Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

The coffee snob #1

I started drinking coffee back in my college-student years – an empty jar of instant smelled nice when I stuck my nose in it, and from then on I was a Caffeine Junky.

Really I don’t think that was ever true and while I don’t recall that I consciously kept tabs on the number of cups of coffee that passed my lips per day, I’m pretty sure it was only a couple. Occasionally I’d make an extra large, extra strong, and extra sweet mug-full in evenings when I had college work to finish, or girls in different time zones to chatup online. (Hey, I was a teenager! Plus, it was the day’s of Windows 98 and dialup, so you needed caffeine just to survive the endless disconnects and reconnects.)

Still to this day I don’t drink more than three cups of coffee per day, and mostly I try and limit my intake to one. I’ve found I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine and even though I have tried once to cut coffee out of my life completely, when I did that, from only being on one cup of coffee a day, it gave me a headache and made me miserable – so I’m happy sticking to my limited intake.

Decaf doesn’t cut it – my body knows when someone has tried to fool it.

Anyway, moving on to working life. Up until a few years ago, the café that supplied me with my cup of coffee at work did so in the form of instant. This was fine – it was all I had ever drunk, and it was a cheap refreshment that I could justify purchasing on most days. Actually it was free at first until it was decided that we should all be paying for our own drinks. *grumbles*

Then the café changed hands and the new people running it knew their coffee. They had a big shiny coffee machine installed with knobs and levers on, and a separate thing with actual coffee beans in that made a lot of noise – the whole show made a lot of noise, and we paid the price for it. The cost of my cup of coffee went up four-fold, but it was really nice coffee. I still exercised some self-restraint though, and justified the higher price by doing without coffee at work on more days. On quiet days in the village it was harder to not go and partake in a cup of nectar, and have a natter at the same time – we all got on well. Actually, even though I got on well enough with the original café-runner, because she served me with instant coffee I don’t think I ever sat down for a chat – with proper coffee there is a wait, and if you’ve sat down to wait, you may as well stay where you are to drink it… work can wait… “Ahhh. Oh a biscuit too!”

childish_coffeeThen those café people moved on to other premises, as have I now too – I still visit them occasionally though, and partake in their coffee, but it has become more of a treat, rather than work-life fuel.

Back at home, and in my own home, I thought “I’m going to get my own coffee machine.” I had actually looked into this as a silly idea during my student years – having a coffee machine in my bedroom, silly, I never did… thankfully, it would have only served me “filter coffee”. Now in my own house, with my own kitchen, and work-top space for some kind of machine, I scoured ebay to try and suss-out what was what. I really didn’t know anything about coffee machines – I’d only observed with quiet ignorance the one in the work café. I knew there was a difference between filter coffee and a ‘proper coffee machine’, and it was the latter I was looking for.

I found an old, battered, previously-loved, yet still functioning machine on offer with a low BuyIt Now price, so I grabbed it. It was glued together in places, but this was only cosmetic – it would suit my kitchen just fine.

The guy selling it was quite the pedant – the wording of his ebay listing informed me of this, and his hand-written page of instructions that he included in the box compounded it. I loved him! I could just about decipher his writing and even though the machine lacked the original instructions I was confident to proceed… I just had to decide what coffee to buy.

I didn’t have any way to grind coffee beans at this point so I knew I had to get pre-ground stuff, but then the shelves at the supermarket took some browsing in order for me to decide what to buy.

Then things became more complicated.

The written instructions from the previous owner of my coffee machine made suggestions about how much coffee to put in, to press it down with something suitable (the original thing for doing this had been lost), and there were suggestions about how much water to put in depending on how strong you wanted the coffee to be. The notes also suggested pre-heating the milk in the microwave a little to reduce the time needed to ‘steam’ it with the thingy. The instructions also mentioned cleaning that thingy – something I had seen them doing in the café… ahh it was getting familiar!

To further instruct me, the bag of ground coffee I had bought also suggested how much coffee to use per cup. Great, two lots of instructions.

russel_hobbs_coffee_machine2My first cup of coffee from my new machine gave me quite a caffeine hit I can tell you! I went out on my bicycle a short while later and my legs were all wobbly.

Next time I dialled back the time circuits amount of coffee I was using and made some further attempts. Getting the milk-steaming process right was proving to be more of a challenge.

Limiting myself to only one cup of coffee a day it would take me a long time to try out some of the many permutations. I was starting to realise this coffee-making malarkey was more complex than I had first realised – with instant I knew which brand I liked, I knew how heaped to make the teaspoon depending on which mug I was using, I knew not to let the kettle boil, I knew how much sugar and milk to put in, and I knew never, never to stir counter-clockwise – simple.

I could make things a little more clever with instant coffee by boiling the milk in the microwave first – I have a client who makes coffee for me this way and she makes it so well. I’ve not been able to better her coffee or find someone else who does instant better – even some cafés serving proper coffee don’t meet the mark compared to hers. This person has taught me a key thing about coffee, or at least how I like it, and that is that it is largely down to the milk. Even if you don’t microwave the milk for instant, at least pour it in slowly – it makes a difference.

With proper coffee I have now grown to appreciate that there are many many more variables than instant, some of which my simple coffee machine isn’t geared to adjust for me as the big flashy machines in coffee shops are, but I’m happy to get by. I’m not fussy.

In my next post of coffee I’ll inundate you with a list of variables I’ve discovered [link].


2 comments on “The coffee snob #1

  1. Pingback: The coffee snob #2 | BMH Online

  2. Pingback: The coffee snob #3 | BMH Online

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