I take care of the ritual, not age-old or time-honored but, it seems, nevertheless a ritual. The shape of the machine is that of an aborted X, Vs turned on their sides form the outline, separated at their fulcrums. The body of the whole thing in itself is, seen from above, circular. Which makes the Express, apart from its concave kinks, cylindrical in overall shape: a boiler.
A boiler for a brew of waking up where little beans with tens of thousands of kilometers on their round backs undergo, in care of the ritual, their ultimate transsubstantiation from powder to liquid.
1933 was the year, Bialetti was the name.
The steps and their motion never become old, they can be executed ad infinitum, forever, with the same relaxed calm and precision. The steps do not age.
It all begins with a simple decision: the big Express if common needs need be served, that is, if there is a minimal community. A brotherhood of the early morning will then be renewed by the sharing of a steaming cup and a simultaneous rising to the demands of the day as the contents filter out into the body.
Or the small Express, affirming the solitude that comes before and after all things and which, by the compression of space, yields a refined, more aromatic taste. Stronger, richer, only just a single serving, more in tune with the loneliness of a chalice of coffeine emptied all by oneself. The minute moka pot renders the boiler-like shape almost comical, as if to entertain the single spirit which uses it in the ritual’s ageless steps. Thus sometimes I will smile while handling the dark-dark-grey device, from Italy.
Most of them come from Italy, inspiring reveries of the Toscana, winding roads upon rolling hills, guarded over by immobile Black Poplars; spectral emperors riding into retirement in spectacular robes upon winged horses. Did they too taste of this brew? Arezzo, Siena, Grosseto, Livorno, Massa Carrara, and more names fly before me, unattained. Unsettled by this parade, I return to the granite countertop of the open-ended kitchen.
First comes the cleaning out of the previous ritual’s remains. One screws the upper and lower halves of the tapering boiler against each other to the squeaking sounds of the rubber gasket that girders the machine’s midsection in preservation of richly flavored steam.
When set upon the stove waterless, the acrid smell from the slow burn of this rubberized keeper will alert the chargee of the rite as to his negligence, albeit too late to save the burnt offering. Charred coffee mingled with blistering polyisoprene? A smell never to be forgotten.
The lower half, the boiler tapered in an upwards direction, is filled with water up to the mark of the minuscule vent. The escaping vapor which is excess pressure finds a route of escape through this little aperture if one or the other part of the Express is not well-maintained or simply blows off steam to let one know the ritual can now be continued.
76 years ago it started its run, the Moka Express and its passenger “l’omino con i baffi”.
Then, the funnel-shaped filter is inserted at the top of the boiler. Now comes my favorite part: I delightfully unscrew the lid of the coffee can and let the upstreaming scent of roasted coffee infiltrate my entire being. Other vistas spring up behind my closed eyes: rainforest canopies, barges steaming down vast rivers, overflowing with canvas bags of unripe beans, longshoremen laboring sweatily under their weight. I know there is injustice somewhere along the route but I’m not sure at what exact points. The peasants certainly get flimflammed in the process. No cup of coffee without serious politics because, naturally, there is a dark side to this matinal rite, a connection across the globe between the lovely powder and harsh, tricontinental realities. Yes, no coffee without politics.