Friday, December 17, 2010

You know you're an addict when...

For those of you who know me personally, chances are that you have rarely (if ever) encountered me without the accompaniment of some form of coffee. Normally I cart it around in an insulated Klean Kanteen...

At any given moment, it is almost guaranteed that I'm highly caffeinated...
Including right now.

So, I thought that I'd give you a little walk-through of all of the different coffee-making devices that inhabit my kitchen. I figured it'd be kind of fun to show you my absurd level of enchantment with coffee–plus, if you're looking into buying a new coffee making device in the future, this may help you out!

Number One: The Drip Coffee-Maker

strength level:low–med/high
My my... how original and exotic! (har har) This one isn't really that exciting or interesting but it's a staple in my coffee drinking habits, so I really must include it.
This is just a standard coffee maker. It's a 12-cupper, uses paper cone filters, and brews coffee best when it's ground medium or medium/fine. What do I like about it? It makes 12 cups of coffee... which I can certainly put away on my own... Also, it is amazingly low maintenance. Pour the right amount of water in, put some grinds into a filter, and press on. There is no stove or boiling water involved, no extra steps, just turn on the power button, walk off for a few minutes, then come back and the coffee is waiting–all toasty warm from the hotplate built into it. What can I say? It's a standard in any coffee drinker's kitchen. Depending on the water to coffee ratio, it can brew very mild or very strong coffee. If you don't have one, it would be wise to get one.

Number Two: French Press

strength level: med/high
Now it gets a bit more interesting. This is my handy-dandy French press. For those coffee drinkers that have not ventured much past the typical drip coffee maker, and are looking for a bit of adventure, look no further. This is how you use it: First, pull out the top and put the appropriate amount of very coarsely ground coffee into the French press. I normally put about a tablespoon per cup but it can be adjusted to taste. Once the water has come to a boil, pour it into the French press (right into the grinds) until it fills to about an inch from the top. Then, replace the lid (with attached plunger-filter) on top, letting the circular filter sit right on top of the water level. Let it sit anywhere from three to five minutes (depends on how strong you like it). Then, push the handle of the plunger-filter downward until it forces all of the floating coffee grinds to the bottom–and pour yourself a cup! This coffee tends to be a stronger than that which comes from standard drip coffee machines, and there is a bit of coffee sludge (for lack of a more appealing word) left at the bottom of the cup. This is normal, and I personally don't mind it, but normally avoid drinking it.

Number Three: Stove-top Espresso Maker

Strength level: high
Espresso. Say it with me: "ESS-PRESS-OH"  None of that "eX-presso" stuff... It's espresso! Having a stove-top espresso maker is awesome, and turns out, is popular in other countries. If you aren't into the idea of investing in a pressurized steam espresso machine, this is what you want. It comes in all different sizes, is generally made of aluminum (so no dishwasher!) and works best on range stove with an open flame, rather than an electric stove. The whole thing consists of three chambers. What you do is dismantle it by twisting the chambers free from each other. Fill the bottom chamber with water, (normally there is a pressure gauge that marks the maximum amount of water that can be put in) fill the middle filter chamber with coffee grinds, and then screw it all back together. Then, put it onto the stove over low to medium heat, and just wait. You'll begin to hear a hissing noise, which is normal. What happens is the water of the bottom boils, creating steam that passes through the coffee. The result is a concentrated coffee product that passes through a chimney-type passage into the top, where it will happily wait for you to pour it into a little porcelain cup and enjoy. This espresso is comparable in strength to that you would purchase at an espresso bar, but is a bit different. Espresso that is pulled from a pressurized espresso machine has three parts: the heart, the body, and crema. This brewing device produces espresso that does not have these three distinct parts- but it is oh-so-good.  It is much more affordable than a pressurized espresso machine, and though I'm sure there is some preference to how coarse the grind is, works with any grind of coffee. Bravo.

Number Four: Pressurized Espresso Maker

Strength level: high
Yes... yes. Glorious. I absolutely love having this espresso machine. My parents gave it to me for my 18th birthday, and I adore it! This is basically the mini version of the espresso machines you'll find at your local cafes... although, the ones you find at cafes cost thousands of dollars and are much much much more sophisticated than my little steam-buddy. It uses a lot more pressure than the stove-top espresso maker, and mine has a little reservoir that it uses to make the steam. It also has a little steamer wand that you can use to froth milk if you want to make cappuccinos or lattes.  I like it a lot because is has all the parts of the espresso machines from coffee shops, and mine pulls a double shot as a default (all the more reason for me to drink more!) Like I said before, espresso shots pulled from this type of machine have three parts: the heart, the body, and the crema. The heart is the darkest and deepest part of the espresso, located at the very bottom of the shot. The body is the largest part and it hovers in the middle between the heart and the crema. The crema is that little bit of foam located on top of the shot that indicates that you've pulled a good espresso. In some of my research about coffee, I read that these shots technically have a shelf life of about 10 seconds before all the parts meld together and the taste is compromised. So, espresso shots alone are not meant to be sipped over time, they're meant to be pounded right on the spot! You can, of course, add milk or cream to your liking (at this point, I just forget about the ten second rule) The coffee is very strong, and very yummy. The only thing I do not like about this coffee making device is that it is terribly irritating to clean. Technically, you should purchase specific espresso machine detergent and run it through the system in order to clean it all out. You also have to clean the steam wand, portafilter, and tray that catches excess coffee/water/milk/whatever. Maybe it's me just being lazy, but whatever. Coffee shouldn't be a pain in the butt... it should be glorious. End of story.

Other tools and tips:

Other things that are good to have in your coffee-making kitchen are:

A coffee grinder: I prefer a burr grinder, rather than a grinder with blades. Burr binders provide a more consistent grind of coffee than the blade grinders. Having a coffee grinder really reduces the trips to the grocery store grinder and allows you to grind your beans fresh right before you brew, which improves the taste for those of you with sensitive pallets.

Espresso Shot glasses: Set aside a shot glass or two that are used only for coffee. Using the one you used on Saturday night for your tequila shooters may compromise the taste.

Frothing Pitcher: if you want an espresso machine with the steam wand, you'll want one of these.

Tips: If you aren't sure where to start, but want to explore coffee a bit more that you already do, my advice is to talk to a barista. Most people don't know the composition of every drink on the menu of an espresso bar, and most of the time, baristas are happy to help. If you want to know what a café olé is (drip coffee topped off with steamed milk) ask your barista... and I'm not talking Starbucks baristas. No offense to the hardworking employees of Starbucks, but most of that stuff is automated... plus every time I walk by a Starbucks, they look so crowded that hanging out and asking them questions might get in the way of them serving all of their anxiously waiting customers. Knowing what kind of drinks you like will help you know what device to use.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed my examination of my addiction to coffee. You know you're an addict when you have four different kinds of coffee brewing in your apartment... and you use them all at least a few times a week... some even more than once in a day! haha! If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to drop a comment (@ the bottom of this post, click comments)

Foodie Foodie!

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