Coffee break

22 Jan

My mother had one kitchen gadget she was proud of. This was an electric coffee percolator. It was an aluminium jug kettle sort of thing with a knobbly glass dome on top. Inside was a perforated aluminium drum with a tube at the centre which was filled with ground coffee. Boiling water would be driven up the tube, hit the glass dome, drip through the drum and collect at the bottom. Had the water made two passes through the coffee it would have been sufficient. I’m not sure that my mother ever read the instructions. She would have the coffee boiling away for twenty minutes or more. The smell in the kitchen was heavenly, but the coffee the percolator produced in this way just tasted burnt and faintly disgusting, if it tasted of anything.

Us Brits, and the Irish as well, are great tea drinkers. The tea we almost universally drink is black tea from India and Kenya, with some better quality teas from Sri Lanka and Darjeeling in India. This came about because, during the age of empire, we took cuttings of tea plants from China and planted it in India and what was Ceylon, later taking it to East Africa. Tea had become the drink of choice in the 18th C for newly wealthy British, but was expensive and came exclusively from China. The cheaper tea from India allowed poorer people to enjoy the drink, especially as promoted by the temperance movement. Tea drinking is credited with improving the health of the working classes. Boiling water killed bacteria. However, black tea mostly tastes pretty revolting without milk, and I am lactose intolerant, so I mostly don’t drink tea, or cappuchino for that matter.

The smell of coffee beans roasting is like Proust’s madelaine to me. It takes me back to a time when I would pass a local cafe which roasted its own coffee. The first coffee I had was Camp Coffee and chicory syrup, in a glass bottle, which was just awful, and very sweet. It was not until I was in my late teens that I learned about good coffee. I have loved the drink ever since. The coffee you often get in the UK is a bit like the kind my mother used to make, and is not recommended. I found that filtered coffee was good and I started out with that. Afterwards I moved on to using a cafetiere, very much in the French Tradition. I still own three of varying sizes. Holidays in Italy introduced me to the delights of Italian coffee in all its guises. For Christmas, Hazel bought an Italian coffee making machine, Bialetti Mocha Express. This is a bit like a miniature pressure cooker and the boiling water below is forced through the ground coffee and into the jug at the top, a bit like my mother’s old machine, but in one pass. It does make very good coffee. My own choice of ground coffee is Java, ground less finely than espresso. It produces an aromatic coffee which is less bitter than a large dose of espresso. The machine makes 6 tiny cups of espresso, but one good mug of Java. It gets used every morning before I start work.

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