There are some of you who know my mother. See my mother. Talk to her on a regular basis. And because she doesn’t read this column, I ask you for a favor: NEVER mention what I am about to write.
Because that will be it for me. Over. I will be banished. Cast off from the family. Written out of the will. Seated at the uncomfortable corner at Christmas dinner with the chair that could collapse at any minute. Called a “traitor” and someone who disrespects his heritage.
Why? It’s all because I’ve given up on Cuban coffee.
Oh, the horror! The shame! I am truly a bad son.
Yes, it is true. I now brew Starbucks mass-produced grounds in a super-easy 4-cup American-style coffeemaker. It takes mere minutes and can be done in one easy step.
I have traded tradition for simplicity and convenience. And truth is, I really like it!
I realized recently I don’t want to give up a half hour every morning just for proper percolation! To put on the leather apron and gloves and goggles for when the molten caffeine starts to spit sparks. All for an early morning jolt. My new little coffeemaker can do it in a fraction of the time.
But something about it feels wrong. Like the scene in “The Godfather” when Michael Corleone says, “Don’t ever takes sides with anyone against the family.”
Making Cuban coffee was less about the result — the end product — and more about the experience. It isn’t easy if you do it right. It’s 300 steps that begin with tools and instruments, not coffee pots or filters. You must finesse it. Nurture it. Give it love.
The traditional way my mother used to brew Cuban coffee seemed more like a science experiment than a breakfast routine. She boiled water, then strained it through what looked like an 80-year-old sock dangling precariously from a rickety contraption. It drained into an aluminum coffee pot that must have been pilfered from a hobo camp. Years later when I traveled to Cuba, I watched a little family in a remote village brew coffee over a camp fire the exact same way.
My brother and I grew up drinking café con leche. It’s strong stuff, and the reason we had to start shaving before elementary school. Good Cuban coffee is half milk and then filled with 4 lbs. of sugar to make it semi-palatable. It will send a super-charged surge of caffeine rushing through your veins. My mother would ask our pediatrician why my brother was hyperactive. (She never mentioned the two cups of coffee he had that morning.)
But that’s all changed. Mornings are easier now, yet they don’t feel quite right. Making Cuban coffee was more about the history and heritage and tradition than brewing something to drink. It was a daily reminder of my Cuban roots.
So, maybe I’ll just save it for the weekend. That will keep me in good graces with my mother. As we all know, you never take sides against the family!
Also published on Medium.