My travelling coffee maker is the incredibly well-designed AeroPress. Invented by the inventor of the Frisbee, there is no better travelling companion. And the fact is that Olivia and I both use AeroPresses at home, too, and she no longer drinks instant coffee (how can this substance even be called “coffee”, I wonder?).
Unlike most technology I interact with, there is no aspect of the AeroPress that I can improve; those who know me and my penchant for modifying the technology I use will recognise this as the highest possible praise. It is simply function made form. I will expand on this in later posts, with images. All I will say at this point is that an unheralded feature of the AeroPress is its neatness and cleanliness: once the water is pressed through, the coffee grounds form a small ‘puck’; and when you unscrew the filter retainer, you press the plunger home, and the puck pops out the end, into a waiting receptacle.
Mindfulness (sati) is what we are trying to cultivate on a retreat like this one (specifically, the retreat was presenting the four foundations of mindfulness); it can be elusive, as I discovered—or, more accurately, as I re- and re-discover many, many times a day, every day. At 04:34 on day two, for example, this truth was reflected to me in a dramatic way.
After pressing coffee #1, I lifted the lid of the small bin in the bathroom, to find that there was no liner. I had already started to use the main bin for paper and tissues, and I decided to not use it for coffee grounds (odour in the main room, and not wishing to use more plastic bags that I had to). I removed the filter holder (this retains the paper). Not wishing to pop the puck into an unlined bin, I turned to the toilet, knowing that grounds will not harm the septic system; and pressed the handle softly (if you press firmly, or quickly, the plunger makes a loud click against the barrel; and I was trying to be as quiet as possible, given the thinness of the walls, and the fact that the wakeup bell for the rest of the meditations was 25 minutes into the fiction we call “the future”…).
Mindfulness is interesting in many ways; one can attend to a detail like this, and completely miss something else that might be more important, or significant; luckily, this is Reality’s role: to reflect such omissions back to you.
For example, if you do not check that the filter has come off with the retainer, you might just pop the coffee grounds puck AND the filter into the toilet, as I did.
No problem: I have more filters I thought; and I searched for them for the next five minutes or so. Time now 4:49. No new filters: in another moment of non-mindfulness, I had left them at my Mother’s house in KV (“Kangaroo Valley”) on the way to Govinda Valley, a few days before.
The dilemma: the desire for more coffee (see tanha), and the only filter sitting on the bottom of the U-bend of the toilet, just looking back at me, a round eye and a mute reminder of the practical dimensions of sati. I paused. Now I had an opportunity to test the accuracy of the “boil to disinfect” theory.
I reached my hand into the bowl, noting the body’s internal reaction to this, and felt carefully along the bottom, and slid the filter up towards the surface, where it dragged the full distance of the U-bend, and leaving two finger marks as proof. Clearly, housekeeping had not been as thorough as one might wish. Onwards.
Have you ever pondered the almost infinite variety of bacteria (and viruses, fungi, parasites and not doubt other life forms?) that can live in the U-bend of a toilet? This realisation filled my universe—could I take the chance of getting sick, perhaps very sick, on day two of a seven-day retreat, where I was one of the presenters? I decided, ‘yes’.
On reflection, this was a poor decision; too late now, but as I think about this today, I realised that there were options that my mental state in that moment did not allow to be presented (note to self: pause for longer next time something like this happens; the pressure of elapsing time is artificial, even though experienced as a real pressure). For example, there were coffee presses in the kitchen, only minutes away, and there was the option of simply dropping coffee, something I have done a number of times in the past, with no problematic physical effects. Nonetheless, at 4:50 or thereabouts, this was the decision.
I washed the surface of the filter under the tap, and then popped it into the kettle. I boiled it for a few minutes, re-starting the kettle a number of times, and leaving 30″ or so in-between (even careful measurement of water temperature shows that it hovers around 100 degrees Celsius and does not cool in these time frames, I recalled from school science experiments). The meditators’ wake-up bell rings during this process. I empty the kettle, and refill and boil water for the next coffee.
I have since read on a number of sites that “In order for boiling to be most effective, the water must boil for at least 20 minutes”; I only boiled for perhaps three minutes or so, maybe four, then used the hopefully disinfected filter to make the second coffee of the morning, some time after 05:00. I made sure that the filter was removed from the puck before expelling…
And I experienced no tummy upset at all, and am breathing normally today, so I have probably got away with this. If something similar ever happens again, though, I will boil for longer.