Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Coffee Story

Once upon a time, I did not like coffee.

Or at least, I thought I didn't. My dad hated the stuff and my mom just never drank it, so I thought it was a nasty adult drink that I would never like.

My downfall began with Indonesian packets of nescafe 3-in-1 instant coffee

I wonder now how in the world we went around drinking cups of hot coffee in the sweltering tropics, but my Jr. and Sr. year of highschool this was the thing to drink, and cups of it left in lockers were a love language I learned to appreciate.

I headed off to college thinking I really liked coffee, but in reality I really liked a slight coffee flavor with a lot of cream and sugar. However, I entered the world of coffee shops when I hit college in downtown Chicago, and between late nights, coffee shop dates, and the luxury of a hot drink in Chicago winters, I learned to love and rely on espresso drinks...

Seattle's Best Coffee, Chicago

When I graduated I took a full-time job that first summer working at Torrefazione, a truly Italian coffee shop that was..... awesome. They started in Portland and were run by an Italian family who got their beans from the family fields in Italy. They'd opened up branches in three places in the US. Read this girl's post about them here. Or... buy their whole bean coffee here.

At Torrefazione my fuzzy appreciation for fun espresso drinks was refined. They trained us WELL to taste coffee, to make perfect hand-pulled espresso, to perfectly steam milk so that you could pour lattes that look like this:

La Torrefazione

It also just so happened that the coffee shop was located on the bottom floor of the Chicago skyscraper that holds both the Playboy headquarters and a women's hospital. The contradiction of Playboy photographers and the pregnant women coming in for checkups was a pretty hilarious thing to observe.


In any case, Torrefazione spoiled me. And then..... DUN DUN DUN.... corporate monster Starbucks bought out Torrefazione and shut them down. Tragedy. So... I went to work for Starbucks, where marketing is effective, speed is everything, and they make lattes incorrectly.

5-Diamond Starbucks

I quit after Isaac and I got back from our honeymoon and got an office job. This began a new stage of life.... my attempt to recreate my experience of awesome coffee at Torrefazione at home... without buying a high class coffee maker.

Step 1....
An undeserved birthday gift from Isaac of a Bialetti Mukka Stove-top Espresso Maker:

Arte del Cappuccino

It was amazing. It makes espresso and steams milk at the same time, and you end up with a decent latte, right on your stove. You do have to sort of be a coffee freak though, because it takes a few steps and sounds like it's about to explode while it brews and steams. And... one time it sorta did explode on me, and I ended up with coffee all over everywhere. And then I put it in the dishwasher once and found out it wasn't dishwasher safe, so now it's a pretty mottled and ugly gadget that sits in my cabinet most of the time. Whoops...

Next step... french press coffee:
Bodum French Press

Since I'd moved to the point of appreciating plain, dark coffee just a little sweetened (I now find most sweetened lattes to be sickeningly sweet), the french press is perfect. I've abandoned drip coffee and use my french press for most things. The only exception is....

My Aeropress:

06533 Press down gently on AeroPress plunger

Isaac got this for me for Christmas last year, and it's a much more affordable coffee gadget that makes awesome espresso and looks like you're doing a science experiment. $25 little gadget, and the espresso you get is as good as a professional machine.

Aeropress Coffee Gadget

Just put in your filter, grounds, boiling water, and then plunge.....

I pour that espresso into steamed milk, and if I so desire I froth it up with this little gadget:

I'm a sucker for coffee gadgets. It's ironic, too, because I've realized caffeine messes with me so much that I try to always brew decaf at home, which is so.... lame. But hey, for me the POINT is the taste, not the buzz!

And, since I am a drink addict, see my post on Drinks from Around the World


justaweeblether said...

That looks like a great gadget!

I grew up the same way with coffee, but I didn't start until Moody. It was getting up early and sitting through Survey of the OT that did it for me!

I want to know how Starbucks' lattes are different because I prided myself in making them perfect.

Kacie said...

haha! Well, Starbucks isn't all bad. For one thing, at least nowadays they are machine-pulled espresso shots instead of hand pulled and tamped. But really, most of all proper lattes are meant to be free-pour lattes, where the milk is evenly steamed and thickened and doesn't have bubbles at the top that are popping as you let it sit. It shouldn't have a layer of bubbles on top of hot milk - it should all be evenly smooth, aerated milk that can pour in thickly and make the cool latte art.

Usually Starbucks just heats and puts on a little foam rather than really steaming the milk.

justaweeblether said...

AHHH!! See, I thought the free-pour were just for cappuccinos so you get half milk and half froth. It is true about the lattes. Though we aerated the milk to begin with, we did all sorts of tricks to get the froth to rise before pouring and added about 3/4" of froth at the top to get the right weight. I think most of the stores in Edinburgh made their cappuccinos by pouring in half milk and half froth. I free-poured them which is why customers would walk past other stores to come to mine and see if I was making the drinks. :D

Hmmm, now I'm trying to figure out how to free-pour a latte and NOT get a cappuccino....

justaweeblether said...

I am obsessed with this now because I think I am obsessed with getting things done properly. I was thinking about the lattes and I recall now that we did free-pour them after the milk had been aerated (or at least we were trained to, but as with the cappuccinos, most didn't) but we held back some of the froth with a spoon. This doesn't work if the milk is not freshly steamed. There was a great amount of pressure to get the right weight so almost everyone steamed milk ahead of time so the froth rose to the top. It was difficult to get people to steam the milk properly, too. Most would just try to get big bubbles quickly so they could set the pitcher down and do other things, especially during a rush.

And yes, I never learned to hand-pull a shot. I think we were one of two stores in Edinburgh that already upgraded to an automatic.

I think your Starbucks just trained you wrong if they didn't train you to free-pour, which I find is the case at most stores. :)

Ok, I'll stop with my obsession.