. It’s always an experience. On your way in, you’re bound to come into contact with someone you know (the place is narrow like a stir-stick). You may even get yelled at for holding the door for the gentleman with the four-legged walker; you should consider buying Warren a coffee the next time you see him handing out flowers to the baristas. You’ll have to be patient for the ladies who just finished their yoga practice (they’re a little too amped up for my liking). The space is tight, but the coffee is right. I love that you can find them at the market and community events. They care enough about the community to share their wall space with local artists and community groups. I’ve tried coffee at bougie hipster spots all over Toronto, and I always feel like I’m being duped. Mochaberry makes an honest cup of coffee. Oh, and there’s the Raspberry White Chocolate muffin.

At home, there’s only one way we make our coffee: with Love — and a little bit of muscle. We make our coffee with a French Press (the French make everything look cool). We buy bags of whole bean coffee. We use a hand grinder because it offers a more consistent grind (it’s in the details, man). It took about six months for us to land on the perfect water-to-bean formula and the exact brewing time (and yet, my wife still makes a better brew than I do). I just love the process, the experience— the grinding of beans, the aroma wafting through the room, the press, the pour, the coffee. Followers of Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh swear they’ve seen him reach Nirvana while making and drinking a cup of tea. So simple, so profound.

I’ve been struggling with my writing lately. I’ve been accused of thinking about it too much. Perhaps, I should approach the word game like I do my food game and my coffee game. Jack Kerouac wrote: “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Just like a good cup of coffee. Just like a great life.

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