Every morning I make myself a cup of coffee. Despite being far away from my country, I make coffee the traditional Costa Rican way.
I use dark roast ground coffee that I brought from home. I also use a filter bag, made of white cotton, that I bought in the central market; also, a porcelain lined metal cup.
The only thing I do not have is the traditional wooden stand for the bag (and technically, water from my country); but the essence of the process is what I preserve.
I boil water. While it is boiling, I place a big tablespoon (two, is I am having a big mug) of coffee grounds in the porcelain-lined cup.
My filter bag is ready, turned inside out to prevent the grounds from getting in the seams. It has been used several times, and despite being washed after every single use, it is stained brown by the coffee. This just adds a nostalgic flavour to it.
I remember seeing my grandmother use the same old coffee filter bag over and over again. She would wash it after every use and hung it from a hook by the sink, where it would air dry before the next use.
When I was little, I asked my grandmother about it because I thought it looked disgusting, but she explained that it was the way it should look. Being a white cotton bag, coffee would stain it, no matter how well she washed it. Besides, the bag was not to be used for anything else but pure coffee grounds and boiling water, which ensured that it would not get contaminated by any other substances.
I watched my grandmother wash that bag and hang it from the kitchen hook countless times; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Back then it used to be my grandmother, my mother and me. Three generations of women, sitting together to enjoy a cup of coffee with bread and butter, as we chat about our day.
After my grandmother died, back in 1997, we stopped drinking coffee for a long time. I eventually started drinking black tea and the occasional cup of coffee when we had company over.
I would not start drinking coffee in earnest again until I was doing my masters. Every afternoon, I would join my friends and colleagues at the Archaeology Lab for coffee. We would all chip in to buy what we needed.
Those were happy times, putting folding tables together by the entrance, welcoming all the assistants and fellow students who showed up and joined in.
The “Arky Lab” has since moved to a different location where it is no longer possible to organize afternoon coffee sessions. People now go to the cafeteria, but the ambiance is not the same. What a shame.
When I moved to Canada, I packed some coffee, a coffee cup, and a cotton bag. Not that I didn’t think I could not find a way to brew coffee, but more as a way to bring with me a part of my heritage.
Now, I make myself a cup of coffee each morning, and while the coffee grounds are steeping in the mug, and then as I pour the liquid through the filter, I think about my grandmother (and her mother before her, who died when I was three years old), and I get nostalgic for the coffee afternoons we spent together.
I feel proud that I can connect to them through such a simple act as brewing coffee the old-fashioned way.
I do wonder what my roommates think of my dirty-looking cloth bag as it dries out on the counter. If they ever ask, I will tell them exactly the same my grandmother told me all those years ago.
Do you have any traditions that connect you to your heritage? Please comment below.