Coffee Bach

April 7, 2014

I live in a world of morning songs. Morning songs, in case you were wondering, are something like commerical jingles where you aren’t trying to sell anything. They are extremely catchy for about an hour and full of the nonsense that accompanies waking up. The vast majority of our household’s morning songs do not originate with yours truly, with the one exception of the enduring hit “coffee time.” If I’m not mistaken, “coffee time” has one note. The first verse goes “coffee time” and the second verse goes “coffee time, coffee time” in the same amount of time, and thus, twice as fast.


“Coffee time” signals the time of morning (sometime between 7:15 and 8:30 depending on the day of the week) when I start boiling water in preparation for my cup of café au lait. As the water  comes to a boil, I wash out my French press and fill it with one and a half tablespoons of (currently) a Costa Rican blend advertised as tasting of sugar cane, sea salt, and honeysuckle (I am skepticle as to whether this description has any baring on the actual product). When the water is ready, I fill the press halfway, stir with a wooden chopstick, and put on about an equal volume of milk to warm up. When the milk is hot, I add the two together in my Café du Monde mug.


It sounds methodical, but compared to contemporary Brooklyn coffee culture, the whole procedure is a bit slapdash (no weights, no temperatures, no grinding of beans, no checking of clocks).

That is coffee time.

As you can see by my measured half-portions, coffee time is ripe for sharing. Moreover, the coffee time tune is perhaps in need of a little updating. So I invited over the famous expander of ditties, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).


The story goes that in 1747 Bach was invited to the court of King Frederick II of Prussia. The king played a simple tune and challenged Bach to improvise a fugue around that theme. Though I know very little of music, I know enough to know that improvising a fugue is no mean feat. Bach arrived at the Musical Offering–a fractal like song if ever there was one.

Bach looks like a man who enjoyed a Berliner or two with his cup of joe, so I baked a cake as well. He was happy to share in my morning ritual, and told me about his own Coffee Cantata–which sounds as if it were written after rather than before imbibing (translated thanks to wikipedia).

Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!
(Oh! How sweet coffee does taste,
Better than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscat wine.
Coffee, coffee, I’ve got to have it,
And if someone wants to perk me up,
Oh, just give me a cup of coffee!)

Although Bach helped himself to seconds of cake, he couldn’t offer much help in improving “Coffee Time”. After all, it’s only one note so any fugue on the theme would be quite literally monotonous.

Nevertheless, I thanked him for his company and his contributions to the culture of singing about that beverage that launched the Enlightenment (maybe?).

bachsealAs a master of court culture, Bach soon sent a very kind thank you note, complete with his ultrasymmetrical Leipzig seal.