Sunday, August 24, 2008

Time Machines

Buried on the back shelf in a booth at your local antique mall, next to the "Jeff Gordon Lane" street sign, a rusted wrench, and some overpriced piece of shit wicker basket with more cobwebs than plastic flowers, sits a time machine.

These time machines have key internal parts made of metal. The outside? Sometimes metal, as well. Maybe it even has intricate designs cast into it. Other time machines are simply wood, old and aged. While a few designs literally have a switch to turn them on, many of the more primitive models have nothing more than a simple handle.

You should give that grinding handle a few cranks (carefully) and see where you go...

Often, one is left to their imagination. No, not a crazy stupid imagination; a logical one. Basically, where has this mill been? Who used it last? Or even more cool, who used it first? (Think about that for a minute when you pick up a mill that was crafted in 1872.) How many owners did it have? What happened to the flathead screw? Where did that huge scratch come from?

Of course, before one can know some of the history of the mill, they have to know some of the identity of the mill. Looking at it from through the eyes of a novice collector, they are the ultimate puzzle. Sometimes, they equal the puzzle you would buy for a toddler. (You know the kind: "Hey, Jimmy, it's a puzzle of a cow. It has five pieces! Think we can handle it?!") For example, if you're lucky, there might be a label on it that says "Sun No. 109". Wow, that's easy. It is the Sun Novelty Works Mill No. 109. Hardly a cerebral challenge.

On the other hand, sometimes, its like those damned puzzles where all the pieces are the same shape and have printing on both sides. On a mill, the label may be long gone and you find yourself with a ruler taking measurements, looking at the details on the ornate cast iron lid and comparing the shape of the knob on the mill with line drawings in the MacMillan Index. Of course, you may never confirm anything. Its true identity could remain a mystery. If you never solve it, so be it. Life goes on. If nothing else, they look neat in your kitchen and make you look sophisticated. (On the other hand, you might look like a total idiot when you tell people it cost 150 bucks and you don't use it.)

What is the future of coffee? Right now, it is kind of bleak I'm afraid. A lot of bad things are happening in the world of coffee, but most people are oblivious to it. Precious bird habitat is being destroyed at an astounding rate for beans that suck. Corporate thugs make huge bucks by playing on the ignorance of the consumer while simultaneously selling them stale sludge. Yes, there are people out there making a solid effort to inform more people about coffee, but we need more people to be less ignorant quickly. There has been a resurgence in the past years for better coffee. It turns out, believe it or not, that the good coffee we want to drink today is what everybody was drinking 100 years ago.

That brings me full circle. If I put good fresh roasted coffee beans in my mill and crank it, I am doing exactly what that unknown person was doing a century ago (or more!). I am hoping for a good cup of joe. So where they. They likely had a home that they enjoyed and needed to attend to. So do I. They had a job so they could pay their bills. I do, so I can, as well. Depending on the mill, over 100 years could separate me from it's first owner.

But, if you think about it, in a weird sort of way, the only thing that separates us is...well, a hundred or minus a decade.....

A hundred years? That's nothing if you have a good handle on your time machine.

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