Free-range Coffee?

Lemons are supposed to lead to lemonade – but what about ants in the tea kettle?

Last week I made coffee after dinner at a friend’s house. Everyone else was having cake, which I can’t eat, and I knew where to find the beans and the grinder. I took the pot to the table, and then returned to the kitchen. I wanted to use the remaining hot water to soak a pan.

To my horror, when I poured the boiled water out of the tea kettle, I also poured out a stream of boiled ants! I hadn’t seen any ants in the kitchen, and I’d rinsed the pot before I used it – I didn’t have a clue how they got in there.

I peeked into the dining room and saw that people were already drinking, otherwise I would have grabbed back the pot. As it was, I emptied the pan into the sink and decided not to say anything. The water had boiled and the coffee was filtered. I figured people would survive, but be more comfortable not knowing.

When I returned to the table, three of the four people drinking coffee commented on how good it was and wanted to know how I’d made it. One person asked if I had a secret ingredient – I’m not joking.

Trying to think fast, I remembered the label on the bag of beans and said that the trick was to use organic, shade-grown coffee. I dug up everything I thought I knew or could plausibly invent about “shade-grown”, what it means when applied to coffee and why it’s important. Bird migration and habitats, rain forests, soil erosion, pesticides – I can only hope I didn’t start in on biodiversity, because I don’t have a clue what it actually means.

All this had the happy effect of starting a group discussion about caffeine, the health benefits of coffee, McDonalds, marketing, organic tomatoes, Vietnamese restaurants, pad thai, farmers markets, Italian stove top pots, the health risks of aluminum, how to spell “espresso” – it was a fine evening.

And I now boil water in the microwave…

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