Monday, August 30, 2010

Coffee break

While there's always been coffee around it wasn't until I got married that I paid some attention to the brew itself. I had always liked the smell of both the fresh ground beans (from grocery store Manzanares) and the resulting beverage, and I was aware of the social connotations of "having a cup of coffee". However my parents never drank it alone (their morning drink is 1/4 coffee 3/4 milk), and I mostly endured rather than enjoyed my first cups.

I'm not very sure how those cups were made. Probably espressos and Nescafe... I don't know. Those first 5 years of coffee were self guided (or misguided, should I say) and I don't have any recollection of actually understanding what I was drinking. Just smiling and trying to take the rough from my tongue.

But then I got married. And we received four coffee makers, and I almost got a fifth somewhere else. And then I understood that unlike other beverages (tea would be my reference), the way water and dry ground coffee meet is very important. Or for how long the device allows them to be together before splitting them in beverage and wonderful smelling detritus. And the temperature of the water, or better said, the state of the matter (liquid or steam). And it goes on, with the kind of water and the material of the recipient from which it is drank, and the type of ground (finer or coarser) and, well, with coffee itself.

So, you can leave coffee grounds and water mingle for as long as you wish, and then strain the grounds and have clean coffee on your cup. That's what french press coffee makers do.

Or you can put the ground beans in a strainer and let very hot water go through it. Maybe you measured the water and you're pouring it, making sure it falls all over the strainer or just in one point, so what you have is technically just a coffee pot like this one

with a top removable device, but chances are you have the most common electrical coffee maker, dripping every drop in exactly the same spot of the strainer.

I'm really fond of this kind of coffee makers. They look very friendly and unassuming, I think.

However, plenty of people I know prefer the mixture to be born out of steam. I've gathered that when coffee is made that way, it's called espresso. And you'll need something like this to have one cup of it:

You have to be a fool or to have a heart of stone not to like the looks of the Bialetti. Originally designed in the 1930's, it's still around mostly unchanged and probably somebody had one when you were growing up, regardless of when and where such thing happened. The device itself is quite ingenious too, and how it works wasn't evident to me until one arrived to my door with a ribbon and a wishing you happiness note.

With a side feature, the plugged version that pours down the steam instead of sending it up and allows you to heat milk for a capuccino. This maker yields the most fashionable results, but the charms are lost on me... I hate milk in my coffee.

There are two more types of makers I've never been too close to: the percolators and the vacuum systems. Both have glamor of years past and I hold nothing against them, my lack of knowledge stems from, well, the chance never arouse.

If we were to organize the coffee makers by material, we'd see that all glass, some glass and stainless steel go pretty much regardless of the system, while pottery (and pottery like materials) belong to just one category. If we were to use the source of energy to heat the water (included or excluded), and the container to do that (again, included or excluded), it mimics the materials clusters. Easy to clean, design (would you keep it on sight were someone important come to your home?), even how much they weight and how big they are, are other possible options.

But I have to admit that, for all the beauty some of those makers spread to the world of my kitchen, I grade them by how much I like the resulting beverage. Hand dripping is my absolute winner, and electrical dripping is close second. I can't resist the smoothness of the coffee and the expansive wave of great smell invading my home and staying for hours.


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