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So, a bit of an offbeat question, but then again I am a bit offbeat as a general rule!
Do we have any died-in-the-wool coffee mavens amongst us? If so, spill the details (but <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>NOT</span> the coffee)!?!?
For me, I started drinking coffee at the beginning of college. In those days (late 60’s) machine coffee was horrendous. That was all we had in the library building. To get real brewed coffee from an urn you had to go part way across campus to the Student Union to where the cafeteria and snack bar were. Anyway, the machines used some sort of ugly artificial sweetener and that permanently turned me away from putting anything sweet in coffee. I drank my coffee black for a while, but I began to develop hyperacidity, with is the precursor for developing an ulcer. My doctor advised that I either drink tea or add milk. I’ve never been a tea drinker, so that made the decision for me. Ultimately I used a bit of Half & Half (a 50/50 blend of milk and cream) for a nice golden brown color and that continues to this day. From my trip to Australia some years ago, I believe it is called a Flat White.
However, over the years there has been an evolution to my coffee making. Originally it was hot water and instant coffee, an expedient but thoroughly mundane and unsophisticated methodology. Personally, I tend to take exception to the word “instant”. Things like Instant Oatmeal annoy me to no end!
In the early 2000’s I started grinding my own beans. Several years ago I retired from Corning, Inc. Many years before my tenure, they made stove top percolators out of clear Pyrex glass. I stumbled across a 6-cup model in a thrift store and I had to have it because it was really “cool”. But, it was several years before I used it. When I did start, it worked well and I used that for some time. Eventually I found the 9-cup and 4-cup models to complete the set. I tend to cycle between 4 to 7 varieties of coffee beans of medium to medium-dark roasts. It’s kind of like “What variety shall I make next?” and that is part of the fun for me. But, the color of the brew determines when you consider it to be done. With different varieties, the darkness of the brew can be a bit different. In terms of process, the engineer in me recognizes that as a potential source of inconsistency.
So, next up was a French press. I liked how that worked. It was simple and straightforward, which translates to a consistent methodology. The only problem is that French presses are relatively small. I think the largest one that I’ve seen is a 4-cup. To me it is inefficient to make 4 cups or less at a time. I like to make a larger volume and store it in glass in the refrigerator. I’m OK with a minor bit of flavor loss.
For the next iteration I purchased a 10-cup Chemex pot for pour-over. Bear in mind that a “cup” is more like the size of cup that you find in a tableware set that is fairly small (4oz maybe, I forget). At this time I also bought and inexpensive burr grinder and a water pot with an adjustable temperature setting. I forget the exact numbers, but coffee brews best between 197.xF and 204.yF, so I set the pot for 200F. There isn’t much to do in the procedural sense, so this method is pretty consistent; to the point where I can spend a couple of minutes telling someone how to do it and they’ll be fine.
But, for some reason, my head was turned by the siren song of the vacuum or siphon coffee maker. This is a very cool device, both visually and mechanically. It consists of 2 globes that are mated, one on top of the other. Sounds suggestive already!?!? The water goes in the bottom globe. By the way, I have been using bottled water that I keep in my refrigerator for coffee making since I’ve been here in California. Our kitchen faces eastward and that wall of the house stays warm. During the course of the day, the concrete slab also stays warm. The result is that tap water is always at least lukewarm and that drives the oxygen off. Good oxygen content in the water improves the flavor. So, the globes are mated via a rubber seal and the ground coffee goes in the upper globe. There is a cloth filter between the globes that is crucial the the process. Since the globes are sealed to one another, as the water is heated, the water vapor rises and passes through the cloth. Eventually the bulk of the water vapor progresses to the upper globe and brews the coffee. At that point it is removed from the stove. As the lower globe cools, a vacuum will develop and it will pull the brewed coffee into the lower globe. But, the cloth filter only passes the liquid coffee and not the grounds (I hate crunchy coffee!). Once all of the coffee comes down into the lower globe, I separate them and pour the coffee into my Chemex pot and that is stored in the refrigerator. Once again, the process is very straightforward and it’s hard to go wrong. For a time, Corning also made these coffee makers, but mine is a Silex product (now Proctor-Silex I think), but the globes are Pyrex made by Corning. I’m guessing that this was manufactured in the 60’s.
My wife, who is an occasional coffee drinker, said to me “This is a ritual for you, isn’t it?” and I guess that it is…
So, for you coffee drinkers, what’s your story?!?!
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