Monday, January 13, 2014

The Coffee Epiphany - part 1

How could I possibly blog about the foods I love without a post about Coffee?  Good coffee is by far my beverage of choice. Made well, I would choose it over a fine wine or good beer.
 Coffee was an integral part of my family’s social traditions.  It spurred conversation, bonding and encouraged sitting down to relax.  It was a type of communion. No sooner did you enter my Grandmother’s orange, harvest gold and avocado green, 1970’s style kitchen, were you poured a cup of coffee. That might include any baked goods or sandwich fixings depending on the time of day.  Coffee and food = hospitality. 
                I remember Grandmother making coffee in a fat, glass percolator with a glass stem and aluminum basket or my mother's plug-in shiny stainless steel percolator steaming away on the counter top.  Recalling my grandmothers switch-over to her new Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker and my  mother usually following suit. Coffee was often over-cooked or reheated half a dozen times.   Then there was instant Sanka. 
       As children we were allowed a cup of coffee in the morning with lots of milk and sweetened with sugar. Sometimes I would travel up north from the Milwaukee area to northeast Wisconsin with my grandfather to spend a week with them.  His travel mug then was a quart jar full of coffee, milk and sugar. My job was to hold the jar for him in the passenger seat and not spill.  I was also allowed a few sips.  He would drink his coffee and I would count the horses out in the farm fields all the way up north.
                Back then, we thought 8 O’clock coffee was gourmet.  You would grind it right there in the supermarket and it smelled so good. What always disappointed me was that it never ever tasted as good as it smelled.    But it sure beat the stuff in the cans of Folgers, Maxwell house or heaven forbid…Sanka instant.
                I discovered coffee houses and Bistros while attending school in Western Wisconsin in the late 70’s early 80’s.  Drinking espresso or sharing a pot of French press coffee with my friends encouraged conversation and amazing discussions.  I would seek out good coffee where ever I lived, from La Crosse, Milwaukee are and Green Bay.    Coffee can actually taste as good as it smells.
                Once you experience the coffee-epiphany you can never go back.  The coffee we make at home is as good as a coffee house given the right beans.  And I would rather do without than subject myself to most “office coffee”, “restaurant stale coffee” or “car-dealership brew”, which all tend to remind me of an acrid, rancid substance that could potentially be used to remove rust!

                Like walnuts, pecans and almonds, coffee beans have oil that can go rancid very fast after roasting and grinding.  Rancid oils of any kind are bad for your health.
If you enjoy a really good cup of coffee, here are some key points.
  • Purchase beans bulk, buy glossy beans that smell good, not rancid.  Chew one if you must.  Don’t buy more than a week’s worth. Roasted beans kept more than one week, should be stored in the freezer.
  •   Store coffee in a jar in a cool dark place. Not near the stove or appliances.  Do not store in the refrigerator.   Dampness and moisture are enemies of coffee.
  • Grind the beans fresh daily or at least use them within 3-4 days of grinding. Coffee will go rancid after that time.  Oxygen is an enemy of coffee that is why it is best to grind them right before brewing.
  • Use a standard coffee scoop so that your brewing is consistent. A standard coffee scoop is about 1 ½ Tbs. 
  • Make sure your maker is clean and any old coffee oils are gone.  Stale oil from coffee will add off flavors.
  • Use good tasting water, never use chlorinated tap water.
  •  Drink fresh brewed coffee as soon as possible. Coffee doe NOT reheat well.
Stove top espresso maker (on the left) French press (on the right)
   The best method for making coffee is the one that suits you the best, fits your lifestyle and the amount of convenience you want or inconvenience you are willing to go.  Here are my two favorite methods:

The Stove Top Espresso Pot
Sometimes referred to as mocha, moka or a napoletana stovetop makers, these are the most popular way of making dark coffee in Italy. They are fast, affordable and attractive.
Simply unscrew the base from the pot, fill the base with good tasting water only up to the steam vent put the finely ground espresso or French Roast grounds in the basket. I use two slightly heaped coffee measuring spoonfuls.

 Screw the serving pot back onto the base snuggly. Place on a burner on med-high to high heat.  Once water boils it will only take a short time to brew. Do NOT leave the pot unattended.  When the water boils it is forced through the coffee and up into the top chamber.
  You can peak in and watch it flow, but I recommend keeping the lid down because steam and hot spatters can burn. Train yourself to listen for the slight change in sound to a quiet gurgle.  Remove the pot from the heat. Allow to rest a few seconds before serving.

The French Press
The French press is a plunger pot system that is a very easy way to make excellent coffee.   The pots are attractive and easy to clean.  The screens last a very long time. I do not recommend washing them in a dishwasher as it will etch the glass and the stainless steel, and leave a residue on your screen.  I hand wash all the parts except the screen in hot soapy dishwater.  The screen I wash well in very hot water sometimes with baking soda. Soap will leave a residue.  And who has never had a cup of coffee served with love that didn’t taste like dish soap…you just smile and keep drinking. 

To use:   Warm the pot with hot tap water and pour out.  Place 3 coffee scoops of finely ground French roast or espresso beans in the bottom. Fill with boiling water to about an inch below the rim.  Stir well to bring up the crema (foam).  Allow to steep 4 to 5 minutes. Push down the plunger slowly to separate the grounds from the brew. Serve!  

The drawback to the press pot is that it cools down rather rapidly.  Ways to keep it warm are to use a cozy over the press or wrap with a clean towel. 

** As with all coffee methods be sure to save those precious grounds for your mulch bucket or compost pile!!
Enjoy your coffee!

Check back for my blog on coffee part 2 featuring some amazing recipes using fresh coffee grounds.

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