Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas Season

It is the season of Joy, Peace, Happiness and Love.
And I am still not well enough get home to my boat.  Nor am I able to get back to my girlfriend at the moment.  But health issues aside, it is holiday season.  We should enjoy.

One of the things I enjoy is a nice coffee.  I've never been much of a coffee drinker, being brought up on tea.  I would drink instant coffee if I had no option, or as a courtesy.  However, I enjoyed a nice coffee or cappuccino from a good coffee shop.  So some years ago when I started spending time with coffee drinkers that made coffee using various coffee machines, I started drinking it because at least it tasted better than instant coffee.

I should mention that I don;t particularly like drip or press coffee either.  But a short black, that is strong, but not bitter, and that leaves a sweetish, syrupy after taste in my mouth, well, that is a whole other thing.  Add some creamy steamy milk to that and a sprinkle of choc-cinnamon and I have my second favourite drink, after Chai Masala.

One of the nicer ways to brew coffee is with a device called an 'Atomic' coffee maker.  These were popular many years ago and are cast from aluminium, and look rather art-deco.  The Atomic has a proper looking group with the head and filter basket, and a couple of knobs and a steam wand.  Used properly it makes a very nice coffee on the stove top.  It works by boiling water and forcing it through the coffee grounds, and foaming milk using the steam created by the boiling process.

Now, for many years there have been available, electric coffee machines that worked on the same principle.  And for many years I have tasted all sorts of horrible stuff that was supposedly 'espresso' or 'cappuccino' made with these boiler coffee machines.  More recently there are machines, with a boiler or with another method of heating the water, that work on a similar principle to the commercial cafe machines, but on a small scale.  I have tasted an 'awful' lot of coffee made with those as well.  The latest innovation is coffee 'pod' machines.  These also force hot water through coffee, but this time, contained in a disposable pod, so the dose is always the same.  This allows a consistent flavour every time - and in my experience it is consistently bad.
Someone gave me one of the boiler type electric machines, and because even bad coffee made that way tasted better than instant, I began happily making bad coffee, according to the instructions.

Now these domestic machines work by boiling water and allowing the water to flow through ground coffee that is in a container that looks like a small version of the one in the machine your favourite cafe uses.  The instructions almost invariably say 'do no tamp the coffee' when you fill the basket.  They then suggest you let all the water run through into the cup or cups.  The result is more often than not, drinkable, but bitter or watery or both.

A bit of reading and I learned that these boiler machines are not perfect because they don't push the water though the grounds at the ideal temperature.  I also discovered that the water needs to travel through the coffee grounds under pressure for a fairly precise amount of time to extract the oils and stuff from the coffee.

Armed with this information I began experimenting with one of my Krups boiler machines from the 1980's.  I tried tamping the coffee, and immediately got a much more interesting flavour.  I tried tamping the coffee, and using a timer to run coffee through for 27 seconds, and got a better flavour.  Then I got a 35ml container and adjusted the tamp pressure until I got about 35ml of coffee in 27 seconds.

Then I worked on milk.  Threw away the frothing aid and learned to heat the milk using just the bare nozzle, and got a thermometer.  Heat the milk to about 60 deg C.  At that temperature the milk goes thick and sweet.  Suddenly I had coffee that was not bitter, and milk that was not sweet.  I had the ability to make cappuccino or latte that tasted great and strong, but didn't need sugar!

Then I bought a coffee grinder and began experimenting again.  Grind and tamp and time and measure.  First, the Krups, then my other coffee makers acquired from various sources.  I found a Breville 800 pump machine for $10 at a second hand store.  It was hopeless so I had put it aside.  Using the same methods, I finally got a nice coffee from it.

I think I now have seven coffee makers.  The original ABC from Germany, A Bellman stove top machine that works a bit like an Atomic.  I use that one on my boat.  A friend gave me his old Krups boiler coffee maker because the family could not get it to make nice coffee and I acquired a Breville boiler coffee maker when my son went overseas.  I found another Krups that I bought for $15 for parts, but it works fine.  Then I found the Breville 800 pump machine for $10 at a church second hand store, and a smaller Breville 250 pump machine second hand with a grinder and a knock box, for the price of the knock box.

From my experience, I would say to anyone that is tired of lousy tasting coffee from these types of machines, remember the numbers 35, 27 and 60.

You DO need to tamp the coffee.  It needs to come out at the rate of about 35ml in about 27 seconds.  And foam your milk to about 60 degrees, maybe a little more.

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