The first post in my “Habits of the modern man” series is devoted to coffee. Drinking a coffee in the morning helps put your day into focus. It gets you moving, in more ways than one, and it is a nice little ceremony to prepare if done correctly. However, many people do not do it correctly at all. Whenever I prepare coffee at home for a guest I am greeted with genuine surprise and pleasure on their part at the taste of their beverage. It comes as a revelation to them that coffee prepared at home can be that good. Let’s have a look at the hows and the whys.
Before you begin understanding how to prepare coffee, you first need to be a coffee drinker. Many men are not. The usual reason I am given is because they do not like the taste. This is a misinterpretation on their part. It is not that they do not like the taste, but rather that they do not understand the taste. Your palette needs to mature towards different tastes and experiences. For example, most people intensely dislike anchovies when they first try them. But over time your palate matures and you begin to first like and then appreciate the scope of the tastes involved. Coffee is no different. Good things come to those who persist.
How to drink coffee.
There are many ways to enjoy a coffee, and it can depend on the time of day which type of coffee you drink. The Italians are acknowledged coffee experts and here are their general guidelines on coffee drinking.
In the morning which is normally considered any time before 11am, a cappuccino is a safe bet. A traditional cappuccino has a shot of coffee and milk froth mixed together. The frothy milk aerates the coffee. Taken together with a simple pastry it makes a quick and effective breakfast enjoyed in only a few minutes. Only ignorant tourists would order a cappuccino at any other time of the day. A cappuccino however, is difficult to prepare at home. In that case a coffee with a dash of milk is normal. Whether or not you include milk or sugar is up to you.
At any other time of day, but including the morning if desired, you can order an espresso or a short macchiato. An espresso is simply a shot of black coffee. I say simple but I can count the number of establishments in Australia in which I have enjoyed a correctly prepared and unburnt espresso on one hand. Macchiato translates as “little mark or stain”, and it is an espresso dabbed with a small amount of milk froth which you then mix in before drinking.
Any other coffee preparation is not really worth drinking. Do not succumb to the temptation to be “special” and start ordering abominations with soy latte milk, lite milk, or abomination of abominations, decaf coffee. The one exception to this is what is known as a “cafe corretto”. This is an espresso shot with a dash of alcohol spirit such as grappa. It is usually drunk in the morning by farm laborers who have already been hard at work for many hours. Hint; if you haven’t already been hard at work for many hours you’re probably just a drunk.
How to prepare coffee at home.
There are three aspects to consider when preparing a coffee at home. The coffee brand, the quality of the water, and the method used to prepare the coffee. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Water. Experienced coffee drinks might be surprised that I list this first, but when you think about it the water that you use constitutes the greater part of the finished product. Thus it makes sense to consider that the worse the quality of water that you use then the worse the end result will be, and vice versa. When I lived high in the mountains in Italy the water quality straight from the kitchen tap was outstanding. This went straight into my coffee pot. However, in most cities or large towns the water quality will not be good at all. In Australia the water in Perth is particularly poor while I’ve heard that Adelaide water is atrocious. This will severely effect the taste of your coffee. The solution is to use filtered water or even bottled spring water.
The coffee. I could write pages on this topic without much effort. But we need to keep it simple. If you want to grind your own beans at home and do all that sort of thing, go right ahead. However, I find that the vast majority of coffee blends prepared in Australia are not very good at all. Particularly the high end ones. The problem is that the general population doesn’t know any better. I imagine that it is the same situation in places like North America. My advice for the new coffee drinker is to drink an established and reputable brand so as to set yourself a good benchmark. The brand that I recommend is illy. You can buy it at supermarkets around the world. It’s pricy but it’s good. Illy coffee also comes in an excellent storage container which keeps the coffee fresh. The best place to keep it is in the fridge after its vacuum seal has been opened.
Once you have developed an appreciation for illy coffee you can then try experimenting with your local blends. Find one that suits you. I keep going back to illy. It’s like an old friend.
The preparation method. Here we go. There are so many different ways to prepare a coffee at home from French press to cold drip coffee where the coffee is dripped through a filter for ten hours. The method I use at home is a moka. For my American cousins, this has nothing whatsoever to do with chocolate. Watch this delightful Italian lass explain how to correctly use a moka to prepare your coffee.
My first moka pot lasted me almost 20 years before I had to retire it. The older the pot, the better the coffee taste. I never washed it with detergent, just a quick rinse now and then in water. I like my morning coffee with a dash of milk. Make sure you put the milk in the cup before the coffee. This way the milk will not be burnt when the coffee is added. If you add a small amount of milk to hot coffee already in the cup, the milk will be burnt. This is due to the volume differences.
The latest fad are the coffee pods or dolce gusto coffee machines. I dislike these very much indeed. The coffee has an artificial taste. To someone not experienced with coffee it will taste all right but there is no comparison to a moka pot. The moka pot and the coffee used in it are also far cheaper.
Coffee is a ritual and it is potentially your first ritual of each and every day. Rituals and ceremony are an important aspect of being a modern man. So start each day well.