Thursday, December 7, 2006

On Coffee

I am in love with coffee.

Just coffee. Don’t doll it up with sugar or dairy or soy or any of the myriad additions that can push your caffeine toll above the five-dollar mark.

I want it hot. I want it straight. I want it strong.

My morning starts with the roar of a burr grinder followed by an interminable wait while my stove makes the water hot enough to push through the sacred grounds encased in my moka pot. And then the glorious, aromatic bubble and chug that marks the completion of the process. This is followed by the pour of dark liquor, the carry of the sacred mug to its perch on my desk. I take a seat, take a sip and sigh with the wonder of it all.

I am a coffee snob.

Starbucks doesn’t get a second glance. Caribou will do in a pinch. You have a better chance of a great cup at an independent, though you also run the risk of something truly awful. When I travel I bring my moka pot with me along with a camp stove, freshly ground beans in an odor proof air-tight container and a jug of fresh water. If I need a fix I can set up my works in any parking lot and in a few minutes be rewarded with my private immaculate brew. Good coffee shops do offer the elixir that cannot be achieved at home, that deep and wondrous concoction we call espresso (or in my case; a double espresso), a thick, dark concentration of cofeeness, capped by finely grained caramel colored foam floating in a seamless mat from cup wall to cup wall.

Some advice for achieving that glorious brew.

The quality of your coffee is dependent upon three factors:
-Your beans
-Your water
-Your brewing method.

In the bean department I’m lucky. I run a restaurant, in order to get my business vendors send me samples. I’ve cupped a lot of coffee from a lot of different roasters without having to pay for the privilege. You on the other hand will pay, but give yourself a head start, if there is a coffee shop who’s product you are fond of buy your beans there. Get a decent grinder and crush the beans just prior to their use.

In the water department I am also lucky. The hovel I purchased came with an excellent well, the water that flows from my tap is astonishing in its ability to meld with the bean.

If you drink bottled water because you can’t stomach the water from your tap –don’t use it to brew coffee. Buy gallon jugs of spring water at the grocery store, try a couple of different brands until you find the one that works [note: Aquafina does not work, don’t even try it]. Different roasts work better with some types of water. When I was trying to come up with the blend for the restaurant I tasted the candidates at home, when I narrowed the possibilities I brought them into town so my partner could choose. Roasts that tasted great with my water were insipid when brewed in town (and Axe has good water). In the end we realized that the chemistry of the town’s water did not work with lighter beans, if the beans did not have a faint sheen of oil the resulting brew left a chemical coating in the back of the throat.

As for methodology I am a die-hard fan of the moka pot (see picture), it is simple, quick and makes a consistent smooth, strong cup once you have the grind perfected. My favored brand is Bialatti. An added bonus is that they are cheap and durable.

If you use a French press it is important that you don’t get the water too hot (just below boiling) and don’t let the grounds steep too long (I’d recommend three minutes).

If you use an auto-drip don’t fill the pot past the six cup mark, it simply takes too long to brew and you end up with an excessively bitter cup. Use a gold filter rather than a paper filter, part of the joy of coffee is its body, much is lost when it is pushed through paper.

In both the French press and the drip method be generous with your coffee measure, at least two heaping tablespoons per 6oz of water, if the resulting brew is too strong dilute it with hot water.

In all methods of brewing cleanliness is vital. Much of coffee’s flavor is carried in oils and these oils sour rapidly as time passes. If your pot (filter, filter basket, press, water reservoir) is not clean these rancid oils will taint your brew.

Drink up, excessive wakefulness is the only known side-effect. Who wants to waste a full one third of their life unconscious.

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