Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Innocent In Coffeeland

For years, although I liked nothing better than a good, strong cup of coffee, I drank instant coffee at home.

Then, for a long time, I gave up coffee along with dairy, wheat, and sugar, and lived mainly on weak tea, green vegetables, and will power.  One thing I clung to, however, was a glass or two of wine in the evenings, but during my recent bout of shingles I had to give that up as well, because of the narcotic pain meds.  And when it was over I thought I'd see if continuing to abstain from wine would have a positive effect on my health.

But I cannot forgo all worldly pleasures, so I decided to compensate for the absence of alcohol by letting coffee back into my life.  And this time it wouldn't be Nescafe, but real coffee.

I didn't know much about making coffee, but I disliked the taste of over-boiled coffee, and didn't want yet another electrical appliance cluttering my counter.  I wanted to make coffee by a simple method,with a beautiful implement.

From what I could see on the internet, the pour-over method seemed the most direct--you put some grounds in a filter and poured hot water over them.  And you could make it in a Chemex.  Chemex pots look like they came from a chemistry lab staffed by Italian designers.  They have an hourglass shape and wear an elegant wooden belt around their waist.  They have been enthroned at MOMA as exemplars of contemporary kitchen sculpture.  I wanted one.

The only problem was that the Chemex requires a disposable filter that is not sold in supermarkets.  That, and the idea of throwing out a filter every day of my life put me off the Chemex, despite its beauty.  But wait!  It turned out that a tiny company in Seattle--where else?--was makinga  permanent filter for the Chemex.  Unfortunately, it cost $90.

But the ever helpful spirits of the internet, who had figured out what I wanted without my ever having told them, came up with a Japanese variation of the Chemex, a Hario, that used a cloth filter.  It even had a wooden belt around its waist, and although the cloth filter looked like it would be a pain to clean I was ready to put a Hario in my virtual basket.

Before hitting "buy," however, I thought I should check exactly what the pour-over method involved.  I found a number of videos featuring solemn guys in aprons officiating at altar-like counters.  On the counters were arranged the ritual vessels and implements of  the pour-over method, which I learned was the purest, most artistic way of making coffee, and the one allowing the officiant a maximum of individual expression.

The objects on the counter were:  a tiny digital scale, a grinder, a digital timer, a filter, a cup, and a kettle.  Having ground and weighed the precise amount of coffee, the instructor put it in the filter and turned on the kettle.  But not just any kettle. The right kettle had a skinny s-shaped spout to allow him to pour the water over the grounds in the proper way.

This pouring was the most sacred part of the ritual.  Once the water was boiling, he turned the kettle off and let it rest while, with his index finger, he made a hole in the middle of the grounds.  He picked up the kettle and carefully poured a little water into the hole, letting the grounds "bloom."  He set the timer for exactly three minutes and, starting at the center of the grounds, slowly poured the water in an outward spiral motion, timing it so the last drop would come out as the timer bell dinged.  He removed the filter, took a sip, closed his eyes and all but genuflected.

I thought I could dispense with the scale and the timer, and I already owned a grinder, but clearly I would have to invest in one of those swan-neck kettles.  After another hunt for the ideal conjunction of function, looks and economy I purchased one, made in China but with a vaguely Italian name.  And then I was ready to buy the Hario coffee pot with the cloth filter.

But at the last moment my personal shoppers in the ether offered up yet another possibility:  a Hario pot with a plastic mesh filter that would be much simpler to clean than the cloth one.  Unfortunately, this pot was nothing much to look at--no hourglass figure, no adorable wooden belt.  Exhausted by my search, I put aesthetics aside and bought it.

It should be obvious to you by now that the kettle and the pot have arrived and I have become a priestess of the pour-over coffee-brewing method:  the sun isn't up yet, and look what a long post I've written.






12 comments :

  1. i love coffee but lord ha mercy we can make even the most simple things complicated, can't we? when i visited my brother in seattle years ago, i made coffee every morning with a plastic filter that fit over the mouth of a cup. that was 30 years ago when he was a poor grad student and now that he is a tenured professor i think he still makes coffee the same way. i have keurig, which i would never have bought--it was a christmas gift. the little k-cups are not environmentally friendly at all and yet i use one every morning. pop it in the keurig, press the button, and a fresh-brewed up of coffee within seconds. welcome to caffeine. it is, as martha stewart would say, a good thing.

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    1. I guess now that nobody says matins anymore, we need some kind of morning ritual.

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  2. Instant? Oh dear, I'm so glad THAT'S over. I'm a French press gal. No filters.

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    1. That was back when I had tiny children clamoring for breakfast. French press does make good coffee.

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  3. Mr. Coffee makes two good cups for me and the coffee snob I love. But I savor it only for the morn. Are you drinking coffee instead of wine in the evening too?

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  4. Around four p.m. I start to feel the need for something warm in my hand... like a cigarette (just kidding). So I drink some tea, or a chai latte (which is mostly sugar, I'm sorry to say), or a mix of coffee and decaf. Maybe one day I'll take to drinking strong dark chocolate, like my Spanish forebears.

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  5. We have a number of pour over coffee makers (Melita, I believe) from days before we had an electric version. They do make good coffee -- better than electric. I never got into the French press kind of coffee for some reason, although I own one of those too. In fact we have half a shelf in the basement full of various kinds of coffee makers. We even tried cold brewed coffee once but hated it.

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    1. I read about cold-brewed coffee during my recent search, and it reminded me that when we spent some years in Ecuador, in the late 50s, restaurants would set a cruet of cold-brewed coffee on the table, to which one would then add hot water. I was too young to drink the stuff, but my parents said it was awful.

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  6. I have faced a similar dilemma, and over the years have tried various solutions. I like drip coffee, so I used to use a Melita manual coffee maker. It’s inexpensive, the filters are available at any supermarket, and the cone shape keeps the hot water on the grounds the right length of time to make good coffee.

    But when I was working, every minute of the morning getting ready to leave was rushed, so I found a drip coffee maker like my parents had used, which had a top section that held the all the hot water and let it drip slowly through the coffee in its metal filter basket into the carafe below, so I didn’t have to stand there pouring. http://tinyurl.com/lecaffd The only problem was the coffee wasn’t as rich tasting as I like.

    I finally decided I’d like an electric coffee maker with a timer, so that I could set it up the night before and wake to hot coffee. I got around the boiled-coffee taste that comes from the hotplate on most coffee makers by buying one that dripped into a thermos. That works well for me. Now that I’m not longer working, I don’t bother with a timer; I just set up the coffee before bed and punch the ‘on’ button when I get up. By the time I feed the cat, it’s ready. I use a BonaVita because it heats the water to just the right temperature (195°-205°) to make strong, rich tasting coffee.

    I think my next coffee maker might be a French hand press. At least, I like the IDEA of French press coffee, the aesthetics of it. And it would be nice not to use counter space for a coffee maker. But whether I could cope with the mechanics of it before I’ve had my morning coffee, I don’t know.

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    1. That's the problem, isn't it, how to make coffee before one's had coffee. A kitchen slave would come in handy.

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  7. I very simply have a small electric coffeemaker that uses easy to get filters and all I have to do is be bright enough in the morning to add ground coffee and water. I really think it's the quality of the ground coffee that makes the difference and a good cup of coffee. It's very necessary to buy the best brand.

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  8. I agree Irene. But my beloved coffee snob also has issues with "no burned" coffee.

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