To use a stovetop espresso maker, fill the bottom with cold water. Spoon the grounds into the filter and place the filter in its snug spot beneath the opening of the bottom section. Screw the upper portion of the sharp, geometric body onto the bottom and place it on the stove until its torso is filled with coffee. Remove from stove and enjoy.
The black plastic handle of my father’s espresso maker is a gnarled mess of folds that tapers unevenly at the tip, its pristine form disfigured from years of heat from the gas oven flame that rises below it each morning. He lies down on the living room couch while his Café Bustello brews, reading the New York Review of Books in a tattered white t-shirt and flannel pajama pants, whose drawstring he has tied back together after it broke last month. Later, he will put on a red flannel shirt that’s older than I am, tuck it into tan corduroys, and run his weekly errands: bringing the recyclables down to their proper bin in the basement; dropping off this week’s dry cleaning and picking up last week’s; buying bread, granola, and whole milk at the supermarket.
He will ride his bike to the tennis courts in Riverside Park, his battered sneakers stained red from the clay, in a helmet whose top shell is hot-glue-gunned to its protective core ever since the two fell apart in 2013. He will have a banana for lunch, or, if he’s hungrier, he’ll make toast and place thick slices of Jarlsberg cheese on top of it so that they get warm, but don’t melt. He will take the rest of his espresso, which he poured into a washed-out jar that used to hold tomato sauce, out of the fridge. He will pour in the milk he bought, seal the lid, and shake vigorously, his knuckles white and his face flushed from hours of running after a small yellow ball under midday sun.
To use a drip coffee maker, fill the carafe with cold water and place the filter in its basket. Spoon the grounds into the pocket created by the filter, close the lid, and flip on the machine. The pot will be full in seven to eight minutes.
I first learned how to make drip coffee my sophomore year of college, when my roommate brought a drip coffeemaker in defiance of my automatic espresso machine. It turned out I liked the weaker stuff better, to my father’s disgrace, and I soon abandoned my espresso pods (which he wouldn’t have approved of, anyway—none of that automatic crap) for the milder American brews.
I had to relearn how to use the machine a year later in Paris, in a wonderfully ancient apartment in the First Arrondissement where my hosts loved literature almost as much as my parents did, but liked espresso significantly less. The taste of the mildly acidic liquid lingered in my mouth as I wandered around the labyrinthine Shakespeare and Company bookstore, the familiar smell of old volumes filling my nostrils with the kind of nostalgia that makes you feel like you’re simultaneously at home and desperately, tragically far from it. There, I bought my father a book that chronicled the history of the store, with testimonies from all the young, errant romantics who had lived upstairs from the shelves, paying rent in the form of services to the store. Tumbleweeds, they called them—a long line of bookish Francophiles that extended back far before my father had participated sometime in the late ’80s. Though his testimony was nowhere to be found in the book, I could feel him in the walls, seeping through the display of handwritten Post-It notes articulating their love for the store, radiating through the dust that would settle atop the tattered paperbacks and yellowing leather-bounds.
As the store’s cat scampered out of the reading nook and darted under my feet, I thought of my father in New York, mourning his mother, who had finally succumbed to the illness she’d stubbornly battled for two long years. I remembered the fervent pride he’d expressed for her when she refused to let arduous, physically draining treatments keep her from playing her daily golf game. It was the same stubbornness that set off their most infamous spats, her insistence that he take a sweater to dinner even though he was a 50-year-old man capable of making decisions without his mother, or the nagging way she made him let her doorman carry his bags upstairs for him—a service he normally turned down with ardent disgust.
I thought of what it might be like to lose the last of your immediate family members, to say goodbye to the last elementary piece of a childhood that was fragmented, punctuated with divorce and relocation and shortage. I thought about his other, newer nuclear family—three women, including myself, with high-pitched voices and dark hair—and the sacrifices he’d made to give us a life filled with ideas like the ones on the pages that surrounded me.
For a French press, fill the bottom of the beaker with a thin layer of grounds and set water to boil. Once it’s ready, pour the water into the beaker and stir. Let the coffee brew for three minutes, then use the plunger to crush the grounds out of the liquid, back to the bottom of the beaker.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll haphazardly dissect my “Unread” e-mail inbox as the hot water gradually darkens, absorbing my hazelnut-vanilla grounds. One message might be from my father, sitting in a sleek gray office on Sixth Avenue, in between phone calls he made at strange hours to countries across oceans. I probably won’t respond—instead, I’ll save my reactions for our Sunday phone call, when, between long meditative pauses, he’ll ask me about my classes and recognize the names of the readings I’ve skimmed just enough to make my few requisite comments in class.
It’s sometimes difficult for me to reconcile the overworked, dedicated lawyer who set aside his passion for academia and yellowing books in favor of a stable career with the tanned, plaid pajama-clad intellectual peering at the New York Review of Books over round glasses in a sun-soaked living room. I’d like to say they’re two sides of the same coin, but I don’t think my father is as simple as that—his sides are tightly intertwined, each as important to the other as the grounds are to the water, and the water to the grounds. Espresso is not drip, and drip is not espresso. The grounds are strained out, but their remnants are what make the drink what it is.
Danielle Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.