Posted by: Kiersten | July 4, 2010

The coffee pot experiment

Abandoning most of our possessions before moving across the country, moving in with Kat after years of living separately, and moving into our own apartment after nine months in a B&B, has sparked the inner interior decorator in Kat & I.  We’re settling in and making our boathouse-on-the-inlet a home by adorning it with things, little things, that we have chosen ourselves.

The most noticeable change in my morning routine has been the manner in which I prepare my coffee.  One of the few small appliances that survived the cross-country move was Kat’s burr coffee grinder, the first choice of coffee snobs the world over.  The trouble I have with electric grinders is that they’re just too damn loud for my foggy, sleep-addled brain to deal with first thing in the morning.  The electric grinder would disturb the eagles too, who seemed to peer in at me through the kitchen window as often as I peer out at them.

Worse was the uncommon but not rare occasion when I would wake up and the apartment would be without power after a particularly blustery storm.  I’ve been reduced to boiling water on the barbecue to pour through the filter of the automatic drip coffee maker, but without ground beans coffee just was not going to happen.

I began grinding my coffee beans the night before, a cardinal sin for coffee snobs such as we, secure in the knowledge that coffee would happen the next day, no matter what (even if the grounds were a tad stale.)

Until the day the electric grinder broke.

No coffee at home.

And dammed if I was going to buy another domestic coffee grinder, mere months before we’d be obliged to purchase a commercial one.  I wanted a grinder I could count on, one that would work in the cold mornings the power had failed, one that would not break and if it did, it could be fixed.  I went old.  Antique in fact.  I bought a hand-crank grinder, a little wooden one with a drawer and a steel grinding mechanism that had survived sixty years and counting.  The grind can be adjusted by turning a screw, though the finest grind setting on this beauty would be suitable only for drip coffee.

I’ve developed a bit of an infatuation with antique kitchen implements.  Pyrex started it.  Back in Toronto, three Pyrex mixing bowls that Kat had inherited from her mother participated in the preparation of every meal we had at her place.  One small bowl survived the move by doing water-dish duty in one of the animal’s kennels.

But as we settled into the B&B for the winter, I found myself pulling out that milk-glass dish with the sunrise print for every meal.  It was the perfect size, shape and weight for every small job.  I mourned it’s loss when it was again pressed into water-dish duty for a friend’s dog and accidentally rode away with them, never to return.

We’ve started collecting Pyrex refrigerator dishes, brightly coloured rectangular dishes with clear glass lids that stack beautifully and look appealing in fridge or cupboard.  Pyrex milk glass coffee mugs mingle with our hand-thrown clay collection from Ontario.  New glass baking dishes replaced the exploded one. Vintage patterned Pyrex mixing bowls replaced the lost one.  Pyrex seems to have everything a kitchen needs.

When I found a glass Pyrex coffee percolator from the sixties at the local second hand shop, my heart did a little pitter patter.  I brought it a few days later, as a reward for not impulse-buying it on the spot.

Coffee percolators are to coffee snobs as the anti-christ is to Christians, or so I’ve heard.  I’ve heard that percolators waste the best of the bean and leach out the worst by re-circulating the brewed coffee through the grounds over and over again.

I just don’t like taking these coffee myths at face value.  I prefer to just try things and see for myself, and I’ve de-bunked enough myths this way to not write off this lovely glass Pyrex percolator just because it was out of fashion.

This morning I launched the coffee pot experiment – would my second hand score produce coffee as good (or maybe better!) than the plastic drip machine?

It takes about ten minutes to grind a pot’s worth of coffee with my hand grinder.  It takes about two minutes of ear-splitting noise with an electric grinder, but I can use the hand grinder while reading a book, which is what I’d be doing that early in the morning anyway, so I don’t usually notice a sacrifice in time.

Except this morning, when I tried three times to get tolerable coffee out of the percolator.  Ten minutes, into the glass basket, perk for five minutes.  BLARGH!  Too strong and somehow too weak simultaneously.

Another ten minutes, an adjustment to the grind, and adjustment to the basket.  BLECK!  Coffee swimming with grounds.  I’ll put up with that if I’m making campfire coffee, but not when I could be using the drip machine for ground-free coffee.

A third and final attempt, and this time I boiled the water separately and poured it slowly through the basket, rather than allowing the coffee to percolate.

Hmmm.  It’s okay.  Decent.  Not perfect, but different from the drip machine.  At least as good as a Bodum.  A bit too strong, but that’s probably another grind adjustment that’s needed.

It’s better for a few reasons other than the taste.  I’m concerned about years of drinking coffee made from water boiled in a plastic chamber – that plastic breaks down.  Where does it go?  Do I want to be drinking that?

What about all the automatic coffee makers I’ve bought, broken and thrown out in the last ten years?  These things were not made to last.  Where did they go?  Why should I keep on buying new ones?

I wonder if percolators have an undeserved reputation.  At the time most percolators bubbled on stovetops, the coffee most families used was horrible, pre-ground, months or years old.  Never fresh roasted, rarely fresh-ground.  Can you really blame the frying pan for bad french toast when the bread was stale and the eggs rotten?

The jury’s still out on the Pyrex percolator.  At the very least I have an alternate method of making coffee when the power is out and all I have is a camp stove.

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