The meaning behind our mornings (1,200 words).
Every morning Evan makes me a coffee on the stove, in the small pot that’s now only used for this purpose. He makes it regardless of where we wake up. If we’re camping, he’ll sit on his clothing pannier in the grass or dirt while he stirs and pours the brew through our metal sieve. If we’ve slept inside, he’ll crouch over the stove in the bathroom if there is one, or out on the step if there isn’t.
And after that’s done, he’ll make me a second coffee.
It takes a small crisis for him to stop at a single cup; a morning in Tanzania, months ago, is one of the few times that comes to mind. On the edge of a pine forest our stove choked itself into silence, clogged with soot from burning low-quality gasoline. Instead of giving up, Evan lit a small fire in the gravelly soil. The flames licked the side of the pot and by the time the coffee was ready, the pot handle had partially melted. That was a one-cup day.
What’s strange about all this is that Evan doesn’t drink coffee, not anymore. The story of why he doesn’t, but makes it for me reflects some of his most distinctive traits. It’s a good way for you to get to know him a little more, if you don’t already.
You can live together and see the same situation differently. I knew I was going to start writing this story, and wanted to check my perspective against his. In our tent before sunrise after both sleeping poorly, I asked Evan why he makes me coffee. With eyes half open, he mumbled “because I care about you, and like you, and this is a way I can show that.” Then I rolled out of the tent to start writing what you’re reading, and he got up too—to make me the first coffee.
I believe his reasons. I also think it’s not as simple as he makes it out to be. It’s more about the different ways that him and I approach life.
In the time I’ve known him, Evan hasn’t drank coffee, but he used to drink a lot of it when he lived in the UK. He boozed a lot, slept a little and mountain biked a lot. Coffee helped him stay afloat with these things dialled up and down, in his life without moderation. Then, health issues made him try giving up coffee on a whim. Being Evan he gave it up immediately and completely. His body and mind revolted against him in withdrawal, the extent of which floored him. This miserable withdrawal put him off coffee permanently.
He doesn’t like me framing his personality as intense because he thinks this word carries negative connotations, but Evan is a “Hell Yeah, Or No” sort of person. He’s decided to make me coffee, and sees no alternative but to take this to its fullest definition. He is driven, and goal oriented. It’s gone far beyond showing me he cares. It’s become a daily challenge to conquer, a daily goal to achieve.
“Buttles, it’s time for your coffee!” he’ll say, measuring more than enough ground coffee onto the spoon, more than the amount I’ve said will be fine. “Fine” doesn’t come into any part of our morning coffee ritual. Most days I am obliged to comment on the resulting coffee in the blue plastic cup on the ground beside me, full to overflow: the amount, the colour, the taste, the strength, the temperature, the aroma. “Fine,” “Nice,” “Good,” are rarely acceptable, though I try to use these.
“More words, please!” He wants stronger opinions, a hierarchy of this coffee over that. I am reluctant to give these.
I have a bicycling barista boyfriend, and I’m grateful. But instead of directing superlatives and judgements towards the brew itself, I try to help Evan understand that he could make me almost any type of coffee—and he has over the years, from 3-in-1 Instant to Fair Trade—and I’d drink it, and love it, because it’s something he made for me. That, and because I am addicted to caffeine.
The other problem is that if I judge one cup to be “great” amongst the “fine” ones, Evan will fixate on this. His bar for “minimum acceptable” will be inched up, and he will consider it a failure anytime his output isn’t identical to previous cups I’ve showered with a little more praise than usual.
This is the core of it. Evan not only makes coffee in this dogged way but also continually seeks feedback, because he sees continuous improvement as essential to who he is as an individual and as a relationship partner.
A few days ago, while I drank coffee and Evan drank Ceylon tea—he’s a coffee abstainer, not entirely a caffeine abstainer—I found it hard to meet his eyes. I fidgeted, tore my nails, started to cry. We were talking about exertion, specifically our emotional response to physical suffering. When I’m toiling on the bicycle, I like it after it’s done, but while it is underway I tolerate it—at best. But Evan actively seeks a hard ride, and in the moment revels in the suffering.
“It’s intense, but it doesn’t have to feel intense,” he reminds me, which sometimes makes me resent him.
We’re talking about this because if there’s one thing he wants me to learn from him, it’s the benefits of changing my perspective towards exertion. I want to, but am really scared. He points out all that he’s learned from me, how hard these changes have been for him: How to slow down and not always be focused on cycling further, faster, harder. To invite moderation into his life. To let himself feel and express emotions; coffee-making has become one way he does this last one.
How Evan makes me coffee represents where he’s at these days. That we are having this long, vulnerable conversation crouched in the bushes of Swaziland over second cups of coffee and tea shows his efforts to see bicycle travel as more than riding. Our breakfast was long finished, the bikes weren’t packed up yet, and after the conversation was over we meditated together. Through all of it, he was chill.
But when he makes the coffee, there’s little moderation to it. I feel like almost anyone else would say, even once in a while, “good enough, I’ve made her enough coffee.” But not Evan, not yet at least. And that would put me in a bit of a bind. I’d have to embrace his moderation, and would be excited for him, but it would mean that I’d be making my own coffee.