Where I've been, and our latest love affair

I promise I haven't abandoned y'all, really! It's been a busy couple of weeks, though. My parents were here for 9 days while my dad built bookcases into one wall of the living room. Unfortunately, most of the work took place outside while we were having a nasty heatwave, but he braved the sweltering temperatures and wicked humidity and made some damn nice shelves. The second coat of primer is drying, but when the painting is done, I'll post pictures for everyone to admire.

Also, Stuart and I celebrated our 5th anniversary this weekend. A good friend took Daniel for the evening while we went out to eat at a moderately fancy-pants Spanish restaurant with a free wine-tasting bar. It was lovely, and we've decided we need to have these dates more often (this was only our second since Daniel was born, and our first was to see Narnia at the discount cinema...it was almost worth the six bucks it cost for us both to see it. Almost.)

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In our house, coffee is often referred to as "nectar of life" or simply, "life." Neither Stu nor I has been more than a 2-cup-per-day coffee drinker, but that morning java is not just a matter of pleasure, but necessity. Without it, I feel sluggish and headache-y by about noon.

From the beginning, we've been buying fair trade organic, not only for ethical reasons, but also because it tastes much better than the dirt Folgers tries to pass off as coffee. We grind it fresh with every brew. It must be light to medium roast, as dark roast tastes burnt.

For a time we were satisfied with using our 4-cup auto-drip machine that probably cost about $15 at Target, but it wasn't long before we started philandering with other coffee paraphernalia. We flirted with boiled Turkish coffee with sugar and cardamom. We had an awkward affair with a cheap cappuccino machine that I think was a Christmas present of yore. The French press lured us with her smooth glass and fitted plunger. But things got really serious when Stuart pulled out a 2-cup stovetop espresso maker he'd been given for being in a wedding. The thick, dark, syrupy coffee that came from this tiny Bialetti was intense, and we wanted more. So we bought the 4-cup version, then a Brikka, but after a few months it was clear none of these could satisfy our lust for the true dark, crema-laden Italian espresso like you can get in all the coffeeshops.

Is this post making anyone uncomfortable yet? Heh, heh. I thought so.

Finally, we had to do it. We had to break down and pay the big bucks and get a real espresso machine. You see, what makes espresso good is the crema - that sweet, light-colored froth that takes away the bitterness and makes the shot smooth and rich down to the last tiny drop. Stovetop espresso makers like the Brikka just might give you a bit of crema around the edge of your cup, but it is fleeting and disappears within a few seconds. Only the electric machines can produce enough steam pressure to create the crema.

So we got one. Isn't it handsome?



And it has a companion: a beautiful, sweet-tempered burr grinder from Williams-Sonoma with curves in all the right places and the ability to grind espresso beans just right:




It turns out that the grinder is almost more important than the espesso machine. Regular blade grinders heat up the beans, the blades don't grind as consistently, and they leave coffee "dust," all of which takes away from the crema. We tried having beans ground at a coffee shop down the road, but unless it's done seconds before the espresso is made, you get no crema. Without the crema, it's really not espresso.

But
, it's not just the fancy machine and fancy grinder. It's also the exact amount of beans, waiting for the water to heat for an exact amount of time, and tamping the beans with exactly 30 lbs of pressure. We almost bought a bathroom scale - one item I swore I would never have in my house - just so Stuart could determine how hard he had to press to tamp at 30 lbs. (He ended up just going to a department store and messing around with the scales there, but not buying one.)

It's taken Stuart a couple weeks, several curse words, multiple trips to Williams-Sonoma, and several dumped cups of botched espresso to get all of this right. (I have yet to learn all the tricks. I figured it would be more efficient for him to noodle around until he's got it and then show me.)

You're probably wondering if all this is worth it. When you're this in love with a caffinated goodness, the answer is yes, yes, and absolutely yes. Once you've had a perfect tiny little cup of espresso bursting with rich, crema-filled goodness, you know it's The One.

Comments

Jenn Hacker said…
In my house, (even growing up) coffee was called "ambrosia". LOL! My mother used to drink coffee all day, every day, winter or summer. She went through about three pots a day, I think. I'm not that bad, usually just one or two cups when I get to work, but sometimes I drink hot tea, instead. With the hot weather, though, I've switched to drinking about 4 quarts of iced coffee while I'm at work, then when I get home at night, I drink Kool-aid. But all are made with Splenda instead of sugar, and for the iced coffee I used powdered fat-free milk. But I must confess (Freud would be proud) that, as I read this blog entry, I was suffering from Espresso-Envy!
canadahauntsme said…
What you need is a platform that holds 6 5-lb. bags of flour (or sugar). Maybe dad could drive up and construct one for you =)
Suze said…
out of plywood! we've got some scraps of it around now!

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