Ever make Cowboy coffee? That's where you pour water and coffee into a pan, boil it, and pour it into a mug, leaving most of the grounds in the pan. It's bitter and gritty, but who cares, it's coffee on the open range.
I don't live on the open range. Nope, we have our sophisticated tastes, even in the early morning when my mouth feels like a raccoon raised a family of six in there. When I make coffee in the morning, I'm catering to two different palettes, I like a hot, steamed latte in a mug, Markie likes a tall glass of iced latte.
To make these urban coffees, I use an espresso machine which is picky about the coffee you can use. It turns out there are two kinds of espresso machines, one kind uses steam pressure to push the water through the grounds, and the other, like ours, uses mechanical pressure. You can use a finer grind of coffee because steam pressure is higher pressure than the mechanical pressure.
I learned this when I went to make espresso this morning with a new bag of freshly ground espresso and got a slow drip of dark liquid that looked like something that would come out of the oil pan in my old AMC Gremlin. Congress could pass health care reform faster than I'd get four ounces of coffee out of the machine because "espresso grind" in this case was like the clay you use for sand casting in metal shop.
That sand casting metaphor is more accurate than you might think -- if the coffee is too oily, it sticks together more, too, and your coffee pours like Eva Gabor's on Green Acres (someone will get that reference). If it's too dry, you don't really get espresso, just something more like gritty instant Folgers.
And then there's that whole trick to "tamping" the "hopper" -- again, too tight, bitter nastiness, too loose, bitter, yet flavorless, nastiness. I had been using a shot glass to tamp the espresso, but I kept getting rolling hills rather than a black tabletop. Took going to four stores to find a proper tamper (Starbucks, a specialty baking store, a specialty grocery and finally Sur la Table). And by "proper tamper" I ended up with a steel spool with one end bigger than the other...
We have a pitcher for steaming milk, which, if you don't have one, you end up with milk everywhere and 3rd degree burns on the back of your hand. Commercial lattes are steamed to about 160 degrees (70 C), and our steamer has a thermometer with a red zone between 150 and 170. I just wish they'd picked something other than red as that always says danger to me, but regardless, if I don't use the thermometer I usually end up with baked milk rather than steamed milk.
On the other extreme, icing Markie's latte requires finding the right sized glass so I keep the milk to coffee ratio correct, putting the milk into the glass before the espresso so I don't heat up that glass (or melt the plastic cup on weekdays) letting it stand for just long enough to cool down so the ice doesn't all melt, making sure my fingers are dry before I grab ice with my bare hands and freeze it to my skin (yeah, I know, use a scoop, although you still get the frozen skin issue)... basic kitchen routines always take longer to type than to do, but it's still a lot of steps for cold cup of coffee.
Maybe I should just have a a good cuppa. Just need to find the strainer, the kettle, the teapot, warm the milk a touch while I wait for the tea to steep, clean up array of dishes and spoons that seem to collect after a proper cup of tea...
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