Brewing Coffee


On Friday afternoon after a memorable Jornada de Fútbol, I began to notice a strange brewing occur inside. The next 24 hours were spent cramped up (quite literally) within my espresso machine of a body in the coffee bar of my apartment, trickling out café solo after café solo. This all brought me back to the infamous Human Espresso Machine of the Summer of 1996. At the time, I often wondered whether I would ever be the same.

I had been spending the summer in Barcelona enrolled in a Comparative Law Program. While returning to Barcelona on the train after spending a long weekend in San Feliu de Guíxols near Palamós and Platja d’Aro, out of nowhere I began to feel flustered. My temperature started to rise. When I finally arrived in the city, I still had to take a long metro ride from the train station to the student dormitory where I was living. Then, out of nowhere, the fever subsided and I felt the brewing commence.

Have you ever brewed coffee in an espresso coffee pot? The water begins to boil and its steam rises through the filter where the grinded coffee lays in waiting, condensing to brew the espresso. You know it is ready when you see the steam coming through the top of the pot. Once you have steam, it is already too late to stop the combustion.


The minute the metro reached my stop, I ran like someone who had forgotten to turn off the stove, rushing home to avoid a major catastrophe, a force majeure, an act of God. There were two long blocks with one eternal stop light before arriving to the steps at the entrance of the dorm. Then, a long corridor, three flights of stairs and back down another long, dark corridor. On the left, my floor’s common bathroom and two doors down on the right, my dorm room.

Now, unfortunately, I can’t tell you about ignoring the traffic light and hurdling the on-coming cars, fumbling the keys, slipping on the staircase, or whether I first decided to leave my luggage in my room before visiting the “facilities”. All I remember was a constant flow of espresso.

When I say a “constant flow of espresso”, I mean a three day long furlough where I did nothing other than make coffee with my body. Any time I got up out of my bed, I rushed across the hallway to brew more coffee. When I tried to walk downstairs to, at least, buy some water to replenish my dehydration, I was forced to turn back to brew more coffee.

On the third day, a cleaning lady knocked on my door. It was time for her to change the sheets and mop the floors. I must have looked like one of those people that the police find hidden in some psychopath’s basement in a makeshift cage. There I was shivering, rocking back and forth, repeating, “don’t want to make more coffee, don’t want to make more coffee.”

The woman was very nice and noticed that I hadn’t eaten in three days or spoken to anyone. She offered to have the dorm’s cook make me some soup. Luckily, also that same day, my friend Felix who was living in Barcelona at the time gave me call, inquiring as to why I had been “missing” for the past three days.

Now, here is an important piece of information: my dorm room had a phone but could only receive in-coming calls. I couldn’t make any outgoing calls. There was a pay phone outside on the corner, but as mentioned, I was unable to walk more than 5 yards without having to brew more coffee. Furthermore, in 1996, cell phones weren’t common, I was also staying in a dormitory where all of the students had left to go on summer vacation.

In any event, Felix picked me up and took me to the emergency room where I had my first experience with the Spanish medical care system. And it wasn’t too bad. The doctor listened to my heart, and I asked whether the rumors were true (did I really not have a heart). Thinking that I was being a very suave flirt, she replied by telling me that if my “coffee brewing” did not stop in the next 48 hours, then she would like me to bring her a “coffee bean” sample. End of flirting.

During the next 48 hours, I drank 5 liters of some warm (I had no refrigerator), salty solution that replenishes the body of its lost fluids and nutrients, and took some Imodium, cork-like pills (actually the same ones that I took this Friday evening). Emaciated, pale and dehydrated is pretty much how my human coffee making experience came to end.

Curiously, though, as I spent this past Friday reminiscing about the Summer of 1996, what caught my attention wasn’t so much the huddled brewing, but how I spent those three long days incomunicado between coffee brewing sessions. I was trapped in a dorm room and on a floor all by myself with no outgoing phone line, no television, no radio, no computer, and no books. Luckily, I had recently purchased a couple of CDs which all had liner notes with the songs’ lyrics.

So, basically, between brewing session, I suppose I spent my time singing the lyrics from the CDs a cappela. And imagine, I had just bought these CDs and only knew a handful of the songs.

Now in retrospect, I think that I really have matured quite well since those days. And when I think about it, the man that I am today who loves to stay home and peacefully read a book really is not as strange as the a cappela singing human coffee maker of the past. I used to love to drink good coffee every morning, now I have left espresso behind.


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