Presence good for coffee beans, human beings

Andrew Homan is one of five reader columnists for The News Tribune
Andrew Homan is one of five reader columnists for The News Tribune Tacoma

A few weeks ago, my wife Sarah suggested I try a new hobby: roasting my own coffee.

I researched methods online and discovered that for a mere $300, I could dump unroasted coffee beans into a countertop machine, come back 30 minutes later and find perfectly fresh-roasted beans. The machine would do all the work: control the temperature, agitate the beans to prevent scorching, filter the fumes and sift off the papery chaff that gets produced. All with a push of a button.

It didn’t sound like much of a hobby.

I also discovered coffee beans can be roasted using an electric popcorn popper; all it takes is a rotating drum over a heat source, or even a pot and someone to stir them with a spoon.

I didn’t want to invest much money for my first attempt, so I bought some unroasted Costa Rican beans and went outside with a portable induction cooktop and my wok.

I put some music on, took a guess at the proper heat setting, dumped the beans into the wok and started stirring.

Soon, I was sitting in a cloud of grassy-smelling fumes as the beans steamed off their moisture. Seven or eight minutes later, I heard the first pops and cracks as the beans began to burst.

The steam became a wispy smoke. I stirred and stirred, occasionally shaking the wok and blowing the chaff away. When the beans darkened to a shade of brown that looked good, I turned off the heat and dumped them back and forth between two colanders to cool them and separate any remaining chaff.

It took 45 minutes, and I reeked of all the different odors that were produced, but I ended up with half a pound of incredibly delicious coffee.

I could have just pressed a button to get what I wanted. It’s just not that hard to get good coffee - it’s as simple as opening a packet, popping a pod, scooping a few scoops, or driving a few blocks to the drive-thru.

My beans most likely weren’t any better than those roasted by a pro, but for the next few days, my wife and I drank coffee that was special. It was special because I was there for its creation. I was present for the beans’ transformation from something completely inedible to an aromatic, caramel-cocoa, smoky richness.

I was present for the process.

It’s so easy to not be present. It’s so easy to skip over stages. It’s so easy to distract ourselves from the moment, whether by our smartphones or televisions, or even our thoughts.

It’s so easy to skip the uncomfortable moments; we slide past awkward conversations, laborious processes and the dirty work of dealing with personal baggage. It is in the moments we skip, however, that the depth and richness of life – the soul – can be found.

The great works of art, the best jazz and the most powerful writing all are born in strife and struggle. We desire easy, efficient and comfortable. We strive for smooth, but it is in the bumps, hisses and cracks where the soul lies.

Author Thomas Moore wrote: “Soul often appears in the places where we feel the most inferior or where one would least expect to find it.”

I recently found soul in an unlikely place: prison. I started this year with a commitment to visit any group of people, wherever they may be, in a quest to build bridges instead of walls. I had an opportunity to attend a worship service at the Washington Corrections Center near Shelton.

Behind iron bars, layers of thick walls and tall fences capped with spirals of razor wire, I found a group of men with their lives laid bare, authentically supporting each other and singing joyfully along with an outstanding band.

In one of the most uncomfortable, high-pressure environments I could imagine, in a place we seek most to avoid, I witnessed something beautiful by simply being present.

Andrew Homan of University Place is a network administrator at the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. He’s one of five reader columnists who write for The News Tribune in 2019. Reach him at NoelNHoman@gmail.com and read some of his other work at www.andrewhoman.com