A new kind of coffee blend

Hand pour bar at the Mudhouse

I was chatting with my friend Dan at the Mudhouse, one of Charlottesville's coffee Institutions, the other day. A thought had occurred to me which seemed a bit obvious in retrospect, and as Dan is the person I know who is Most Serious About Coffee, I ask him about all my crazy coffee thoughts.

In this case, I was asking about hand-pour coffee. The question was whether people separate out the various parts of the brewing process and try them separately, so that, for example, you have three cups of coffee instead of one. The first cup represents the first 1/3 of the water that goes through the coffee grounds, the second the second 1/3, and the last the third 1/3. Dan told me that he hadn't done that with the hand pour, but it was part of his training program on espresso for new baristas. Then he gave me a sample.

The first part of the espresso shot tastes like every espresso you'll get in Italy, because italian espresso uses about 1/6 to 1/20 the water that you'll get from just about anywhere in the U.S. It's packed full of flavor, not really any bitterness. The second and third thirds don't have much flavor at all, but they do carry most of the body of the espresso, and I'm not entirely sure what makes up the body of espresso, so I'm going to have to do some research. Note to self. I'm pretty sure it's not collagen, though.

Right now, in artisanal coffee circles, hand-pour coffee is one of the darling techniques, because it allows for a lot of control and you can get a coffee cup full of flavor and nuance in a way that is different from all of the other techniques. It's not a replacement for other coffee brewing methods, naturally, it's just a way of tasting coffee very differently from what you'd get in, say, a French Press. It's especially good for single origin coffees, where you want to know all the nuances of a particular bean.

To hand-pour coffee, you essentially have a filter with ground coffee above a cup. You pour some hot water over the ground coffee, and coffee fills the cup. Very simple method, lots of things to do to get it right.

Here's what I can imagine: divide the hand-pour process into 10 equal pours. Call the resulting parts of the coffee "slices 1 to 10". If some were really, really serious about coffee experimentation, I could see that person saying "For this bean, you want to use slices 2-4, 7, and 9. For that blend, 1-3, 5-8" and so on. Take out the parts of the extraction that don't work for that bean to enhance or reduce whatever aspects aren't right. Of course, just like my explanation of the hand-pour process, if something like that would work it would be much more involved to get it right. 

Even more so, a very fast, very meticulous, essentially crazy person might brew slices of different single-origin coffees and blend them together into a single super cup. Such a coffee would either be: a) indistinguishable from other coffees; or b) the most amazing coffee ever. Either way, it would be terribly expensive to do right. Still, fun to imagine.

Acquiring tastes

Beer_and_Chocolate.jpg Everone of a certain age enjoys a few foods, drinks, and other orally-injested substances that, when first tried, were simply unpalatable. Coffee is a good example of this, though maybe not the best example. More on that later. In any case, this class of substances is known as "acquired tastes." Most acquired tastes are bitter substances. We don't like bitter things because poisons are traditionally bitter. Poisons such as caffeine. After all, a tiny but of caffeine will easily kill a person. It's also one of the most addictive substances we know of. And yet, we love the stuff. What's wrong with us? The thing we know best about caffeine is that it provides us with some handy if imperfect benefits, like giving us something of a wakefulness boost. Conditioning being what it is, if we taste something that disagrees with us, followed by a pleasant sensation, then eventually we'll come to like what we tasted. I mentioned that coffee was not a perfect example of this, because coffee only tastes bad when it's prepared improperly. There us so much great flavor in coffee that the bitter should just be an underlying note. Which is, incidentally, another way that tastes are acquired. You taste something terrible, but sense another taste underneath that is really good. Conditioning happens again, until you not only look forward to the underlying taste, but the bitter taste as well. The photo accompanying this article is of a beer float, which combines a bitter stout beer from the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC with a stout beer ice cream from the Ultimate Ice Cream Company. Depending on how you combine the ingredients, you'll often start with a bitter hit, then have that mellowed out by the ice cream. As you go on, you appreciate the dish more and more. It's a very quick way to acquire a taste.

Edible.com: for things that (many would say) aren't

I ran across this little specialty food site today called Edible. When I write "specialty food", I seriously mean it. The items that caught my immediate interest were the Wild Black Vanilla Pod and the infamous Civet Coffee. The vanilla because the mind just overflows with the possibilities inherent in a wild version. The coffee because, well, it's kind of gross. Which leads me to the strength of Edible.com: the Insectivore Section. Oven baked tarantula, toffee scorpion candy, and Chocolate Covered Giant Ants are merely a representative selection of the sorts of critters that I am not currently interested in eating. I mean, none of those are local, so justifying the expense of shipping them just for the gourmet experience seems excessive in our current climate of ecological responsibility. My one real gripe, because if someone wants tasty tarantula, more power to them, is that, if you're going through the trouble of harvesting coffee from the solid waste of a civet or a weasel, then why would you pre-grind it? This is supposed to be a sublime gourmet experience, which is the only reason why you would take something that passed through the digestive tract of another creature (well, that and for medicinal purposes, I suppose. And for money). Why destroy the flavor by grinding it ahead of time. That's just stupid. I don't know if it's edible.com's fault, but I will not be ordering pre-ground civet coffee. Oh, and the Monkey-Picked Tea looks cool. In any case, it looks like their stock varies somewhat from time to time, and it's definitely the place to go if you need something for that extra-special dinner party, so check often for new and interesting experiences. via MonkeyFilter.

Roasting Coffee the Popcorn Way

Remember when I said I had to stop myself from posting anything that comes across khymos.org and Ideas in Food? Apparently Make is one of those, as well, at least for their food related posts.* However, in this case, a casual exchange on twitter prompts this one.
Ihnatko: 'I've just ordered a hot-air popcorn popper on Amazon. Yes, I am indeed living the dream…' thefoodgeek: 'Are you modding it to roast coffee beans, or is this just for popcorn?' snitty: 'You can do *what* with a popcorn popper? Do you have a link? Also, is the modification reversible?'
At the time, I just forwarded a link to an old engadget article about seriously modding a popcorn popper. It's a good read, but then I ran across this article on Make about an airpopper coffee roaster, with included video, and it is so much easier. No modding, available inexpensively though yard sales or eBay. Go to it! You can pay for the popper with about 3lbs, based on the price estimates in the video. Plus, your coffee will taste better. Less money, better coffee. *- To be fair, I have scooped a few of the more mainstream sites with a couple of these, so I apparently have my finger on the heartbeat of the something something blah blah.

Easiest, Least Expensive Way to Make Your Coffee Taste Better

Why is my coffee bitter? It doesn't make any sense. I mean, sure, it's got a lot of bitter flavor compounds in it, and sure, the tongue supposedly has those taste receptors just for bitter flavors so that we don't eat poisonous things or something, but my coffee can be tastier. I've had tastier coffee. What am I missing? Salt. That's it. A tiny bit of salt in the coffee. Did I just blow your mind? I found this one though Ideas in Food, who found out about it through Shirley O. Corriher. So, what's going on here? As mentioned before, we've been taught in elementary school about the taste receptors in our tongues that handle sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Perhaps even umami, though we probably weren't taught that in elementary school. Well, I wasn't. But we know that food is far more than the combination of those flavors. Flavor compounds combine in strange ways and float up through the nasal cavities and coat the tongue in more subtle variations to the simple way taught in schools. When I drink coffee, I'm not really all that interested in the bitter. Therefore, I'll use the espresso machine and make a double ristretto, which is effectively a full espresso's worth of water over two espresso's worth of beans. This extracts lots of flavor and not that much bitter. Still, the double ristretto uses a lot of beans. What if there were some magical substance that made flavors more noticeable? What if a simple, two-atom molecule could turn bland foods into taste explosions? Wouldn't the world be a better place if it existed? Wouldn't we all be happier? Yes, yes we would. Because we have salt, all of our lives are more fulfilling. Magic does exist in the world. And, if you sprinkle a little bit of this magical fairy dust into an espresso, so 10-15 flakes of kosher salt, for example, all of the flavors that aren't bitter are amplified. A single, normal cup of espresso tastes like a double ristretto. Seriously, how cool is that? The folks over at Ideas in Food will now be going crazy with experimentation on standard beverages with the addition of salt. I'm sure we'll hear new things as time goes on. Personally, I couldn't be more pleased learning about this one, except insofar as I did not think of it, nor even think to think of it.

Espresso Machine Review - Saeco Vienna

I have not tried a large number of espresso makers, so this will not be a comparative review. What you will find in the following paragraphs is what owning a Saeco Vienna will do for you, how it will improve your life, your love life, and your professional life. How you can master seven languages because of it. How you will finally understand the final episode of The Prisoner. Also, how it will help you make a damn fine cup of espresso. Yeah, all those claims from the previous paragraph? Mostly only the last one is true. With the rest of them, any improvements you see in your own life matching those are correlative at best, coincidental at worst. The Saeco Vienna is* a Super Automatic (or superautomatica) espresso machine**. What this means in general terms is that, in order to get a fantastic cup of espresso, you must, after ensuring that the hoppers are filled with beans and water respectively and that a cup is waiting below the spigot, hit a button. Maybe hit that button twice if you want twice as much espresso. I know! "Why must it be so much work?" "Won't somebody think of the index-finger impared!" But it's true; buttons are pressed, espresso appears. The machine grinds the beans, tamps them down, runs the steam through, and empties the grounds into a bin. "But Brian," you may think, "that's not hardcore!" And you are correct. I am not going to be a master barista any time soon. I am lazy with my espresso making. On the other hand, I can stumble downstairs, barely awake, set a cup down, double-tap a button, and be given better espresso than most of the coffee houses in the US. If that's not the very definition of "The Future", then I don't want to live in The Future. What I'm not likely to get is the God Shot, which makes me a little sad, but not so sad that I want to actually work for my espresso. Frothing milk is pretty easy, too, for those who prefer their coffee milky. You hit another button, which heats the water up more for froth purposes, then then you put the milk under what's called the Panarello Wand, which is like a normal frothing wand but with some plastic bits designed to make it easier for the non-hardcore to froth milk. Depending on the type of milk you're using, you can just listen to the tone of the milk to know when it's hit 140°F, which is warm enough for my wife, or 160°F, where the foam becomes stable. If you had enough milk in your frothing cup to begin with, then you will have the "right" amount of foam. Too little milk, and you'll probably end up with too much foam. Still, pretty easy. Then you wipe things down and rinse bits off, and you are set for another day of coffee making. The other great thing about this line of espresso maker is that it's relatively inexpensive. Although it's about $500, that is a pittance compared to other super automatics. It's made by a quality company, though, and it has the same innards as higher-end espresso makers, but because of the not-exciting styling, it costs much less. About the only downside to the machine is that there's this one part that I'm going to have to clean one day, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get it out of the machine. The instructions were vague, and the video that came with it is on VHS. As if I have anything that plays a tape of any kind around the home. Sigh. One day I will figure it out. But not today. In any case, if you want to make espresso, and don't need to be hardcore, I would go with this. More specifically, if I need to buy a second one for any reason, I will stay with this brand and its descendants. *- Well… was. It's no longer being made. However, you can get a Saeco Villa , which is basically the new, slightly improved model. It has two boilers, for example, so you don't have to wait the many long seconds between brewing espresso and frothing milk. **- Incidentally, this was the machine that Alton Brown used in his episode on espresso. Just so you know.

Espresso as an extraction

There are a couple of sites that I have a difficult time not linking to whenever there's a new post. Ideas in Food is one of them, and khymos.org is the other. They have consistently good information and you should probably just add them to your rss reader if you haven't already. Today I've failed at my attempt not to link to khymos.org, in this case a lovely initial part of a multi-part series on espresso. When I first started this site, I did a series of articles on coffee. I thought of doing a series on espresso, but it's a large topic that I have limited knowledge of. Before, I didn't have an espresso maker, and now I have a super-automatic, so I went from no experience to limited experience. While the espresso that I make is likely to be better than any random coffee store you might wander into in a random US town, it's not perfection. Without striving for that perfection, it just didn't seem the proper series of articles that I should write. However, the article Wonders of extraction: Espresso (part I) is everything I could have hoped to write and more, so it saves me no end of work to just point you there. Go to it. Read, learn, follow links, etc.

Coffee Art

Rooster crowing on roof Yesterday, I thought I would give my wife a treat, so I made for her a bit of art on her latte. We were watching Babe at the time, so I figured it would be fun to make a rooster crowing on the roof of a farmhouse. It wasn't until after I finished that I realized that I should have made a duck crowing instead. For those who are interested in making their own coffee art, check out the instructional post on coffee art that I did a couple of months ago. It will let you know exactly how I made this bit of artwork.

Balloon Animals and Clouds

I was making my wife's usual morning latte yesterday, as is my custom (yes, she is spoiled). After making a certain number of lattes, one starts to play around with the process. In my case, I'm slowly learning to make designs in the coffee. Oh, not well, I assure you, but designs nevertheless. There's a coffee shop down the street that will make the beautiful fern pattern in the latte, and you're loathe to put in sugar and stir, much less drink it. And yet, I both stir and drink, so it can't be that beautiful. Still, I feel a little guilty. I cannot make any patterns like that, certainly not with that kind of repeatability. However, yesterday I made an image of a phoenix rising from the coffee grounds. If you turned the image upside down (relative to the base of the image, not so that the coffee pours out), the negative space looked like a Peep. Yes, I really am that good. Today, I decided to do something much simpler, and just made an ordinary Peep. It wasn't hard, just jiggle the foam in the right way, and voila! "But Brian," you cry out, "you said you weren't very good! How do you do these amazing things? All I get are ferns, or images of the Virgin Mary." There's a secret that you can learn from people who make balloon animals. The important thing, they say, is not to announce your balloon intentions to the child beforehand. If you say, "I'm going to make you a cat", then twist the balloons all up, they'll be like, "no, that's deformed rabbit." However, if you make the balloon animal, annotating it along the way, and say, "So, what does that look like?" They'll say, "That's the best giraffe I've ever seen!" You'll know you were trying for the Fierce Lion, but the kids won't. So they'll be happy, and you'll be a little more bitter inside, wondering why you are still paying those loans on the art college you went to. Coffee art, for the beginner, is just like that. Push the foam a little this way, a little that way, and look at it like you would clouds. If you can spot a design easily, say, "Look what I've made!" If not, don't worry about it. Eventually, perhaps I'll get a degree of control with the whole process, and can make ferns all day long. But I think I'll prefer a bit of balloon artistry to a fern, even if I do become skilled. After all, most of the fun is in the interpretation.

That's a big pastry

PastriesI'm doing some travel for business. I got a new job recently (and got married, and went on a honeymoon, and was in a bit of community theatre), which is part of the reason you've heard little from me recently. However, as I'm getting the old posts back, I'll post some more new stuff in the meantime. So, as I said, I'm doing some business travel. In this particular trip, I was staying in Visalia, California, which is near Fresno in a very agricultural part of the state. Behind my hotel, I could see the back of a building with the sign, "Bothof's Bakery." Already, I was tempted. Now, the hotel had free continental breakfast, but I decided to break a few bucks out of my personal money and eat a proper breakfast. The downtown area where I was staying was not one for long business hours, so most places were closed between 9:30 PM and 8:30 AM. However, the bakery was open whenever I dropped by in the morning, which was early as I was still on Eastern Standard Time. The owner, or someone whom I presume was the owner), was very nice and quite talkative. A good sign for a little local bakery. There were two main display racks of goods, one with petit fours and cakes and the like, and the other with pastries proper. The first day, he directed me towards a, for lack of a better term, ginormous turnover, which you can see above. I also chose the apple fritter, as it looked tasty. The fritter was a bit too sweet for me, so I only had a bite of that. But the turnover I enjoyed immensely. The crust was super-flaky, and the cherry filling was delightful. Close observers will note the Starbucks Iced White Chocolate Mocha in the edge of the photo. Now, there are two local coffee houses, one of which I tried an espresso at shortly after consuming the turnover. It was dreadful espresso. Everything I hate about espresso, that had it. And I quite enjoy espresso, properly made. I attempted to go to the local organic shop, but apparently they don't open until 8:30, and by then, it's nearly lunchtime on my EST clock, so I had to skip their potential delights. Still, it's all better than eating at the local Burger King or similar, and I try to do my best to eat locally whenever I travel, business or otherwise. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the effort is generally worth it.

Tinkering with the Vacuum

At my day job, we have a Bodum Santos electric vacuum coffee maker. It's a lovely device, and given the choice between an automatic drip pot and this, I would always choose this. It's more automatic than a press, but more work than an automatic drip. The only thing that would stop me from recommending it wholeheartedly is that, out of the box, it does not make that great of a pot of coffee. Still better than drip, but not in the same league as a press. The problem is that the brewing time on the pot is too short. It's completely automatic, so you put the coffee in one chamber, the water in another, assemble, and hit a button. A little while later, and you have a pot of coffee. (for those who haven't read Coffee Time 2, here's a quick overview: coffee goes in the top chamber, water in the bottom, connected by a filtered tube. Heat the water until pressure from expanded vapor pushes the water into the top chamber where it mingles with the coffee, let it cool, and the water drops through the filter to reveal proper coffee). It knows when to stop brewing because it can sense how much water is in the bottom chamber, and as soon as it runs out, it cuts the heat on the element. It needs more time. The ability to modify the time between running out of water and cutting the heat would let me use far less coffee and get better results, but that's not something they let you do, unless it's in a double-secret control mode (which seems unlikely). There is something you can do, though. If you don't fully seat the top chamber, it raises the tube just a bit, and that allows a small pool of water to stay in the bottom chamber longer than it would have had the tube been as far down as it could have been. This lets it brew longer, thus making better coffee. I'm considering gluing some spacers onto the top of the bottom chamber once I have an ideal spacing down, but it would have been such a nice addition to allow a "plus 1 minute" option to the brewing cycle. Of course, all of this would be unnecessary with a manual unit, but that would remove some of the nice features like unattended operation and being able to set a timer for use overnight. More importantly, though, I have no way of using a manual unit at work, what with needing either a stovetop or an open flame. So, if you're using the Bodum Santos and want some stronger coffee, try not pushing the top chamber down all the way. Don't rest it loosely, otherwise you'll make a mess, but leave around a 1/8 inch gap.

Coffee Time Part 2 - Brewing Methods

Now that you know where coffee comes from, it's time to focus on the more practical aspect of coffee: the making. There are a lot of ways to brew coffee, from the pedestrian to the futuristic to the complicated to the, well, weird. All coffee making methods share the desire to combine grounds with hot water in one form or another, and most of the methods separate the grounds from the water at some point in the process before it reaches your cup. In a nutshell, that's brewing. After brewing is preparation and/or drinking, but that's a story for another time.

Automatic Drip

The most popular method of brewing in the US is the automatic drip. You start with some grounds in a filtered bowl, pour hot water through, then let the water fall into a pot waiting below, while the grounds stay with the filtered bowl. Very consistent, for any given coffee pot, and likely to make a serviceable pot of coffee with minimal effort. There are a few problems with the automatic drip method, depending on how you like your coffee. But to understand why, you'll need to learn a little bit more about the coffee itself. Most of the flavor of coffee comes from the essential oils that are captured by the water. These essential oils are what the roasting process is all about; the darker the roast, the more oil there is, with additional changes in flavor from the heat treatment. In an ideal brew, you strip off all of the essential oils and leave everything else, because the rest of the flavor in the coffee bean is very bitter and nasty, which does not make for a tasty brew. Any given volume of water will be inclined to pull out a certain amount of flavor and then stop, or at least slow down, the acquisition of additional flavors. There's only so much space between the water molecules for yummy treats. However, consider the layout of your general automatic drip: Bowl of grounds, water up top, small hole at the bottom. All of the water falls into that bowl from a single point or set of points. After a while, the points of contact between the water and the grounds are going to lose essential oils, and then the water will start picking up the bitter compounds from the coffee before grabbing the essential oils from below. Some coffee pots try to fix this by pouring in enough water that the grounds are floating in a pool while the relatively small spout at the bottom slowly releases the coffee enriched water into the pot. That's a good step, unless you like your coffee strong (as I do). If you try to add more coffee to the filtered bowl (especially what I consider to be the "proper amount", it may overload your filter basket and you'll make a big mess. So, if you want pretty strong, not-terribly-bitter coffee from an automatic drip, it's going to take a lot of comparison shopping, and a lot of trial, error, and returns. Another difficulty, though more easily fixed, is that putting the water through paper doesn't taste all that good. A metal filter will let more of the oils through, though I'll admit, this is one of those subtle changes. There are many more ways to optimize your coffee experience that will have a greater impact. Finally, the convenience of the automatic drip is also its downfall. The timer option encourages you to either use pre-ground coffee, or to grind your coffee the night before. The more surface area on the coffee, the more oils will be exposed to air, which will break them down into flavorless compounds. Don't hurt your coffee this way, grind as close to brewing time as possible. The other convenience factor is the heated pot, which will break down the oils and make them bitter. But, considering all these disadvantages, how else can you brew coffee?

French Press

French PressThe easiest, least expensive way to move away from the tyranny of the Automatic Drip Coffee Pot is to buy a French Press. A simple contraption, it involves a container that holds both the grounds and the water together, as well as a filter on the end of a stick. You put the grounds in the bottom, add near-boiling water, wait four minutes, press the filter down, and enjoy your coffee. You can easily control both the amount of coffee and the length of brewing time to fit your own personal style. There are a couple of downsides, though. The first is that it has no water heating mechanism, so you'll have to provide the hot water yourself. I use an electric coffee kettle, which is a nice, multipurpose device that heats water extremely quickly with minimal effort. You can also use a regular kettle, some manner of pot on a stove, a bottled water dispenser with hot water tap, or an under-sink hot water heater, depending on your preference. The second is that it has no timer, so you can't just wake up to pre-made coffee. On the other hand, it's really not that hard to make, and you'll want to grind the beans (with a rough grind) as close to the time you brew anyways. The third is that there are very few insulated presses, and the insulation isn't all that great anyways, so your coffee will get cold quickly if you don't drink it immediately. However, a vacuum flask will take care of that problem. The fourth is that the clean up is a bit of a pain. You have to dump out the grounds then wash the apparatus. An automatic drip is a bit easier with the paper filter, but if you use a metal filter, well, it's the same amount of work. The final disadvantage is the obverse of the flexibility: you have to pay more attention to what you're doing. If you want minimal thinking while you're making coffee, and don't want to have to keep an eye on the time and so on, then you might not like the French Press. Which leads us to...

Vacuum Pot

This is my latest coffee related acquisition, and it's keen. Although the tech is decades old, it looks very futuristic. The basic concept is similar to those "love meters", which are little glass contraptions with colored water and two reservoirs connected by a glass tube. If you put your hand on the airy section of the lower reservoir, the heat from your hand will increase the pressure on the air, forcing the liquid up through the tube to the top reservoir, in apparent defiance of gravity. Same thing with the Vacuum Pot. The lower pot looks much like any automatic drip's pot looks like, but generally slanted at some funny angles. Then you have a top section with a filtered tube that drops almost to the bottom of the first pot. You put water in the bottom section, coffee grounds up top, and apply heat to it. Water heats up to just below a simmer, which is a great temperature for brewing coffee. The vapor is released from the water slowly, which collects in the air above the water. This increases the pressure on the water, and, when it hits the appropriate temperature, the water flies up the tube, mixing with the coffee grounds. Some of the air even follows it up, ensuring that the water and coffee are thoroughly mixed while treating you with a cool bubble show. Then you remove the heat, and the air will cool, pressure drops, and with it, the water falls back through the filtered tube, sans coffee grounds, into the reservoir below. If you have an electric model, it takes no supervision at all after the elements are assembled. There are even models with timers on them, so you could leave it overnight (though I would recommend you never do that, what with the air and essential oils and destruction of all that lovely flavor and such). You could also get a stovetop model, as the original ones are, but that would obviously be more work while brewing a pot of coffee, since you have to take it off the heat at the proper time and all. It does give you more control, of course, if you can't find an electric model that brews for as long as you might like. On the downside, they're a little expensive, in the $100 range, but you'll pay that for a good automatic drip, so it's not so bad. Cleanup is also a bit of a pain compared with a paper filter, and the electric models can't be cleaned in a dishwasher, unlike most of the automatic drip pots and french presses.


Ah, the savior of the catering industry and the bane of coffee lovers everywhere. The percolator is a huuuuuge pot of water and coffee mixed together with heat applied and a filtered spout at the bottom. Mix together, apply heat, and eventually, pour out on a per-cup basis. Whether for 4 minutes or 4 days, the coffee and grounds stay together, warmed continuously throughout. So, continuous application of heat, and contact between the grounds and the water well past the stage necessary to extract oils, combined with the likelihood that cheap, prepackaged and pre-ground coffee of the cheapest nature will be used to minimize cost, and you have...? That's right: coffee as bitter as an English major being forced to take calculus. While being taught by her ex-husband. When the graduate assistants are the men she caught him with the night he left her. Maybe even a little more bitter than that. On the other hand, if you have to make coffee for 200 people you hate, there's no more convenient way to do it.

Egg Coffee

What? No, really. What? Well, back in the old days, say turn of the last century, people didn't fuss with those fancy filters or French contraptions. No, what they did is they mixed the coffee grounds with a beaten, raw egg, poured boiling water over it. The egg would hold the grounds, while still allowing the water to get at them. The egg would end up cooking enough to be easily separated from the coffee laden water, and people drank it. Oftentimes, the egg shell was kept with the egg as well. I won't lie to you: I haven't tried this yet. I keep meaning to, but it slips my mind when I'm at home, and at work, well, there just isn't an egg to spare. As soon as I try it, I'll report on the findings. I will say that people who've had this claim there's no finer way to make coffee. On the other hand, people who've willingly tried this could be crazy, so there may be some selection issues with the sample.


Enjoying a renaissance of sorts in the United States, fueled by a little Seattle coffee house you've probably never heard of, espresso is extremely concentrated coffee made by pushing steam through finely ground coffee and pumped into a cup. You have to use steam, because water is too dense to fit through the coffee as it is ground so fine. Most people in the US drink espresso in the form of a latte or one of its brethren, because the espresso is so poorly made you have to drown in it milk to enjoy it. I have had precisely one cup of decent, coffee-house/restaurant espresso in my life, but I try it at any coffee house or sufficiently fancy European descended restaurant. If I don't like the espresso, I will snobbily consider the coffee house to be below my consideration. Of course, once you find out how I prefer my coffee prepared, you'll likely not care about my snobbishness. Still, a good espresso is a thoroughly tasteful and enjoyable, and a bad espresso is a tiny cup of concentrated bitterness. Seek out good espresso, and enjoy it if you can. There are several ways to make espresso, ranging from the traditional and inexpensive to the "would you prefer that espresso machine or perhaps a sports car" price range. The least expensive is a device that is shaped like a small, metal vacuum pot, except without the tube going down. Reservoir in the bottom with water, coffee grounds in the middle with a fine filter on each side, and a pot on top to hold the coffee. Heat the water until it boils, the steam goes through the coffee, into the top reservoir where it cools and, being liquid again, can't go down through the grounds again. Pour and enjoy. The most popular home version is like that in function, but is self-contained, much larger, and brews directly into a cup. Still, the pressure of the steam is what propels it through the coffee grounds. The more expensive models will actually pump the steam through mechanically, adding additional air pressure, allowing a finer ground. Many of these electric models will have a steam wand that allows you to froth milk, for the cappuccino and latte lovers. Unfortunately, that's about as much detail as I can go into, as I don't really have a schmancy espresso maker, so I can't give you good tips. When I get one, or if I find a good guest writer, you can learn all about the dangers and pitfalls of espresso making, and how to avoid them. Oh, and there's powdered espresso, I'm sure that's really tasty to drink. Heh.

Turkish Coffee

This is a very different style of making coffee, and likely the oldest type. First, you grind your coffee very fine, until it's powdery. Fill your ibrik, or Turkish Coffee Pot, with sugar water, and put the coffee powder over it without stirring. Heat this on your stovetop or sufficiently hot, desert sand until foam comes up to to top. Remove from heat, and stir. Repeat this procedure two more times. Pour into a coffee cup, and, um, enjoy.Turkish Coffee Ibrik Okay, I'll admit that I've never had coffee prepared this way, so it could be fantastic. However, I suspect it's going to be bitter and, very possibly, nasty. Bear in mind that you will have coffee grounds mixed in with your coffee, as this method was invented well before people decided that filtering their coffee was a good idea.

Vietnamese Coffee

Okay, I have a soft spot in my heart for Vietnamese style coffee, on account of it using Sweetened Condensed Milk. Much like Thai Iced Tea and an empty spoon, everything is tastier with some sweetened condensed milk. To make Vietnamese style coffee, you take a coffee cup with some sweetened condensed milk in it, and you place on top of it the metal coffee pot. This pot has a tight filter that only allows a little water out at a time. You put the grounds and the hot water into the pot, close it up, and wait for all the water to drip out 4 or 5 minutes later. Stir and enjoy. [series-info:left]

Cona Vacuum Brewer

SubZero Refrigeration BeautyPretty. Out of my price range for a vacuum coffee brewer, but this is a lovely unit. Read more about how it works in Coffee Time part 2. Quoth the seller: "This the king of vacuum coffee brewers. We are one of a handful of coffee sources that offers Cona Vacuum Brewers. These are beautiful, elegant, and a bit scientific-looking; aficionados of these believe it's the ultimate brewing method. I think the results are remarkable ...I have never brewed a bad cup on the Cona. They are used in a handful of fine inns, B&B's and restaurants (such as Victoria and Alberts in Disneyworld). "It's main features is that the coffee is entirely prepared in glass; there's no contact with metal components. Because it operates by a vacuum principle, coffee is always infused at the precisely correct temperature every time, and over-extraction is not possible. It's the brewing method for romantics, and is prepared at the table with heat provided by the spirit lamp."

Coffee Time Part 1 - Introduction and History


Perhaps it's the fuel that drives your every being. Perhaps it's the nastiest liquid you've ever tasted. Maybe you like its smell, but would never drink it. Maybe it's the stuff that nobody can seem to make properly. However you feel about it, coffee is an important beverage from an economical standpoint, and awfully useful in a variety of culinary applications. How did we find it, and however did we do without it?

Frisky monks and friskier goats

You'll hardly come across a history or timeline of coffee that doesn't tell the following myth: Somewhere between 800 BCE and 500 CE, there was an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. If you know only one Ethiopian goat herder, incidentally, make it Kaldi. Cause, frankly, most of you won't need to remember any other goat herders, and even fewer of you will have to remember Ethiopian goat herders, so go ahead and make the effort. Anyways, the life of a goat herder is not an exciting one, by and large. I imagine, presuming all the goats are in proper working order, your day-to-day actions are limited to making sure nobody wanders off or gets eaten. Granted, I'm sure it's more difficult than with sheep, but still, for the right herder, it's almost certainly a life of quiet contemplation and thinking of new ways of swearing at goats. So in the midst of the contemplating and swearing, a few of the goats are noticeably friskier than the others. At first, Kaldi was planning on expressing his disapproval of the goat's actions by explaining the rather improbable mating habits of the goat's mother, but after a bit he noticed that all the frisky goats were in the same area, and eating the same plant. Well, whatever is good for the goat is good for the goat herder, obviously, so Kaldi popped the bright red berry into his mouth, and lo and behold, he got a bit friskier himself. There's a second myth, or some say an extension to the first myth, that Monks thought perhaps the berries were Devil Berries, but realized that it couldn't possibly be so because consuming the coffee berries allowed them to stay up and finish their prayers. Some claim that Kaldi took the berries to the local monastery, but that would mean that the whole event likely happened between 330 and 500 CE, because before then no religions with monastic traditions were around in Ethiopia, but I suspect that the two myths were separate in any case. At this point, there was still no coffee. People generally took the beans, ground them up, and mixed it up with tasty, tasty fat, then ate that as energy food. Obviously, this is well before cardiologists roamed the earth. Sometimes the berries were eaten alone, but that's not nearly as good of a story as the whole "ground up and mixed into fat" bit. That's pure gold.

Actual coffee

Roundabouts 1100 CE, the Arabs boiled the beans in water, making the earliest known form of honest-to-goodness coffee. It's said that it wasn't until about 2 centuries later that the whole roasting thing caught on, which means that, as with most of the other food of the time, early coffee tasted nasty. They called it quahwa, but the idea is the same. The Turks called it kahveh, the Italians called it caffe, and it hit the English language as coffee. Coffee trade spread like wildfire but with less property damage, coffee plants were restricted from export, battles were fought over coffee, and coffee shops were opened. Pope Clemente VII was planning to forbid Catholics from drinking the Devil's Beverage, as it was known, until he drank some. Apparently, he declared, "This beverage is so delicious that it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it! Let's defeat Satan by blessing this beverage, which contains nothing objectionable to a Christian!" One wonders what the Pope had been drinking before his first taste of coffee, as it is rare for anyone to really think coffee is delicious the first time they drink it. Perhaps they slipped him chocolate or something instead, fearing the loss of their favorite beverage. Seriously, though, have you wondered about some of what people ate in the old days? By and large, anything that wasn't a basic recipe was pretty nasty, and then if you take into account how hard it was to get salt, well, it couldn't have been good. I'll probably do some historical food articles at some point, but if I don't get tasty recipes up first, people will never come back to the site.

The kooky Americans

My favorite coffee fact I've run across is that, in 1668, coffee replaced beer as New York City's breakfast drink of choice. Well, truth be told, that's my favorite beer fact I've run across researching the coffee story, but it's fun, nonetheless. As you can imagine, coffee has been traditional in America for some time. It was terribly unpatriotic to drink tea in revolutionary times, so coffee was the natural replacement. Well, coffee or beer, I suppose. People may make analogies between that and the recent foolishness with "Freedom Fries," but there are a few differences. First, tea itself was highly taxed, which was one of the rallying cries for the war, especially with the symbolic acts of the various tea parties (Boston's being the most famous). Second, we were actually at war with the British, not just having a disagreement over foreign policy. Finally, the tea was coming to us by way of British companies, whereas French Fries are neither imported from France, nor even a French invention. Anyways, political symbolism aside, what you want are recipes. Most of the historical coffee recipes are kinda nasty, and we'll get into making coffee proper in the next part of this article, but let's see if we can't make something analogous to the energy food of coffee mixed with fat. No, Really.

Recipe: Chocolate covered espresso beans.

Ah, not so scared any more, are you? Chocolate covered espresso beans are a delightful combination of bitter and sweet, crunchy and chewy, chocolate and coffee, and two sources of caffeine. And there's very little that people won't eat covered with chocolate, right?Chopped Chocolate For this, you'll need some coffee beans, some chocolate, some chile powder (not chili powder) or cayenne pepper, a small sauce pan, a metal bowl that fits in the sauce pan, and some water. The coffee beans should preferably be the darkest roast you can find, partially to stand up to the chocolate, but also to reduce the caffeine content. The longer the roast, the more the caffeine breaks down, so you can eat more beans without giving yourself a heart attack. Preferably, of course, you'll want to eat the same amount of beans without giving yourself a serious case of the jitters, but just try to control yourself. The basic idea is pretty easy. Though working with chocolate has its various difficulties, we won't worry much about them until I do a proper candy article. In short, you temper the chocolate, throw in the beans, scoop them out, and let them cool. Double BoilerFirst, tempering the chocolate. This is a two-step procedure, which you can either do the easy way or the hard way, and we're doing it the hard way this time so you can have some practice. However, that's a story for another time. Take the small sauce pan and put about an inch of water into it. Heat the water on medium heat until some water vapor starts coming off of it, but before it gets to a simmer. Place your metal bowl into the sauce pan (which, incidentally, should not touch the water), and put about 2/3 of your chocolate into the bowl. The chocolate should melt slowly over the course of a few minutes. After all the chocolate has melted, take the bowl off the double boiler and whisk in the rest of the chocolate and the cayenne pepper or chile poweder (Chile powder is a single pepper or blend of peppers with now other additives ground to a powder. Chili powder contains cumin, and would not work at all well with chocolate.). If you need to, you can add the bowl back to the double-boiler from time to time to add in some more heat, but by and large, residual heat should carry the bulk of the melting load. Espresso Beans Once the chocolate has all be incorporated, mixed, and molten, add in some beans. For coffee clusters, I recommend filling up about a 1:3 coffee bean to chocolate ratio. Next, spoon out the clusters using either a regular spoon or a small disher onto parchment paper, waxed paper, or a silicon baking mat, though I recommend a paper option from a clean-up perspective.. This will give you probably 5-10 beans per cluster. Let these cool in a reasonably chilly kitchen, or put in the fridge for 5 minutes or so to firm, but not much longer. After these have set, you can spoon some more chocolate over to your liking.

Caffeine variances in coffee shop, um, coffee.

Coffee variances brew caffeine overdoses
"We found a large a variance - larger than we anticipated - in the caffeine content in each of the espressos," he said. "The range was 25 milligrams to 214 milligrams, which was far greater than we'd anticipated.
I found this via boingboing, and it emphasizes something I've been having a little trouble with. With the Case Study on coffee, I naturally intend to do a section on the effects caffeine and so on, and I've been considering mentioning how much caffeine is in different types of coffee by blend, method, etc. Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors to be considered, such that any simple analysis (i.e. short of a full-on scientific paper) would not be particularly useful. But read through the article, and see how that relates to your health. Update: Here's an older, similar study.