I am addicted to coffee. There, I said it. I love the way my brain feels when I drink it. It makes me smile, I think more clearly, the world around me seems better. I look forward to that very first sip in the morning, and I love it after lunch. I’m even now thinking about my first cup tomorrow morning as I write this before bed.
I never used to like coffee, in fact I prided myself on never drinking it. Regular cups of coffee were not a part of my life until I started my second bout of university, in 2008. Long nights and the study of Italian culture meant coffee had a constant and very functional presence around me for a few years. My recent want for focus on writing code and reading books about business and success, while also working a full time job has made at least two cups of coffee a daily ritual, if not a habit.
Coffee always used to involve a machine at McDonald’s or at a gas station, a rare necessity on long road trips from Vancouver to wherever adventure was taking me either far away or very early in the morning. Starbucks was the best I knew because it was everywhere. There was always cream and sugar, unless it was a speciality coffee like a Pumpkin Spice Latte or some other whip and sprinkle topped, flavoured concoction. Eventually learned, through various periods of experimentation and cups of good and bad coffee, how different factors affected the flavour of coffee. Now I love the flavour of coffee – black coffee even, if it is brewed in a way that I liked.
Some of the brew methods that I’ve tried:
Turkish coffee pot
Coffee made this way results in a thick, sweet (if you like), hot beverage. In a special little pot you mix finely ground coffee grounds and sugar (optional). Then water is added and the pot is put over heat – hot desert sand is even a traditional option for this step. As the water and coffee simmer and bubble, the pot is removed from the heat until the bubbling stops, then put back on the heat again. The coffee is then poured into a cup for serving without being filtered – the fine grounds should be allowed to settle before drinking and the coffee should be enjoyed after a meal, over long conversation.
This method is always kind of fun because it is very non-traditional for me and the people I know. The result is strong, sweet and can be gritty, especially if you don’t to stop drinking before you hit the layer of grounds at the bottom, or if the coffee wasn’t ground fine enough. You know you have made a good cup when you have some foam on top of the coffee, and your beverage stays warm for longer than a regular cup of coffee.
If you need a way to carry on your conversation after you are done your Turkish coffee, this brew method can assist. Once a cup of coffee is done you swirl the contents of the cup around, then flip the cup over onto the saucer it was served on. Then if you know how, you read the remaining residue in the cup to tell your fortune, if you know to read the signs. Some people, like Mario Baker at Turkish Style Coffee, offer resources for you to learn how to read your grounds. Definitely something to talk about as you linger about the coffee chatting with your friends.
One summer during university I worked at a coffee shop that a couple of friends owned and operated. I learned to make all of the food items on their menu, including the best breakfast bagel that I’ve ever tasted (seriously). They also taught me how to use their La Marzocco espresso machine – basically one of the best commercial machines out there, the Ferrari of espresso machines, it was even chrome and cherry red. Their coffee roaster was 49th Parallel, a local coffee roaster who takes their product pretty seriously. This meant that we all received training on the finer points of making an excellent cup of espresso. We covered everything from bean freshness, what kind of grinder to use, to extraction times and water temperature. I got pretty good at it and really liked the coffee I could make.
Espresso for me also has an emotional attachment to Italy. I spent 7 weeks there, most mornings kick-started with an espresso, mostly because we drank at lot at night and had to be up to work. It was an awesome time and was also where my relationship with my wife first started. I occasionally do have the odd espresso based drink, like a latte or a Starbucks coffee decked out with whipped cream and chocolate or something of the sort where the espresso flavour is mostly obscured by sugar. These are usually treats though, like a once-in-a-while dessert or a fun roadtrip drink. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the jolt of a sugar infused double espresso (“Un caffè doppio, grazie!”) while standing at the counter. Maybe I’ll hit the local Italian coffee shop sometime next week and reminisce.
(BTW, an affogato, which is espresso poured over gelato, is one of my favourite ways of consuming an espresso shot. So very delicious, make sure you try one someday!)
This aluminium pot of caffeine making joy is a pretty standard tool in Italian kitchens, as far as I’ve been told. I picked mine up in an Italian food market in Vancouver after spending many mornings using one in Italy. I have always compared the product out of this $30 home stove top kitchen utensil to that of the $20,000 high end, high pressure machine I’d learned to make the “perfect cup” of espresso on. With my expectations set high, I am always disappointed. But when I have a bit of time to spend on a ritual that reminds me of the experiences I had while studying abroad, the start of my life with my wife, or just want to feel the reliable metal pot and the well thought out, simple design of a legendary object, I reach for the Bialetti. The coffee is pretty good, but the feelings and imagery that awaken when I make coffee in this iconic brewing pot will be forever unmatched.
We once had a siphon in the office I work in at the moment. The coffee was always smooth, but too hot and it made the place stink like burning kerosene fuel. I have pretty mixed feelings about this method, but I’d try it again. There are different contraptions you can choose for this method, all with the same method of operation:
- Coffee goes in the top chamber of the contraption, water in the bottom one.
- Heat gets applied to the bottom chamber and boils the water.
- Boiling water creeps up into the coffee filled chamber.
- Heat is removed and as the bottom chamber cools, the coffee infused water falls down through a filter, back into the water chamber, which I guess is now the coffee chamber.
The heating source can be a flame as it was in our office, but a cleaner yet much more expensive option is a heat lamp. It was fun to watch the first time, but it always took so long to brew. Was the smooth coffee worth the time and effort? Definitely if you wanted to impress a visitor and had time for long conversation while you wait for the coffee to brew, then cool to a drinkable temperature.
Now if you want the longest possible method of brewing coffee, this might just be the one for you. We are talking HOURS of waiting for your coffee. If you brew at night though, and want a cold cup of coffee the next morning or afternoon, then cold brew is worth a try. Various cold brew devices exist, and again, the m.o. is pretty much the same across them all. Coffee goes in a pot. Water goes in the same pot. Either the coffee slowly drips out of the pot, into a serving container, or you just pour off the cold coffee after it has sit in your fridge for a few hours (like 18 – 24 hours), careful not to include too many grounds when you pour. Making coffee this way is delicious, especially if you want a cold cup. The taste is smooth and refreshing, so much so that if you don’t usually drink black coffee, I recommend trying it this way – it’s pretty delicious. Be sure to choose a medium or light roasted bean though – darker beans will have more of the toasted flavour rather than the more interesting flavours you get at lighter roasts, and cold brew really lets these flavours shine through. I do enjoy a hot cup of coffee, even on warm summer days, so I seldom do cold brews.
This is by far my most commonly used method of extracting delicious flavour from those little roasted brown beans. Every morning as I get ready for work, I boil some water, grind my beans, and run the whole thing through my Bodum french press. It takes 4 minutes, plus water boiling and standing time (you have to let the water cool for a bit), and I brew enough for a cup in the morning, and to fill my thermos for two cups later in the afternoon. If that sounds like a lot of coffee – what can I say, I’m addicted! And I’m okay with that :).
Coarse grinds are key here so the metal mesh plunger can filter out the coffee as much as possible – though you always end up with some debris at the bottom of your cup. Also, you’ll notice I’d mentioned that I let the water stand to cool before I pour it into the french press. I find that if I let the water cool the coffee tastes way better because it is less acidic. Any knowledgeable coffee nerd can tell you that the temperature of boiling water is just a bit hotter than you want to brew coffee with. Combined with a coffee bean roast that lets me enjoy the origin flavours of the beans, my first cup of french press brewed coffee in the morning is usually bliss, when everything lines up just right.
“Serious” Pour Over
For my favourite way of brewing coffee that results in my preferred taste and drinking experience, the pour over wins for me. The french press is almost perfect, but the clean coffee you get out of a paper filter pour over is really good. Combine that with someone who knows the proper science of coffee flavour extraction and perfectly roasted beans – well, you’ll just have to try the result out yourself.
The best cups of coffee that I’ve ever had were in San Francisco on Market Street and they were made this way. Much more science was involved than I use to brew – coffee weight, water temperature, brewing time, water volume. A scale and a measuring cup are involved, and every step is done meticulously. It sounds ridiculous when you read about it, but if you ever get a chance to get a proper pour over (but skip the pour over at Starbucks, it comes nowhere close to the real thing), do it. It’s totally worth the wait.
If you want to know more about any one of these methods, let me know! I’m thinking of outlining more of my brewing processes in more detail. It’s always fun to have a reason to try something like a Turkish coffee or the Bialetti and I’d love to hear your suggestions.