It's coffee! Fat rails of coffee, but coffee nonetheless.
Much like grooming my graying nose hair with electric clippers and sanding my callused feet, my father taught me to love the French press coffee maker. During my childhood’s blurry-eyed mornings, I’d watch as he dumped inky grounds into a clear glass carafe. Steaming water caused crushed coffee to swirl like gnats dancing the lambada, before the mesh plunger consigned them to Davy Jones’ Locker.
“It’s hard to go wrong making coffee like this,” he said once—probably wearing his THERE’S NO X IN ESPRESSO T-shirt—while pouring a cup of aromatic wisdom.
My first sip was like my first kiss: mysterious, exhilarating, exciting and followed by one thought—I need more. Smooches were slow to snowball, but coffee addiction came quickly. During high school, I got caffeine-high at late-night diners such as Denny’s and Waffle House, fluorescentlit way stations where a buck and two bits bought unlimited java. Back home I dabbled with drip, but press was best. The grounds soaked longer, dying water darker, creating fuller flavor. Sometimes father does know best.
While most kids departed to college with hot pots and ramen by the case, I brought two pounds of Seattle’s best and a glass Bodum. Several weeks into freshman year, after intensely studying at an underage bar specializing in 25-cent beer, I karate-kicked my door open. “Eeeeeeeee!” my dozing roommate screamed, in lockstep with glass smashing into glittering splinters.
Each Bodum replacement befell a unique, if ultimately identical fate. One carafe died thanks to the pointy, curious noses of my collegiate roommate Ted’s feral ferret. A friend’s off-kilter Roger Clemens imitation killed another. And a Bodum I absentmindedly left atop a flame exploded, almost turning my retinas to sushi. A smart cookie would’ve graduated to a plastic Mr. Coffee. But I’m a stubborn little yuppie ox, the grandson of a man who refused medical ministrations until cancer nearly devoured his vital signs.
My response to the broken presses was anger, then numb acceptance—the same coping mechanism I use as a fan of the sadsack Cincinnati Bengals.The breakage continued with vigor. Press No. 8 punched its eternal ticket when a cast-iron skillet slipped from its hook. No. 9 died by the soapy hands of a drunken, too-helpful houseguest. My patience was as frayed as a thrift-store T- shirt: How many times could I sweep broken glass in my underwear? Several weeks after No. 9’s demise, I cooked breakfast for my then-girlfriend, a shrewish Jewess who loved kitschy Japanese toys more than me. In the rush of flipping pancakes and sizzling eggs, I knocked my press into the hard, unforgiving sink. “Screw coffee!” I screamed, too pissed to conjure up witty anger.There was usually a long respite between breakages, letting me delude myself that each shattering was the last. Steam rose from the scattered, watery grounds. I flicked glass into the trash. I mopped the mess. And then I had a horrible thought, one I’m ashamed to admit: Would drinking tea really be so terrible? After breakfast my girlfriend ran errands, returning with a rare act of kindness.
She presented me with a rectangular box that ensured I’d never break another Bodum: Inside sat the Frieling stainlesssteel thermal French press. Stainless steel!
Impervious to ferrets, able to withstand cast-iron blows, it’s a culinary miracle. Its brewed results are tasty to boot: The carafe keeps the coffee warm and robust, allowing me to savor a hot cup without the sense of impending doom. Though that relationship ended as gracefully as Hiroshima (I was ditched for a swarthy Spanish teacher bunking in a Mexican mountain town), the Frieling has endured. When I’m flush, I fill it with dark-roasted coffee from Gorilla (97 5th Ave. at Park Pl., 718-230-3244; B’klyn); when broke, it’s beans from Middle-Eastern importer Sahadi’s (187 Atlantic Ave. betw. Clinton & Court Sts., 718-624-4550; B’klyn), which has incomparably low prices (about $5 a pound). And the heartless sweetheart has been replaced by one who, despite my insistence on patronizing strip-club steakhouses, loves me with all her heart. It’s a match made in mutual-addict heaven.
She’s also a gigantic caffeine junkie. She refuses to utter multisyllabic words until her vocal cords have been revved by hightest caffeine. After the alarm curtails our slumber, we sludge to the kitchen and feed our shared need. She boils water. I dump three mountains of grounds into the shiny Frieling. And then we make sweet, sweet coffee, allowing me to face the day with the wide eyes and jittery hands that’d make my father proud