How to make an espresso

Buy the finest roast coffee beans you can afford. Do not buy ground coffee, it’ll only go stale before you get to the bottom of the bag. Don’t think about the thick murky Indonesian coffee you sipped on humid mornings on the porch of a Sumatran hotel till your tongue recoiled at the muddy sludge lurking at the bottom of the cup. You’ll only long for a time before the complications that beleaguer children who inhabit the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. 

Sniff at the sealed packet for hints of the rich bitter kick-in-a-cup locked inside the beans. Plan to store the beans in your freezer until you need them. Freeze thoughts of the darkness that swirls around your children, the darkness that follows them like a malevolent shadow threatening to swallow them whole at any moment. 

Rinse out the steel Moka pot, the small one that makes just two espressos. Do not use the aluminium one. You’ve heard stories about aluminium and Alzheimer’s. You don’t want to run the risk. Don’t let recollections of the sweet moments of your children’s childhoods – their wide-eyed celebration of the tiniest insect, the most veined crack in the pavement, the most moribund rosebush in the garden, their ability to see joy and wonder in everything – lure you into melancholic then-and-now comparisons. 

Fill the boiler with water, almost to the safety release valve. Drop in the funnel-shaped filter and set the pot aside. Do not question of your own safety release valve, whether you’re releasing the building pressure. You don’t have the luxury of this self-indulgence.

Measure out enough beans to make two espressos. Grind finely. A course grind will give you a weak insipid coffee. Measure out enough resilience and patience to endure when they resist you. Make yourself a weak insipid version of yourself, more palatable, more acceptable to them as they struggle with their demons. Don’t make eye contact with your own devils.

Scoop the freshly ground coffee into the filter and tamp it down. Not too firmly; a firmly packed filter won’t allow room for water and the coffee will be too bitter to drink. Tamp down the bitterness of your helplessness, your inability to take on these burdens for your children, to solve the problems for them, to imbue them magically with the resilience they’ll need, the lifelong strategies they’ll need to develop. Tamp down the worry that they won’t find their way through this dark labyrinth of depression and anxiety. Allow room for breath, for space to acknowledge your own shortcomings and failings, for hope.

Screw the collecting chamber onto the Moka pot and place the pot on the stove on a medium heat. Wait for the water to come to the boil and pass through the coffee grounds. Listen intently for the first growling gurgles of the strombolian serenade that signals the end of the coffee brewing process. Listen intently for similar strombolian stirrings in your children; the marker of another descent into self-recrimination and feelings of inadequacy that could signal the end of them. 

Act quickly to remove the pot from the heat before the coffee becomes bitter. Act quickly to intervene. Allow 3 am family conferences in their bedrooms to become the norm. Remove yourself from the house before you allow your own hurt, your own anger, your own inadequacy to form ugly words hurled in the heat of an argument. 

Pour into a demitasse cup with a single cube of sugar – or no sugar at all. Don’t dilute the significance and import of this moment with the artifice of sweetness. Drop the facade of perfect parenting – like unicorns or God, you don’t really believe in this mythical being. Drive. Drive to Yanchep in the dead of night. Drive without thinking, without crying. Tears are self-pity and you are needed now. There will be time to feel sorry for yourself later. Clutch at that gossamer thought, grabbing wraithlike ends of hope for yourself, for them, for a relationship that doesn’t tear you all apart. 

Look for the crema. It’s elusive and prized, and the sign of a well-made espresso. Look for moments of grace, ephemeral explosions of joy or laughter. Treasure those fleeting instants like hoarded riches. Look for signs of confidence and resilience, look for forward motion, look for a return to routines and health.

Drink it while it’s still hot. Immerse yourself in the truism that life is suffering and those evanescent flashes of gladness are all we can cling to.


This post was written for the YeahWrite #453 Nonfiction grid. Click the badge to read other entries!

Image credit: Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels

2 Replies to “How to make an espresso”

  1. Some great lines in here: “Don’t make eye contact with your own devils”, “ephemeral explosions of joy or laughter”. I did not know making espresso was so complicated! I did know parenting was complicated, but you’ve elaborated some difficult and scary parts of parenting really well here. It took me a while to realize where this was going – in the first paragraph I thought you were referring to a younger version of yourself when you talked about the space between childhood and adulthood – so then the talk about darkness in the second paragraph was somewhat jarring, but a couple paragraphs later I got it. I like how you put together coffee-making and parenting. For both, it’s so easy to screw it up, there’s pressure to do things perfectly. I have to remind myself all the time not to let perfect be the enemy of good.

Comments are closed.