My Coffee Odyssey Part 1
The book that changes my coffee life as I know it is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee and Tea. The title itself is quite anticlimactic, I know, and it certainly doesn’t suggest a capability of having great impact, but for me it does.
And that’s all it takes.
After reading the book, I gurgle like a newborn to anyone who will listen about the origins and production of coffee, how to brew coffee (and which methods are the best), as well as why the right (coffee) grind matters so much for each brewing method. My friends are amused, my sisters stare silently. During dinner one evening, as I’m bubbling on endlessly, my Bin grins and says, “My goodness, this has become quite a fascination! I might even learn to drink coffee because of you.” (He hasn’t. Yet.)
At coffee shops, I scan the menus with new eyes and wonder if I have the guts to order a lungo, a long shot of espresso that produces two to three ounces per shot as opposed to a single shot which is 1.5 ounces of brew. I study the barista with a watchful eye as she/he prepares my drink. Over at the merchandise counter, I don’t just look at the cups and tumblers anymore, I also pay attention to the bags of whole beans in their snazzy packaging with romantic descriptions evoking liquid dreams from faraway lands.
Like a maniac lusting for knowledge, I scour my favorite bookshops looking for any books on coffee, and quickly add them to my ever-growing collection. I spend a lot of time reading and absorbing, highlighting pertinent passages and then rushing to the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and drinking it while I peruse numerous coffee websites.
I surprise myself one day when, looking at my 11-year old French press, I decide that I want more than one coffee brewer. In just a few months I add one Italian stovetop espresso maker; one Mukka Express (which brews me a pretty decent cappuccino, surprisingly); and a defiantly simple drip filter with a gold mesh screen. My brewing choice comes down to how much time I’ve got as well as my mood for the day: care for something strong? creamy? Am I harried? or do I have all the time in the world? My French press continues to be near and dear to my heart, however. There’s nothing like the appealing directness of infusion, the way the ground coffee steeps in water, providing thicker body than other brewing methods, save for a real espresso machine. Along the way, I even pick up a fancy Aerolatte (see photo on this page) to froth milk with as well as some coffee stencils for when I’m feeling artsy.
The more I read and the more I know, the more I’m convinced that I need to buy myself a coffee grinder. No longer content with my bags of coffee in various grinds, I have my heart set on grinding my own beans. I don’t just want any coffee grinder either ”“ I want a burr grinder. Unlike their cheaper counterpart, the propeller grinder, a burr grinder’s notched metal discs revolve against each other shredding the beans and producing the same results every time. This relative precision and enormous gain in freshness has me delirious at the thought that this one machine can help me make coffee that borders on perfection.
But when it comes to coffee grinders, there isn’t much choice locally. It’s either the DeLonghi DCG59 Retro Burr Grinder, or for P500 more (total P4,550), there’s the Krups GVX1-14 Burr Grinder in Black, which I ultimately choose. I like that it’s got 17 positions of fineness (from fine to coarse) and its 12-cup quantity selector. The inner burr also detaches so I can clean it easily. And the smell! Ah, the smell of freshly ground beans! I feel (and smell) like a Starbucks has opened in my own home. Grinding my own beans makes brewing the satisfying ritual that it is, not to mention it’s the one best thing I’ve done to ensure better cups of coffee for myself. I just have to stop myself from buying every bag of beans I come across. I already have five bags and there’s no way I can finish those before they go stale.
coffee beans I have (top-bottom, l-r): Italian espresso roast, Blue Mountain, Café de Manila Barako, Ethiopian Sidamo, 18 Days Philippine Arabica
My at-home brewing shows me a few things:
- be careful about the freshness of my coffee beans…
- use the right grind and…
- carefully measure the ground coffee and water.
It’s the latter that gets my latent OC (obsessive-compulsive) tendencies acting up. The rule of thumb is 2 tablespoons per 6 ounces of water. I even calculate the precise amount of coffee I’ll need should I need to make 8, 10, and 12 ounces of coffee. At one point, so taken am I with accuracy that I’m weighing out 9 grams of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water, to account for the beans’ varying sizes and density. But I get my sanity back and have now reverted to using a standard coffee scoop.
Still, I’m very exacting when it comes to making a cup of coffee: my measuring spoon and my digital timer are my new best friends. I also use hot water just off of the boil to preheat the cup I’m going to use, and if I’m going to use my French press, then I preheat the carafe as well.
In my effort to recreate the coffee shop experience at home, I’ve come to know this: it can never be recreated, and I shouldn’t expect to. Coffee shops have espresso machines for one, which exert the necessary nine bars of pressure (force of gravity) needed to create that thick, rich brew. My Mukka express and stovetop espresso maker brew at only one and a half to three bars. My at-home brewed cups of coffee come pretty darn close though, to coffee shop-perfect, and they’re served in beautiful mugs too! I’m long gone from the days when I used to dump and stir instant coffee into my cup: I don’t put as much milk in as I used to. I’m also down to just 1½ teaspoons of sugar in every cup (or 1 sugar cube) instead of 1 tablespoon.
So have I become a coffee snob? Well, I’m seriously thinking about buying that 225-gram pack of Blue Mountain beans retailing at P2,000 and if I ever come across a bag of beans from La Minita in Costa Rica (deemed to be THE perfect cup of coffee), I sure as heck won’t hesitate to plop down serious money for it. Then again, I still like creamer in my coffee, and I’m not ashamed of it. And I wouldn’t think twice about drinking instant coffee if that’s all there was. The best coffee is the coffee one likes best, after all. Now that I think about it, you couldn’t call me a coffee snob. I only drink coffee once a day, and it’s a 6-ounce cup at that!