Food porn: Coffee

by Bernard Brandt

vol4-coffee

I have seldom had a good cup of coffee. The first time that I had a great cup of coffee was when I was 24 years of age, and had traveled with some friends down to Medellin, Colombia. We went to a coffee shop, and the cup that I had there was much akin to a religious experience. Few things since that time compared.

Then, a few months ago, a dear friend of me invited me to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. The food was marvelous, albeit a bit hot. And my friend suggested that we have a pot of coffee to finish things up. I agreed, and am very glad that I did so. The servers, who were Ethiopian, brought out a smoking cast iron pot with a long handle, which contained the coffee beans which they had freshly roasted. The resulting pot was marvelous, and a close second to what I had experienced back in Colombia so many years ago.

So, having a clue now as regards what was involved in a good cup of coffee, I decided to look into what was involved in brewing a great cup of coffee. The best information which I received came from my nephew’s copy of Modernist Cuisine, which he had loaned to me. In fact, in Volume 4 of that work, there is a chapter devoted to the subject.

Through it, I learned more than what I had found before. It all involves the ingredients, the equipment, and the method of preparation. Obviously, one needs good coffee and good water. The coffee needs to be freshly ground. The two best methods of preparing coffee are either an espresso machine, or a french press. And if you are using a french press, it is better if the water is just off the boil, or 190 to 200 degrees F.

Seeing as how I can’t afford to blow a couple of hundred to thousand bucks for an espresso machine, I instead settled for a french press. I bought a can of Trader Joe’s Ethiopian Medium Roast, and put a tablespoon of beans in the grinder for each three ounces of water. I filled the french press with filtered water, poured the contents into a pan, and turned the fire on under the pan. When the water was boiling, I turned the fire off, hit the grinder, poured the coffee into the press, and then the water over the coffee grounds. I waited 45 seconds, and then stirred the coffee and water until the grounds, which had been floating on the top of the water, had been stirred into the water.

Six minutes later, I put the plunger in the press, pressed the plunger down, and then poured myself a cup. It was one of the finest cups of coffee that I had in a long time, but it still didn’t compare with my Colombian or Ethiopian experiences. So I went back to the book to see what I had missed.

What I found was that I had missed one crucial step. I didn’t have freshly roasted coffee beans. The book stated that for best results, the coffee should be roasted and then stored for 48-72 hours, and then used. The book also said that while the coffee would remain good for a while, after a week it would be indistinguishable from whole roasted beans bought from a store.

So, I let things lie, until one day, while I was at the local Italian market, I looked through the section which sold dried beans, and happened to find a two-pound bag of Colombian green coffee for ten dollars. I thought about that for a while, and waited until I had money again. I went back to the store, found that the green beans were still there, and I bought the bag. It wound up in the refrigerator, where it stayed until this morning, when my can of Ethiopian beans had run out.

This morning, I got the bag of green coffee out, poured most of it into a quart zip lock bag, and put the bag back in the refrigerator. That left me with a third of a pound, which I put into the can that had contained the Ethiopian beans. I cleaned one of my pans, an 8-inch cast iron pan, put it on the stove, and put the fire under it, until it was hot enough so that drops of water danced in the pan when I dripped them into it.

Then I poured the third of a pound of beans into the pan, when my kitchen clock had just turned to 11:00. Within a minute, the beans started to smoke. I had a large stainless steel ladled spoon, which I used to stir the beans every couple of seconds or so, so that they would roast rather than burn. About four minutes into the roast, the beans began to ‘crack’: like popcorn, they ‘popped’ to twice their original size. This cracking went on for a while, and the house was filled with smoke. The smoke, in fact, had become so thick that the smoke coming from the pan kept me from seeing what was in the pan. So, every half-minute or so, I would use the spoon to take a ladle full-out, just to see how the beans were looking. And, all the while, that damned nanny-state P.O.S. alarm system was beeping and shrieking.

While the book suggested that best results would be obtained at 17 or so minutes into the roast, by 11:16 the beans were the color I associated with a good french roast, and they were starting to sweat with oil. So I turned off the fire, and immediately transferred the beans to a stainless steel pan, where I let them cool to room temperature. I then opened all the doors and windows, and put the three house fans on full, which is what I probably should have done at the beginning. Ah, well: live and learn.

When the beans had cooled to room temperature, I put most of them back into the can, sealed the can, and put it back into the refrigerator. I reserved three tablespoons for the grinder, set up the french press, and did the above-mentioned drill. Then I tasted my coffee.

It was the equal of my experiences in Colombia and at the Ethiopian restaurant.

I now, finally, know what is meant when coffee aficionados rave about what they call the ‘God shot’. While I would not wish to indulge in their blasphemy, I now have a way to enjoy the best coffee I’ve ever had, and at half the price of most ‘gourmet’ coffees. I just thought you might want to know what I have found out.

 

 

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