December 9, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Coffee with glaucoma

By |2022-02-26T06:16:26+01:00February 15th, 2022|Area 51|
Coffee, a simple enough drink to make... if you can see what you're doing.

t the end of the carpeted corridor is a tall step that leads into the kitchen. Remember this well. Memorize its height. Extend your hand from one wall to the other so you know you’re at the midpoint.

Two steps from that rise, in the kitchen itself, is a narrow plaster pillar about a body-length wide. Take those two steps and try to feel for it. Once you’ve felt it, navigate to its left, taking three full steps. At this point stop, because anything more than these requisite steps will cause you to collide with the counter, made from marble.

Instead, reach forward and feel that top. You will find utensils piled up and beside them the gas range, which you will know as a four-burner grid you can feel with your fingertips. Each burner is a slightly different shape than the one beside it.

Once you’ve established your mental place in front of the burners you can feel for the kettle, the only moveable object atop these burners. This will be filled – this you did last night – but feel its weight by lifting it (the handle is curved and strong) so you know the amount of water contained inside. This is essential for the next few maneuvers.

Once you get a sense of the weight, feel beside the kettle for two round objects. One is a container of sugar cubes, the other a mason jar with instant coffeee inside. You cannot mistake it: the mason jar is larger and smells of coffee. Make sure you’ve established a palpable distance between the kettle and these two objects.

Now move your right hand (not your left, that would be clumsy, and risky) toward the right of these objects and you will feel a cup, inside which is a spoon. If your hand touches something tall and metallic you have gone too far right. The cup is before this object, a small stove you bought a decade ago.

When you hear the faint whistle, a sound you know by heart, pause again to get your bearings.

Once you have the cup, bring it toward the other objects. Open the lid to each, using the spoon to gently scoop out three teaspoons full of coffee, holding the spoon very still until you reach the top of the cup and let the coffee fall in. If anything spills, ignore it. Continue this careful shoveling. Once you think you have three spoonfuls of coffee in the cup, take three cubes of sugar, you will of course feel their tiny squareness, and bring them to where the spoon handle sticks out from the cup, which you will feel. Then drop each cube in and listen for a soft sound. If the sound is hard you have dropped a cube on the floor, so try again.

When this is done, feel for the third, repeat third, knob on the right, more or less level with the kettle. Turn it on. You will hear a whoosh, the gas flame, and feel the heat. Make no move, all is in place. Wait patiently. Think of a rainstorm or the girl next door. Consider what the sky might look like.

When you hear the faint whistle, a sound you know by heart, pause again to get your bearings. Mentally consider the distance between the mouth (its beak) of the kettle and the cup. Now, as if you were placing more cubes in the cup, lift the kettle and very slowly bring it toward the area of the cup. Do this as many times as necessary until you hear the beak clang against the tip of the silver spoon.

Remembering the weight of the water inside, begin to pour at the level of the spoon. If you smell the sudden aroma of coffee water you know you’ve begun correctly. If no smell emerges you are likely pouring hot water on the counter top. Do not be phased. Pause and again try to ensure the beak touches the tip of the spoon.

If the process works you will begin to feel the kettle lighten slightly. Pretend you’re holding a full tomato, plump, and pour until the weight in your hand is that of half a tomato, the necessary amount of water to fill the cup three-quarters.

Stir gently and turn around, remembering the pillar has not move and feeling for it with your arm outstretched – your left, since your right holds the coffee mug. Move around the pillar and walk one and-half steps very, very slowly until your body bumps into the marble cofee table. Kick beneath to feel for the chair and, after a finding a place to put down the mug (ensuring it is a palm-length from the edge), sit down.

Think about how different things were when your eyes still functioned while at the same time congratulating yourself on having made this miraculous mixture.

You are now seated before your morning coffee. I suspect some ten minutes have passed so far. You have left out the small pitcher of UHT milk, which rarely spoils, and should find it by reaching beyond the cup to the salt and pepper shaker you identify by their tall round shape and their exactly similar height, like two perfectly identical knolls.

Remember the cube and kettle procedure and bring the beak of the pitcher to the spoon, again waiting for a clang and again feeling the weight of the pitcher. Calculate the height of the water and coffee by moving your nose close to the mug, this to get a sense of depth. Maybe even dip a finger into the liquid, which will not burn you.

Once you have allowed your brain to calculate how much should be poured to avoid spillage, begin the act of pouring with a steady hand, unafraid.  Bring your lips toward the rim of the mug as you pour so that as the milk begins to reach the top your lower lip perceives it.

Do not be ambitious. Do not be tricky. At the instant your lip feels the milk has progressed toward the top, stop.


Let your tongue touch the top of the mixture to ensure all is well. Again, if you over-pour, do not fret. Merely put down the milk and wait for the liquid to spill off the table.

If there is no spillage, you are done making a cup of morning coffee as you like it. Now, fifteen or so minutes have passed.

Think about how different things were in the days when your eyes still functioned properly while at the same time congratulating yourself on having made this miraculous mixture.

Drink up, and get on with your day, ensuring that when you leave the kitchen you do so slowly. That step has not gone away.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.