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Underoo Brew

Underoo Brew

Great Slave baristas make do when the coffeemaker goes for a dip
By Elaine Anselmi
Nov 08
2016
From the October 2016 Issue

As the shiny silver colander tumbled out into the cloudy water of Moose Bay, I knew I’d be going swimming.

It was only Day 2 of a week-long sailing trip on Great Slave Lake. We were moored next to the rocky shore for the night—we being myself and two girlfriends. (A captain and two skippers. We picked up white sailor caps at the thrift store before leaving town.)

In the mornings, in our caps and strings of pearls, we’d sip our coffee out of two matching blue-and- white-spotted enamelware mugs and a cream-coloured one with a red rim. It was a morning ritual. Coffee was non-negotiable. It was always brewed first, even as our bacon sat in the summer sun, a perishable slowly perishing. The tall blue cistern sat elegantly in the trimaran’s small kitchen area as we set sail each day. You can always use a top up.

And at night we would pull into a new mooring in a new bay, have dinner and wash up for the day. The percolator left out since breakfast would be cleaned as well, ready for tomorrow’s ritual. But now, as the sun hovered rosily around the horizon at 2 a.m., my late-night cleaning had resulted in the small metal colander, which holds coffee grinds in place, now sinking quickly to the lake-bottom.

The temperature had dropped with the sun. Rather than taking off several layers of wool and fleece, I vowed that I’d fetch the piece in the morning when it was warmer.

Instead, I awoke to rain. As the first of many showers drizzled over us, I stripped down and plunged into the water. It was only about a metre deep, but also seemingly little more than 10 C. Thick grey mud clouded up everywhere I stepped and the glint of the metal bowl, barely discernible the night before, was now completely dulled. I couldn’t see a thing.

I dragged about the murky bottom and returned to dry land with nothing but clay-covered feet that took ten minutes of aggressive scrubbing to clean off. It took about as long for the forceful waves on the big lake to rinse off the white pontoons.

But it was morning. And coffee was necessary. Cowboy coffee–dumping grinds into boiling water and waiting for it to settle enough to sip without taking in a mouthful of grit–was an option. But our captain, in her white cap and string of pearls, had another plan.

Two days earlier, as we roamed the aisles of the grocery store, checking off every item on our trip menu, the other skipper stopped in the Joe Fresh section to pick up another necessity—a five-pack of cotton bikini-cut underwear. (It had been a while since she'd done laundry.) The back-half of the panties—coming in a delightful variety of patterns and colours—were just the right size to fit snug over the mouth of the percolator. We secured  them with a hair elastic, while spooning in heaps of coffee grinds. We thought the beige pair would work nicely. 

It functioned a bit like a reusable teabag and would make a weak but digestible cup. The cotton was a surprisingly effective filter and every day, we emptied the grinds into the lake, rinsed the skivvies and hung them to dry from one of the mast stays. We were satisfied with the result—it was hot, it tasted like coffee and we weren’t left chewing on unsettled grinds. But our fine morning ritual had lost all of its grandeur; its replacement, dumping the collection of saturated grinds from the latter half of a pair of underpants was, in actuality, quite unsettling.