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Wake Up!

October 2, 2011
Coffee makers

Waking up is not always easy business, especially not in the coming seasons of damp and dark mornings, when all you really want to do is to crawl back in bed, roll over and just sleep.  But the daily rat race is on, and most of us gains that kick to start the day from coffee.  Most people I asked drinks their coffee neat, and fresh out of the coffee maker.  This gives extra importance to the maker, as there is nothing to cover up the flavor.  But what kind of a coffee maker to use?I took the above picture of the three most common types of coffee makers found at home:  from left to right, a drip coffee maker, a stove-top espresso maker / percolator, and a French press.  While they seem to make “just coffee”, the black energy coming from them tends to taste wildly different.  The reason?  Different brewing method.

A drip coffee maker is what most people use at home, however, in my experience, this one makes the lowest quality coffee of all three, and while using the most coffee grounds, it gives you the least caffeine.  In these machines, you put your coffee in a filter basket in the top section, then fill the water reservoir and push the button.  The water boils and travels up to a “shower head” that lets the boiling water/steam mixture drip onto the coffee grounds.  Gravity pulls the water down towards the carafe quite quickly, hence it doesn’t have time to dissolve all the caffeine or the flavor compounds.  The results: at best, average coffee with not much flavor and comparatively little caffeine.  Since most flavor compounds just won’t have the time to get to the water, with these coffee makers, buying expensive, aromatic coffee doesn’t make much of a difference.  In fact, since you need to add about 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds per cup, this can get quite unfriendly with your budget really quickly!  But after bashing these machines into oblivion, they do have a few positive points; mostly on convenience.  Most of these coffee makers have a timer function; you can prepare your coffee in the evening, and wake up to it being ready for you – saves time on those ugly mornings, so instead of getting up to make coffee, you can just hit snooze one more time.  The same thing goes for the keep-warm function; no need to make coffee twice for a household on slightly different schedules!  Oh, and warm coffee for a second cup to take to the car.  Also, when you have a party, it really saves you from standing in the kitchen and microbrewing your coffee.  The most common size of these machines is 12 cups – enough for a small gathering to serve after dinner.

Next up is my beloved stove-top percolator.  I grew up with the strong, bold-flavored coffee bubbling up from these coffee pots, so when I found one moving to America, I knew I had to get one.  These work just the other way around as drip machines.  You put the water in the bottom reservoir, then the coffee grounds in a funnel-like insert.  On goes the top part, and to the stove, on a medium-ish heat.  The water boils in the bottom reservoir, and the high pressure water and steam are forced up through the “spout of the funnel”, to the coffee grounds, and then up the center “stem” to bubble into the top reservoir.  Since the water here is working against gravity, it lingers somewhat longer with the compounds to be washed out.  The results: strong, bold, bitter coffee with quite the caffeine kick.  Not for the faint of heart, both literally and figuratively.  I found these coffee makers to be quite hard to come by here in the US; however, I do love their flavor a lot.  It doesn’t produce as nice an espresso as a commercial espresso maker; like the ones in coffee shops, or available at department stores for $200+; but it is an espresso by all regards.  This type also uses a larger amount of beans, but not quite as much as the drip coffee maker.  With these percolators, the quality of the coffee has a great effect on what your brew tastes like, so here it does make a difference if you splurge for your favorite brand.

And finally, the best of both worlds: the French press.  Its value lies in its versatility.  You put in your (preferably coarsely ground) coffee beans, then pour on some boiling water from a kettle; adjust the presser to the top of the water surface, and wait for the coffee to brew.  Instant solution for coffee-and-tea people: just boil the kettle, and make tea AND coffee at the same time.  But the greatest positive on this coffee maker: the coffee is completely yours.  Use slightly more grounds and let it sit longer for a bolder brew; use just a little of the beans and brew it quick for a lighter flavor.  When you’re ready to pour, just push the presser down to keep the coffee grounds at bay, and get your mug ready.  These French presses can run quite expensive at department stores, but I found mine (with the cute coffee pot pattern that makes it an ornament by itself!) on sale for less than $20 at World Market.

As I mentioned above, most of the people I know drink their coffee “neat”, which makes it crucial to use the coffee maker best suited to your tastes.  However, there are a variety of coffee drinks that you can make outside of the coffee shop.  Here’s how.

  • Espresso macchiato / Caffe macchiato:  Literally, “coffee with a stain”; add just a dab of milk, half-and half or frothed milk to your coffee.  This can actually push different flavors to the forefront of your brew – worth giving it a try!
  • Cappuccino:  The key to this one is the steamed frothed milk.  If you don’t have an espresso maker with a steam spout at home, like most of us, a much simpler way is to heat your milk to near-boiling, and pour it in a large, well-sealable container.  For up to about a cup of milk, a half-gallon milk jug is just perfect; be sure to wrap the cap in a towel in case it tries to fly off.  Once the hot milk is secured inside, start shaking it vigorously.  I mean, vigorously.  Shake it as hard as you can for at least 90 seconds, then slowly open the cap with the towel.  Steam will escape, be careful not to burn yourself!  The only thing there’s left is to pour the steamy milk foam over your espresso; using about 1/3 to 1/2 as much milk as coffee.  Top with a dusting of cocoa or cinnamon for a true coffee house feeling; or a piece of shaved chocolate for some real luxury.
  • Latte macchiato: or “milk with a stain”, the polar opposite of espresso macchiato.  I best like this with frothed milk, too – to a large mug of frothed milk, use about 2 shots of espresso; 3 before finals.  (This was the top favorite at the coffee bar at my college.)  A quick cultural note here:  while this coffee is commonly referred to as a “latte”, the expression like that is improper.  “Latte” means milk, hence asking for a latte in a coffee shop in Italy will yield you just a tall glass of milk!  Order up a latte macchiato for a mild flavor; or a caffelatte (lit. coffee with milk) for a drink consisting of about 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk and 1/3 frothed milk.  Either are delicious!
  • Vienna Melange:  In my opinion, the best winter coffee drink.  Served in a glass Irish coffee mug, it consists of a layer of honey on the bottom, then coffee, frothed milk, and finally, whipped cream.  Top it with just a hint of cinnamon – the perfect self-reward in the wintry months.


How do you like your cup o’ Joe?

Enjoy your meal coffee! 

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 2, 2011 11:53

    I think you’re reading my mind- I’ve been thinking about coffee lately!

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