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Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee

  1. Beans. Graffeo Coffee, 735 Columbus St., San Francisco, CA, USA, ((415) 986-2420 ) is the preferred source. Simply the world's finest coffee. They will ship, but not internationally. A good friend is a helpful substitute. Barring that, mountain-grown Columbian beans, dark roast, from a good source, may be attempted.
  2. Storage. Most food products oxidize. Storing your whole beans in an airtight container is a Good Thing ™. I've got an acrylic snap-top jar -- it works, and doesn't break when I drop it. I don't recommend freezing whole beans -- they tend to gum up in a typical household grinder.
  3. Grind. There's a tradeoff between a good grind and a fresh grind. A good grind is what you'll get from a professional coffee grinder, which gets the right grain size. However, ground coffee ages more rapidly (exposed air surface) than whole beans. 20 - 25 seconds in a standard Krups "propeller" mill is usually acceptable. I've even been known to freeze the excess overnight.
  4. Water. Wet is generally good. High levels of impurities may be noticeable. I filter all my tap water, and use filtered tap water for coffee. Buying imported water for making coffee is excessive. It may impress some people, but it probably doesn't do much for the brew.
  5. Equipment. Forget about the Italian-style espresso machines. The really good ones cost upwards of $1000 (US), and your kitchen is too small anyway. The smaller household jobs just don't cut the mustard. An espresso maker needs to be kept on, is very finiky, and is not just a water heater. Fortunately, the cheap inexpensive ($12 - $20 US) "vespa" (wasp-waist) three-piece Italian alluminum stovetop espresso pot is one of the best ways to make brew in existence.

    The vespa has three parts -- a bottom chamber, filled with water; a funnel, filled with grounds; and a top chamber, where the brew comes out. It works by steam pressure -- as water heats, it's forced down in the bottom chamber, up through the funnel, and into the top. A perforated filter and gasket sit in the bottom of the top chamber. More on this later.

  6. Putting it all together.
    • Fill the bottom chamber of your vespa espresso maker with water to the fill line (ridge on the inside), or just below the steam release valve (the bolt visible from the outside).
    • Place the funnel in the base and add grounds to your taste to the funnel cup. I cheat and use a 6-shot maker to brew a single large mug of espresso. Most people will like the quantity but prefer a weaker brew -- half or two-thirds a load of grounds may work. You had a 2/3 brew back here.
    • Assemble the unit, screwing the top on securely. You'll probably have to work to get it apart again afterwards.
  7. Doing the deed. Gas or electric stove is fine, but place the bakealite handle away from direct heat -- it will melt, and usually does over time. Moderate (gas) or high (electric) heat. Brewing takes about five minutes, the pot will spit as it's nearly done. You can turn gas down or electric off at this point. Remember the gasket? Leaving the pot on heat too long will burn the grounds and melt the gasket. This is a Bad Thing ™. You may get a whistling out of the pressure release valve, especially with high heat on finely-ground beans.
  8. Serve. Six shots, or one large mug ;-)
  9. Cleanup and maintenance. Let the pot cool. I usually flush and fill the top chamber with cold water a couple of times. When cooled, dissassemble (it may be tight). Dump grounds, rinse, suds are OK but not necessary.

    If you do manage to leave the pot on too long, you can get rid of the bad smell by soaking all parts in a strong, hot baking-soda solution for 20-30 minutes. The gasket usually softens over time, though a long stretch on the stove will melt it pretty convincingly. Replacement filters and gaskets are available at kitchen and coffee shops. Sizing can vary.

See, nothing to it!

mail: kmself@ix.netcom.com
Last updated: 2004/04/11 22:29:00