Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ambition in a Cup

Originally posted August, 2007

Life can be pretty hectic. Like many of us, I rely on a daily dose (or two) of caffeine to keep me going. As a culture, we are incredibly reliant on legal drugs; alcohol, nicotine, caffeine. That's not intended as crticism, for I have, at one time or another, used all of those drugs myself. In fact, at the moment I am sipping one...a hot espresso served in a teeny lusterware cup I bought at an antique shop.

I have an espresso maker; it's not one of those gorgeous brushed metal units I lust for at Starbucks and Williams-Sonoma each time I go in. But it is a pump-driven Krups unit that I bought when I was pregnant with my son; when I gave up the other two legal drugs but was allowed by my doctor to keep coffee on my short list of uncontrollable substances. I figured being able to make myself cappucino would be a nice treat and make me feel less deprived; a "fancy" coffee after dinner was hardly a worthy substitute for wine with dinner, but at least it felt like a little indugence.

It's been years since I've used the machine; it's been sitting on a high shelf in my laundry room, with my deep fryer. That's where I keep the appliances are rarely used but don't warrant a trip to the graveyard (a large metal shelving unit in my basement that holds 3 or 4 difference ice cream makers, a fondue pot, an old toaster oven and some "Made in Taiwan" chopping device that never really worked properly.) Items retired to the graveyard only resurface when the Purple Heart calls with their monthly request for donations.

But necessity is the mother of resurrection, and I was out of coffee filters.

So down it came. I ground some of my usual coffee to a powder and packed the little tray in the machine. It took a long time for the machine to heat up and even longer for it to produce steam. For a few minutes, I thought it was broken, but now I think perhaps it was on strike. I think I might consider a labor disruption of some sort had I been made to spend 5 years in the laundry room.

Eventually I heard that satisfying hissing sound and the first few drops of deep brown richness began to drip into my cup. It smelled fantastic.

A reasonable substitute for my usual morning drip? Absolutely. Great espresso? Not by a long shot (sorry, no pun intended). Sadly, it was a little thin and my regular-roast coffee didn't give it that great "bite" that is the hallmark of really good espresso.

I became a woman on a mission. Off to the store I went for some real Italian roast beans, regular and decaf. I spent the better part of Saturday morning figuring out the perfect grind, the right amount of "packing" of the grinds into the basket and the proper length of time for each pull. My daughter's friends, the teenage caffeine junkies, were more than happy to help me critique each shot, and when I finally nailed it; a perfectly black shot of coffee essence topped with a beautiful tan coating of gorgeous "crema", we pronounced our experiment a success.

I have since purchased a box of coffee filters, but I haven't even turned on the coffee pot. My husband's morning drip coffee has been replaced by "cafe Americano"; espresso diluted with hot boiling water. My evening wine is now a decaf with a twist of orange. I found the long-lost foaming attachment at the back of the "junk drawer" (every kitchen has at least one of those) and made making perfect foam my next project.

My espresso maker now occupies a place of honor on the counter next to my coffee pot; they are both black and silver and I like how natural they look together. I can't help but wonder, long before the coffee maker ends up in the laundry room?

The espresso maker is winking its "ready" light. It could be my imagination, but I swear it is smiling. Make it a doppio.

No comments:

Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.