"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
15While we wait for my machine to arrive, let's talk a bit. There are lots of folks who enjoy coffee by the cup. No fancy-schmancy espressos or double half-caf, half-decafe, caramel lattes with foam, no whipped cream in a bowl, not a mug with some fresh-grated nutmeg, but a real honest to goodness cup of Joe. Is there any place for you here? Sure! If you have been reading along, it is clear that you can roast and grind at home and get fresh coffee flavor that you never knew existed. But once you have spent the effort to order green coffee beans, roast them at home and grind them fresh, what do you do if you don't want an espresso?
Try Brewing it This Way
For many years, about as long as I can remember when growing up, the percolator was the preferred method of making coffee for the adults with whom I came into contact. Whether it was the beat-up aluminum pot on top of the stove, or the shiny electric pot of the neighbors, percolated coffee was the way most prepared their brew. It is fairly easy and fast. Dump a few measures into the basket, fill with water to the appropriate line on the pot, and apply heat. The boiling water in the bottom of the pot "percolates" up the tube in the center of the pot into the basket where it runs through the grounds and back into the pot to begin its journey once again. Unfortunately, if you were to invent a way to make the worst coffee possible, it might be difficult to beat a percolator. Percolation of coffee breaks a number of coffee brewing rules:
1) The water has to be brought to a boil to cause the percolation process to take place. Boiling water should never be used to brew coffee and brewed coffee should never be boiled. Boiling destroys many of the fragile elements that make coffee taste the way it should. Passing boiling water through coffee grounds also releases the most bitter, worst-tasting parts of the coffee bean as well. All at once you are releasing the bad and destroying the good.
2) Purists feel that water should only be passed through the ground coffee once. A percolator re-circulates the coffee over and over (and over and over) again through the grounds until the desired "strength" of brew is achieved.
If that weren't enough the perforated metal basket was not the most efficient at keeping the grounds separated from the water and you always seemed to end up with some grounds in the brew- crunchy coffee. The coarse grind also does not lend itself to releasing all flavor that the beans hold.
So, besides percolators, what other ways are there to brew coffee?
French Press- Sure, it's got a name that would make many Americans think of a sexual act, but these devices are favored by many for the delicious brew they create. A French press is a cylindrical glass tube about ten inches tall and four inches across. It has a tight fitting lid though which passes a slender plunger. Inside of the cylinder the plunger is attached to a filter, either stainless steel or nylon mesh screen, the outer diameter of which is the same size as the glass and makes a tight seal around the inside of the cylinder. To use the press, you place a measured amount of fresh ground coffee into the cylinder. You then pour in the correct amount of BELOW-boiling water, heated to around 190 degrees or so. The lid is placed on and when the brewing process reaches the correct point the plunger is depressed and the grounds are forced through the water (or the water is forced through the grounds). The grounds end up at the bottom of the press, held there by the now-depressed filter screen, leaving nothing but coffee above the filter. About $20-50.
Drip Coffee- The drip method of brewing is probably the one with which most people are familiar. This system uses some sort of filter (often disposable paper) into which the ground coffee is placed. Water is heated and allowed to flow through the grounds once. Far superior to a percolator, these drip machines are found in many homes under various names, the most famous of which is Mr. Coffee, but this style of machine is made by nearly every small-appliance manufacturer. There are also manual units where heated water is poured through a filter that rests upon a cup or other vessel. Cup sized units start at about $5. Larger sizes including pots are also available from about $15 or so and up. Electric ones cost about $20 and up, and automatics, some with built in grinders, electronic timers, and some with pumps to allow frothing of milk can go well over $200.
Vacuum Pots- these interesting devices have two chambers, one over the other. Water is placed in the bottom chamber, coffee in the upper. The water is heated and it rises into the upper chamber. When nearly all the water is in the top chamber the heat source is removed and the lower chamber cools causing a vacuum which pulls the water back into the lower chamber, pulling it though the ground coffee. These are usually made of heat resistant glass but it seems that most of them are not designed to be used on a stove. These come with their own alcohol lamps for heating. They are fairly simple to use and are said to make excellent coffee. $40-175.
Moka Pots- These are sort of a reverse espresso machine. They have two separate chambers. Water goes in the bottom, coffee packed between the two, and the top chamber will contain the brew when done. Heat is applied and the heated water is forced up through the coffee into the upper chamber. This makes a very strong coffee. About $40 and up.
Ibriks- these are used to brew the traditional Arabian way. They are not much more than a small copper pot with a long handle off one side. Very finely ground coffee is placed into the water and the pot is heated over a flame. They work well for backpacking as they take up little room and the handles are removable. About $12-30.
To learn more about these methods of making coffee, see my "Coffee Making Methods" articles in the "How To" section on the homepage of this website. To get the best out of any of these methods I still reccommend roasting and grinding at home. Contact your favorite bean supplier to recommend a bean or blend of beans to best match your brewing method and taste.