Let's Get the Coffee Brewing

At home Chemex brewed coffee. Photo courtesy of Photography by David L. Clark
I just realized, that despite coffee being a really big deal to me, and an integral part of my life, I haven't talked much about it. In fact, I don't rightly know where to start...

I guess you could say my relationship with coffee started really, maybe too, young. When I was just a toddler riding along in the car with my grammy to various craft stores and ballet lessons, there was always a latte. Not mine of course, but that doesn't mean I didn't want some! Something that has become really nostalgic to me as an adult is the smell of my grandma's car, with her latte, and usually mints. Some of my earliest of memories involve riding along with her, and her latte, learning to sing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." I was that young guys! I remember being excited when she was finished with her drink because there might be some foam left in there, and I just loved that coffee flavoured foam. I don't even think she knew that I sometimes got into her cup when she was done, it usually happened if she was doing something like pumping gas.

Fast forward to when I was about 6, and my mother had this almost unhealthy obsession with these drinks at a local espresso stand. Granitas! Oh man, those things were like liquid crack. In my childish head it was like a sophisticated, way more delicious ICEE. Espresso, sugar, milk, ice, blend. It was the frappe before there were pre-made mixes for them at every coffee shop, only better because it's way less adulterated. I'm not even sure Starbucks had Frappuccinos yet.  Apparently Starbucks trademarked Frappuccinos in 1994, so a year or two before... Needless to say, I sucked down as much of those things as possible when she'd let me have a "taste".

Where were we, oh... I think I started getting my own espresso based beverages when I was about 11. By then my family had moved from the Seattle area to Boise. I had an aunt still living in Seattle though, and my sisters and I would visit her in the summer, and go to work with her (she worked in apartment management). Well she stopped at Starbucks every morning, so we all got drinks too. I insisted on a caramel Frappuccino blended coffee, or a caramel macchiato. Let's just say at this point it wasn't hurting much, the caffeine didn't make me bonkers. The same summer, I was going to church every week with a friend, and we got free coffee and doughnuts every Sunday, so that's about when I started drinking drip as well. By this point I was hooked, never to be off the stuff, ever. Not that I would ever want to be.

So when it came time for me to get my first job I was very lucky in that my very small hometown (population: 809) had finally added a coffee shop. If you can call it that. It was also our video rental place. Weird combo, right? I was 17, and I pestered and applied until they had to hire me. There I got friendly with the commercial espresso machine, and learned that I am quite good with espresso drinking customers (remembering regulars' drinks, making good suggestions to try new things, friendly banter, etc.). I think I learned more about how to be socially adept at working in a coffee shop than about making good espresso. I also drank A LOT of coffee. One free drink per shift (so 4 a week), a drink in the morning on my way to school (mile long walk), drinks to help me motivate myself to do homework instead of read magazines all evening, etc...mostly all coconut breves. Do you know what a breve is? A lesson if you don't: espresso, steamed half and half. That's it. It's sinful. Let's just say that in the 4 months that I worked there past graduation, track, and cheerleading, I put on some weight! Back to the not making good espresso. This job taught me absolutely nothing about properly extracting quality espresso, it didn't even teach me how to correctly steam milk OR do latte art (pft!). Oh well... It was in this job that I realized my dream of one day owning an independent cafe.

About a year after I quit there I met David and I turned him into a Starbucks junkie. We'd spend about 2 or 3 days and nights a week together and made at least one coffee run during that time. Then I started working retail, and I consumed more calories in Frappuccinos than I did in food (and lost 25 pounds). We moved in together and were broke, so the coffee stopped, until I bought a 4 cup Mr. Coffee brewing machine with my tax return. Then we started drinking drip together every day. David didn't drink drip at all before that. Guilty admission, we only drank it with flavoured syrup and heavy cream (blehk!). A couple months after getting our first coffee maker, and feeling like real adults, we got pregnant, so the coffee drinking lessened because it made me queasy. We got pregnant in May, and then through the summer had a budget to go to Starbucks once a week. Then David left for the Army in August.

This is where I go a little out of control. In the first month of David's absence I was battling some depression, trying to stick to a budget (while having a lot more income), and being bored out of my mind living in podunk Idaho at my grandparents' house, I managed to spend somewhere between two and three hundred dollars at coffee shops. It wasn't all on me, I would take my sisters with me, or my best friend, but it was a problem. When I sat down to do the math I was really embarrassed, and thought David would be super mad at me. Turns out all he could do was laugh...I think he was in disbelief. I then put myself on a strict $25 a month coffee budget, and got coffee on Sundays before or after church. This was good because then it felt special again, like those days of sneaking foam off of my grandma's latte.

Doma's Mia's Organic Blend, roasted 2 days prior to us receiving it. Photo courtesy of Photography by David L. Clark
When David got out of the Army we had major issues (some because of changing taste, and some user error) with our coffee maker, so we bought a French press. Drinking coffee from the press was like seeing with new eyes! I couldn't believe that black coffee could be so full bodied, so fragrant, and that  the flavor profile could be so discernible. We really enjoyed our French press coffee, but about 6 months ago I broke the glass container to our 8 cup Bodum Chambord. So that was out, but we didn't have money for beans anymore anyways. Up until we moved to Seattle from Boise last February we were on a once a week coffeehouse visit schedule. It was nice, but then we had to cut costs again, and absolved that money into our grocery budget.

Here we are at the present. We stopped going to coffee shops unless they were special, like Black Coffee Coop in Capitol Hill, who boast all vegan food choices and all mismatched thrift cup, and coffee from a roaster we hadn't tried. Or Bluebeard in Tacoma, because Elizabeth of Delightfully Tacky recommended it (they roast their own coffees, their logo is awesome, and have a killer lemon bar). And don't even say Starbucks anymore, we try to go sometimes, and end up disappointed every time. The hubs and I traded a really old Canon DSLR body that David found in the trash at work for a DeLonghi home espresso machine about 4 months ago. At that point we still knew nothing about making good espresso. I knew to measure the espresso (I was using a spoon), tamp it, and to fill a shot glass with the liquid, and I knew how to heat the milk and get really think foam on top. That was it. David jumped into research about how to pull a perfect shot and would relay his findings to me. With new knowledge, we bought a burr grinder. We finally pulled the best shots I've ever pulled or tasted for three consecutive days a couple of weeks ago, and it was downhill from there. We thought the beans went rancid overnight (the roast date wasn't marked, shame on us for not buying directly from the roaster), which we still don't know because even with new beans we didn't get good shots. We bought commercial grade espresso machine cleaner, that didn't help, we depressurized the porta filter, nothing. We increased and decreased tamping pressure,  weighing out the grams of espresso, and tried different grind sizes. We decided we had outgrown our espresso machine because it didn't rely enough on user input. Even though we had all the knowledge to get a perfect shot it was not happening. The machine was going to ruin the coffee every time.

Our visit to Black Coffee Coop. We had hazelnut lattes, a vegan rueben sandwich, and a vegan breakfast sandwich for Lorelei. Photo courtesy of Photography by David L. Clark
So Saturday, we went out and armed ourselves with all of the necessary equipment to brew using a Chemex, and seriously, it's the most amazing drip coffee I have ever had in my long relationship with coffee. Currently we're brewing Mia's Organic blend from DOMA, a roaster that we fell in love with when we lived in Idaho. The aroma's described on the site are: chocolate, wild berry, and wooden boat. I didn't get the wooden boat thing, until we brewed it. I couldn't imagine the smell of a wooden boat, but when the coffee finished dripping and we smelled it, I was like, "It smells like a...wooden boat?" Seriously. The flavor profile lists: earth, spice, tobacco, and fruit, and yes, they are all accurate and so beautiful!

Hang in there, I'm almost done. The point of this introduction to my relationship with coffee is this: I want to talk more about it here. I've got a how-to on Chemex coffee in the works, and we'd (David and I) really like to make some videos, and share what we're learning as we go. If you're into that sort of thing, hopefully you'll enjoy it. If not, you can skip the coffee talk. ;)
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