Monday, August 16, 2010

When coffee hits the road

I start my morning with an espresso. Every morning. Or so I thought. Turns out my beloved Mr. Bialetti moka pot does not technically produce "espresso." This is not to say that Mr. Bialetti's brew is looked down upon (check out this article in The Atlantic by Giorgio Milos, Master Barista for Trieste, Italy-based illycaffe), just that it's not true espresso.

There's only one response to that piece of knowledge: find a gadget or machine to make "true espresso" that meets certain criteria — paramount being that it fall within my budget, and also paramount (yeah, I know paramount is a unique position, but life is full of impossibilities) is that it be reported to be good at its job. Me being me (I being I?), that means research and lots of it.

Me also being me, it didn't take long for me to find the espresso machine that exceeds one of my criteria, but falls a just a wee bit short of the other one — The Speedster, a bespoke espresso machine made by Kees van der Westen, in the Netherlands (runs somewhere around $6,500, before shipping and not including installation).

The Coffee Geek compares the Speedster to the Maserati Gran Turismo and the Leica M6:

We look at these amazing achievements in design, technology, usability, aesthetics, performance and uniqueness, and combined, they make them "the best." Price isn't a factor. What they represent in terms of being a pinnacle of what technology and design is capable of during the period they were produced is.

I'm about as likely to be driving a Maserati GT these days as I am to be pulling my morning espresso on a Speedster, but a girl's got to have goals, right?

In the meantime, the hunt for the best espresso maker under $500 continues.

Coffee on the go

These days, I find I'm willing to make the effort to tilt the scales of my days toward excellence rather than mediocrity. Settling for settling is just not as acceptable as it once was.

I'm also, however, a big fan of convenience. And I've discovered that excellence and convenience don't often walk together down the same street at the same time. Which is where the fun starts — finding those secrets that transform ho-hum into wow, easily.

There's a big difference between ho-hum coffee (mediocre coffee you would drink) and wow coffee (excellent coffee you want to drink). The gap between excellent coffee and extraordinary coffee is not nearly as wide.

I can make my own self a cup of excellent coffee easily enough in my kitchen. One Mr. Bialetti, one bag Zabar's coffee (don't turn your nose up, it might not be a micro-roaster, but it's mighty fine), 7 minutes on the stove, and presto, my perfect morning joe. But what to do when not in my own kitchen?

Answer: Aeropress. From the company famous for its eponymous flying toy (the better frisbee) comes a portable coffee maker that produces a strong, clean brew. A cross between a drip filter (Melitta) and a French Press, the Aerobie seems to take the best and leave the rest. Unlike the drip filter, you pour all the water into the Aeropress and then you're done — no standing over the filter and steadily streaming in the hot water. And unlike the french press method, the Aeropress uses paper filters (small round discs), so the coffee is incredibly particle free and smooth.

And it's small. Perfect to stick in your suitcase. Carry one of these around and all you need is hot water and ground coffee. Ho-hum to wow with one small and BPA-free plastic plunger. Nice.