Coffee is everywhere—from cheap office brewers to a pricey cup at Starbucks, it is a phenomena that persists in many forms and fashions. Of course, there are many methods of brewing coffee; one person might the boldness of coffee brewed from a French Press, while another prefers the simplicity of an auto-drip. Still, others care less about the taste than about the convenience, and are content with a $2.00 cup from Starbucks. An interesting analogy can be drawn if one compares the methods of brewing coffee with the methods of “brewing” philosophy, that, whether you know about your tastes in coffee or philosophy (or both), might spark some interest in your mind.
One way of brewing coffee is the Percolator. This is the device one sees in generic Western movies, a simple pot with a filter inside that one heats over an open stove or fire. This generally makes a poor pot of coffee, but requires no electricity, and can generate vast quantities of the drink. It’s extremely hard to know when it’s time to pull it off the heat, and is unlikely to make something tasty—but it’s useful for excursions and low-budget western movies.
Percolators are a method similar to amateur philosophy, such as that from much of the blogosphere and from those who enjoy talking about intellectual matters, but who have never read or studied philosophy in their life. People often make fun of those who expound their views as “philosophies”, cheap knockoffs of the real thing as they all, but nevertheless enjoy it for cheap entertainment value. The people who resort to this generally don’t know that something better exists—or don’t have the intellectual bravery to live someplace with electricity (interpret that as you wish).
The Auto-Drip is another method of brewing coffee. By this method, hot water automatically drenches ground coffee beans from a small reserve tank. There exists a lot of variety among auto-drip makers—options can include everything from pre-programmed brewing to single-cup brewing to brewing for large amounts of people. Those who want can brew a cheap cup in a minute from pre-packaged grounds, while others might carefully grind their own beans, take care not to let the coffee burn, and produce a wonderful cup of coffee.
Similar to the auto-drip in philosophy is the mainstream historical material. After all, who hasn’t heard that the Greeks taught moderation, the medieval philosophers tried to prove that God exists, or that Nietzsche argued that God is dead (and we have killed him)? Of course, for those who are willing to take the time and study the material, they’ll find a lot more depth—the Greeks were about more than moderation, the medieval philosophers made some intriguing points on human nature (Augustine, anyone?), and even Nietzsche’s ravings on a dead God might have more subtlety than meets the eye. In fact, those who are willing to take the time, do the work to grind the beans, and make sure that the pot doesn’t burn may find themselves with a genuinely delicious, distinctive cup of Joe—or of existentialism, whichever’s your cup of tea… eh, enough with the silly puns; back to the analogies.
The French Press is the method of brewing coffee for the connoisseur, involving labor and time, as well as attention to detail. It’s important not to grind the beans too finely, not to pour too much water in, and let the coffee steep before you sift the grinds out via a screen. However, those “in the know” will tell you that, if you’re looking for the best, this is where it’s at. It’s not accessible to many people, and takes a good deal of time and energy, but the payout—if you can make it—is certainly worth it.
The French Press loosely corresponds to genuine philosophic study. This generally involves, for those who choose to partake, a lot of time, effort, and mental energy. One must carefully read sources in their original language to catch their true meaning. One must analyze the criticism of peers and, a harder critic, one’s own scrutiny. One must be willing to dedicate hours of difficult, intellectual exercise that needs to always be aware of itself. Essentially, this will allow one to enjoy coffee—or philosophy—in its purest form, and find the most long-lasting pleasure. You may still be able to enjoy the lesser forms, such as the auto-drip, but you’ll know what you’re missing, and won’t be able to consider it with quite the merit that you perhaps once did.
The $2.00 Cup of Starbucks is suave, sexy, and unbearable without large doses of sugar, cream, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. It boost your feelings of self worth—I’ve seen people who’ve filled old Starbucks cups with coffee from an auto-drip just so others can see them drink from it. However, if you really take the time to stop and think about what you’re drinking, you’re going to be disappointed; you wasted your money on a $2 cheap of burned coffee, so best to pretend like you don’t see its flaws and wait until you have something better to drink
I couldn’t possibly imagine what this could emulate in philosophy… do as you will with that.
Lastly, there are many more methods of brewing or making coffee, such as espresso machines and vacuum pots. However, they tend to be a bit less common, and I’m not familiar with them enough to comment.
At any rate, I hope you enjoyed the article. I’m personally an auto-drip kind of guy; I’d like to get into the French Press one day, but I’m not ready for it yet, and will wait until I have the knowledge to use it properly. What about you?
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Posted by Zach Sherwin at 3:45 PM