Cookin' With Leo
Almost Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Coffee
But Never Ever Asked
Away back when, whenever, or thereabouts, I began a love affair with COFFEE. I suppose that all started when I got into the Merchant Marine. Those crazy watches, some 8 on and 8 off, some 6 on and 6 off, and the best of the worst was 4 on and 8 off. Pump men, Deck engineers, usually worked 8 and 8 while loading and unloading. Tow boats and small crew ships worked a 6 and 6 shift. And the larger cargo and tanker ships worked a 4 on 8 off shift. None ideal, but in order to stay awake and alert required lots of strong coffee. Well at least I required it. Staying awake in a hot engine room in the warm South Pacific in or near the equator was a challenge to anyone's staying awake ability. Or working as a Pumpman or a Deck Engineer loading or unloading cargo in port, while the rest of the crew took off on shore leave, 8 on and 8 off was no fun either, usually had to catch up on some sleep during the 8 off. Once in a while you'd get to hankerin' for a hike up the beach for a break. But, then you had to be sure to come back sober so you could do the next 8 hours on. In any case or whatever case, strong coffee was the thing.
On one ship I was on for quite some time, the engine room crew made their own coffee brewing Rube Goldberg, watchamathing. It actually consisted of a 5 gallon paint can, which of course was boiled out with live steam to remove the paint residue, and thoroughly sanitized with kerosene to make sure any and all paint was gone for sure. Another steaming and the Chief Engineer decided it was good enough to not kill us all if we boiled water in it. Well, that can was set up in the boiler room so as to pipe some live steam to it in a coil, of course, fitted inside the can. Inside that we fitted a wire mesh screen capable of holding some filter paper and at least a pound or so of coffee. Being the mechanics we were, we fitted a tap to the bottom of the can to dispense the finished brew. The lid of course was the lid that came with the can; however we machined it and welded on a threaded collar to tighten it to the can (live steam, you know, couldn't take a chance on just setting a lid on it). Now we were ready for our famous engine room brew. One pound of coffee, about 2 gallons of distilled water, which was plentiful in the engine room, a pinch of salt to give the distilled water a bit of taste, and we were ready for the best stay awake stuff ever. All we had to do was open the valve to allow steam to circulate through the coils and heat the water which boiled over the coffee and drained back into the can, and stayed hot, hot, hot all through the shift, and of course kept us wide awake.
Well them was the good ol' days, and since we invented our own 'automatic' coffee brewer, we thought we was in hog heaven (In a later story I'll tell you about the still I invented to make engine room White Lightning out of all the South Pacific Pineapple Juice that we had more than enough of.) And come to think of it, our engine room coffee wasn't that bad even with the canned cow, which to this day I absolutely hate. Canned Cow was it on shipboard; regular milk would never keep on those long sea journeys. The cooks had a lot of powdered milk but that stuff was worse than the canned stuff. Well, nowadays milk or cream is fine in my cup of coffee, but never again canned cow or powdered milk.
So, now that you know about 'make do' and other strange coffee brewing methods, let's get modern and find a coffee brewer for the household. Almost any product is fine. There are automatic percolators, automatic espresso machines, and just any and all sort of automatic coffee makers that don't come from Wal-Mart, which always come from China. But as far as I am concerned you can make your own choice about coffeemakers. I know a few 'Outdoorsmen' who use a cauldron hung from a tripod over a roaring fire. They call this 'he-man coffee' which is a little worse than my engine room coffee. It is usually made by dumping in a pound or two of coffee; depending on how large the cauldron is, adding enough 'crick water', and boiling it endlessly. To settle the grounds a bit and retrieve a cup of coffee these 'Outdoorsmen' grab a stick of the burning wood, the cold end of course, and plunge the burning end into the cauldron. This will momentarily force the boiling grounds to the bottom, while you retrieve a clear cup of brew. These guys might think of themselves as 'outdoorsmen' but now that I have lived long enough to have 'tried it all' I am going to enjoy my coffee. So, I thought I might pass on a few pointers about coffee and brewing it from an ol' timer that loves his coffee, in fact about half a dozen mugs or so, first thing in the morning, just to get me in motion.
Let's start with a few tips about how to do what you gotta' do to do it.
Grinding Coffee: I buy the whole beans and grind my own. And, since my coffeemaker does more than just brew coffee I can grind my beans pretty fine because I also can use it for espresso. So if you are using a coffeemaker that brews the coffee by heating the water and pumping it over the top of the grounds through a filter, it should not matter how fine the coffee is ground. The filter papers will keep the grounds from coming through into the brew pot. Just be sure you have good filter papers and keep the basket clean so the coffee will run through and not get clogged up. The automatic shutoff thing of a jig should be kept clean, because sometimes bits of grounds may get stuck in it. Read the manufacturers directions about how to clean your coffeemaker.
If you are using a percolator type, then the beans can be ground coarser. Look at the basket and the holes in the basket that holds the ground coffee and then grind accordingly. The beans should be ground so as not to run through with the brewed coffee. Percolators keep pumping the water over and over the grounds so the grind can be coarse. In a coffeemaker the water only runs over the grounds once and to bring out the flavor the beans must be ground fine. If you choose to buy whole beans and grind your own coffee, you might want to also choose a good grinder. They range in price from less than $40 to as much as several hundred dollars. Burr grinders (the grinding mechanism is like a roller with burr like extrusions) with several settings are the highest price, while the ones with little or no settings and blender type chopping blades are the cheapest. I myself use a cheap one because as I stated, my setting is 'fine' and I just grind until my beans are pretty fine which works well for my combo machine.
Roasted Coffee Beans: I usually order whole beans from a Coffee Wholesaler. They roast the beans when you order them, so they arrive fresh roasted. There are several variaties of Roasts which are usually matched to the variety of coffee bean and which also brings out the flavor of the bean.
Light Roasted: Typically light roasted coffees are mild and sweeter tasting than darker roasts. These beans have a light-cinnamon coloration and are non oily. A light roast is also known as American Roast.
Medium Roasted: Medium light to medium dark. These roasts are most often richer in taste than light roast coffees. These beans are a dark brown color, but are not roasted dark enough to become oily.
Dark Roasted: These roasts are generally quite rich, and may be somewhat tart in taste, with full bodies. Dark roasted coffee beans are black in coloration, and can be oily. Normally the very darkest roast is Italian Espresso Roast.
Storing Roasted Coffee Beans: The basic idea in storing coffee beans is to prevent them from being exposed to odors, moisture, or open air. Coffee beans are like little sponges that will readily absorb moisture and odors. The same holds true for ground coffee, so my method is to only grind enough beans for a few days at most. I store my beans in the freezer, in the sealed packages they are packed in. I take out only the amount I will grind and then reseal the package and return it to the freezer before the beans have a chance to thaw. Coffee beans can also be stored in air tight glass jars and placed in the dark areas of your pantry. Never store them in bright or sun lit areas. If you decide to freeze your coffee beans, be sure to thaw only what your are going to grind immediately. Leaving thawed coffee alone will cause condensation to form on the beans, which it will absorb and become musty. Also, if you refreeze it, you run the risk of causing the beans to break as the absorbed condensation expands within. It is also not a good idea to store coffee in the refrigerator because there it will pick up the odors from the other items stored there, especially leftovers. So, store your beans where they can not pick up moisture and odors, and grind only enough for at most a few days at a time.
Coffee Varieties: Most of the world coffee is grown in and about the Equatorial Regions of the world, such as Brazilian, Columbian, African, Madagascar, Java, Hawaiian, Mexican, and a few other areas. For the most part the coffee is named after the area from which it comes. Then there are for instance better Brazilian grades, or better Columbian grades, etc. The prices range from about a couple of dollars a pound to over Twenty Five Dollars a pound depending on the areas and the grade of the beans. Probably the best coffee comes from Hawaii. Hawaiian Kona Fancy usually wholesales between 25 and 30 dollars per pound. It is grown on the volcanic slops of Hawaii. It has a very smooth flavor and a strong aroma. The beans are quite large and well proportioned, and have the reputation of being the world's most beautiful coffee beans.
Well, as this piece started out it said 'almost' everything you might want to know about coffee. Well, 'everything' would take a good sized book, but for most coffee drinkers this should give you enough information to enhance your coffee pleasures. A few other things to consider are blends of the various varieties, which bring out certain flavors which might please the pallets of the varieties of coffee lovers. There are also flavor added varieties, such as Irish Cream, French Vanilla, Hazelnut, etc. So, before you go running off to the closest coffee shop to get a couple of pounds of beans and buying a fancy grinder and a new espresso machine consider this little bit of information a helping guide to getting involved with gourmet coffee brewing and drinking. Check out some sites on the web by typing in 'Coffee Beans Wholesale' and checking out the various places and products.
Enjoy Your Coffee, Now, Ya'heah!