Full of beans – how coffee helped me through COVID

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
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Out of all the challenges 2020 has thrown at us, one of the hardest to grapple with has been the lack of routine. Having spent most of the year within the confines of our own homes, we’ve all been forced to find our own ways of adding a semblance of structure to our days, either by taking up new activities or rediscovering old hobbies.

Many of us rolled up our sleeves, floured our hands and got stuck in to the world of sourdough (guilty), while others simply took comfort in that first satisfying sip of a drink after work (also guilty). All judgement was thrown out of the window as we tried to find something that might provide some certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.

For me, the answer was in coffee. 

Ever since the age of about 13, when on a family holiday to Italy I decided to order like a local and had my first espresso, I’ve been hooked – both figuratively and literally. In the 15 years since, I’ve developed an interest in coffee that ranges from endearing to borderline obsessive, depending on who you ask. One of the cupboards in our kitchen is dedicated solely to various coffee paraphernalia – a well-worn Aeropress; a battered moka pot I bought at a supermarket on that same trip to Italy; espresso cups of all shapes and sizes – but this stuff only used to make an appearance on the weekends, when time wasn’t at such a premium. Weekdays used to be considered a success if I managed to rush out of the house without forgetting my wallet – coffee never really factored into the equation.

...enjoying the hypnotic drip, drip, dripping of the coffee as it falls rhythmically into the mug below.  

This all changed when lockdown started. Without the need to spend an hour every morning fast-walking to the station before getting crammed into a packed train as it roared into central London, I could instead start the day at a much more leisurely pace, which proved ideal for coffee. 

While I’ve spent years brewing with relatively easy-to-use tools like the cafetiere and the Aeropress, I wanted to try my hand at pour-over coffee, which requires far more precision and patience but rewards your efforts with incredible coffee when done right. So I bought a Hario V60 (a popular cone-shaped pour-over brewer) and a few bags of fresh beans and quickly got to daydreaming about the delightful brews I’d be knocking up each morning. 

A few days later and I was inches away from a nervous breakdown. It was a disaster. Every coffee I made tasted awful, and having to follow a set of instructions on my phone while simultaneously handling a kettle full of boiling water was stressing me out. This wasn’t the meditative morning coffee ritual I’d pictured in my head, but a sure-fire way to get my day off to the worst possible start. 

However, much like learning anything new, eventually something just clicked. After a few weeks I was relying less on instructions written by others and more on my own intuition, and the kettle in my hand felt like a natural extension of my arm, rather than something awkward and hard to handle. The process became second nature, and not only was the coffee tasting better and better, but I was properly enjoying myself. Finally, I was looking forward to waking up in the morning, grinding a handful of beans and enjoying the hypnotic drip, drip, dripping of the coffee as it falls rhythmically into the mug below.  

Since then I’ve been brewing twice a day, every day, and it’s become so much more than simply a hobby to pass the time. Not only has it helped to break up the long days spent working at home, but it’s also been instrumental in maintaining my mental health during the endless procession of terrible news that is 2020. Whether I’m pulling my hair out because of work or I’m just plain anxious about the state of the world, coffee is often the cure. My worries dissipate, the mental fog starts to lift, and even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day, I’m not thinking about anything else. That’s time well spent.