An Innocent In Coffeeland

Eulalia Benejam Cobb (Lali)

For years, although I liked nothing better than a good, strong cup of coffee, I drank instant coffee at home.

Then, for a long time, I gave up coffee along with dairy, wheat, and sugar, and lived mainly on weak tea, green vegetables, and will power.  One thing I clung to, however, was a glass or two of wine in the evenings, but during my recent bout of shingles I had to give that up as well, because of the narcotic pain meds.  And when it was over I thought I'd see if continuing to abstain from wine would have a positive effect on my health.

But I cannot forgo all worldly pleasures, so I decided to compensate for the absence of alcohol by letting coffee back into my life.  And this time it wouldn't be Nescafe, but real coffee.

I didn't know much about making coffee, but I disliked the taste of over-boiled coffee, and didn't want yet another electrical appliance cluttering my counter.  I wanted to make coffee by a simple method,with a beautiful implement.

From what I could see on the internet, the pour-over method seemed the most direct--you put some grounds in a filter and poured hot water over them.  And you could make it in a Chemex.  Chemex pots look like they came from a chemistry lab staffed by Italian designers.  They have an hourglass shape and wear an elegant wooden belt around their waist.  They have been enthroned at MOMA as exemplars of contemporary kitchen sculpture.  I wanted one.

The only problem was that the Chemex requires a disposable filter that is not sold in supermarkets.  That, and the idea of throwing out a filter every day of my life put me off the Chemex, despite its beauty.  But wait!  It turned out that a tiny company in Seattle--where else?--was makinga  permanent filter for the Chemex.  Unfortunately, it cost $90.

But the ever helpful spirits of the internet, who had figured out what I wanted without my ever having told them, came up with a Japanese variation of the Chemex, a Hario, that used a cloth filter.  It even had a wooden belt around its waist, and although the cloth filter looked like it would be a pain to clean I was ready to put a Hario in my virtual basket.

Before hitting "buy," however, I thought I should check exactly what the pour-over method involved.  I found a number of videos featuring solemn guys in aprons officiating at altar-like counters.  On the counters were arranged the ritual vessels and implements of  the pour-over method, which I learned was the purest, most artistic way of making coffee, and the one allowing the officiant a maximum of individual expression.

The objects on the counter were:  a tiny digital scale, a grinder, a digital timer, a filter, a cup, and a kettle.  Having ground and weighed the precise amount of coffee, the instructor put it in the filter and turned on the kettle.  But not just any kettle. The right kettle had a skinny s-shaped spout to allow him to pour the water over the grounds in the proper way.

This pouring was the most sacred part of the ritual.  Once the water was boiling, he turned the kettle off and let it rest while, with his index finger, he made a hole in the middle of the grounds.  He picked up the kettle and carefully poured a little water into the hole, letting the grounds "bloom."  He set the timer for exactly three minutes and, starting at the center of the grounds, slowly poured the water in an outward spiral motion, timing it so the last drop would come out as the timer bell dinged.  He removed the filter, took a sip, closed his eyes and all but genuflected.

I thought I could dispense with the scale and the timer, and I already owned a grinder, but clearly I would have to invest in one of those swan-neck kettles.  After another hunt for the ideal conjunction of function, looks and economy I purchased one, made in China but with a vaguely Italian name.  And then I was ready to buy the Hario coffee pot with the cloth filter.

But at the last moment my personal shoppers in the ether offered up yet another possibility:  a Hario pot with a plastic mesh filter that would be much simpler to clean than the cloth one.  Unfortunately, this pot was nothing much to look at--no hourglass figure, no adorable wooden belt.  Exhausted by my search, I put aesthetics aside and bought it.

It should be obvious to you by now that the kettle and the pot have arrived and I have become a priestess of the pour-over coffee-brewing method:  the sun isn't up yet, and look what a long post I've written.


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