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Proper Coffee

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A good cup of coffee along with breakfast or after dinner is a pleasure that millions of people would not forego. A few small tweaks in both style and substance can greatly improve the experience.

Until recently, coffee in this country has been largely utilitarian in nature. People just don't sleep as much as they should so to compensate, they drink caffeine-laden coffee. Since so many people spend a lot of time in meetings that are both boring and devoid of content, they feel justified in pursuing what might be seen as the typical American consumer adoption progression: get used to something, then get more and more and more instead of expecting improvement in quality with maturity. Hence, convenience stores now offer the same pricing on coffee, whether you get a two-ounce sample or a ten-gallon jug. Even if you want less, one can hardly buy the right size without feeling like a moron for not taking advantage of the great deal offered by essentially buying in bulk.

In my house, we have taken to espresso rather than the drip-brewed coffee more common in this country. For those interested in a weaker brew, we offer the Café Americano—equal parts espresso and hot water—which ends up offering a fuller flavor than coffee without quite the same kick as espresso. This decision is a matter of substance. How we serve the drink is a matter of style. Rather than simply offering regular-sized cups of coffee that are half-filled or even quarter filled with espresso, we have a small supply of appropriately-sized cups. A pair are appropriately sized for double-shots and a set of six that my mother bought for us do for single shots. Those who want a two-shot Americano get a regular-sized cup, as that works out to just the right size.

At a small dinner party we held in October, we were talking about the pleasures of a properly-brewed cup of coffee. As I finished my single-shot espresso, my father suggested that we run our dishwasher in “energy-saver” mode, where the heat will not come on during the drying cycle. “Why is that?” I asked. ”Because,” he said with a grin, “that way, your cups won't shrink.”

The small machine that my wife and I have—a model from Krups that is probably a bit over ten years old—is easy to move about, so we've occasionally taken it with us to friends' houses. Occasionally, I'll get a request to make something slightly more complicated, such as cappuccino, and I'm happy to oblige. Recently, this very thing happened when helping a friend to move. Her kitchen was not yet entirely unpacked, but it was far along enough for me to go to work on the coffee drinks for everyone. In the course of frothing the milk on the second batch of cappuccinos, there was a minor mishap; it's probably best to skip the details and admit that I christened the new kitchen.

Even when on the go, it's possible to get a proper coffee now, at least in terms of substance. In the matter of style, I have had mixed results. In a Starbucks operated as a Barnes & Noble café at Easton Town Center, espresso is served properly. A Starbucks in Bexley near my house never gets it right, always giving me the drink in a not-half-filled “tall” paper cup, usually with some balderdash printed on the side forcefully asserting that “our schools can be fixed” in a way that seems to suggest by belief alone. At a Starbucks inside of the facility of a large client, even when getting a paper cup, it comes in the proper size for a double espresso, a tiny paper cup, on which real estate is precious enough that Starbucks must choose its logo over empty platitudes. Sadly, what happens at the Bexley Starbucks is more typical. Panera Bread locations also range widely in experience, apparently because its staff is left on its own to figure out how to cope with small cups. So you get a Styrofoam cup with a bit of coffee at the bottom. Terribly elegant, that.

In any case, we've made some progress from the days that the sort of stuff served at truck stops would count as coffee, but apparently it will take a bit longer for some people to come around to the notion that proper coffee requires certain equipment and standards of presentation. Only then will we be able to avoid the sort of unceremonious caffeinating that detracts from a proper coffee experience.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-12-07 03:33 AM


Posted by donetrawk at 2006-01-03 11:30 AM
I don't know much about coffee, but I sure know that espresso should be in a very small tasse.


Morning Coffee

Posted by RBHolb at 2006-08-09 05:37 PM
I am fond of espresso, but it just doesn't work for jolting me awake in the morning. Darker roasts have less caffeine than lighter roasts, although they have a stronger taste.
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