Java Power

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
There’s been a revolution in our house. My husband has discovered coffee.
Not coffee as in ice cream. And most assuredly not Folgers.
No, my husband is now on a first-name basis with the owners of our local coffeehouse, and folks, he’s drinking espresso.
Yes, it has a shot (or three) of chocolate syrup and a whole bunch of steamed milk poured into it, but hey, this is coffee that could put hair on your chest (good thing it’s happening to him and not me).

The coffeehouse owners may be wondering where’s he been, though, because in celebration, I gave him an espresso machine for Christmas.
Until then, I hadn’t been much seduced by the machines. I like lots of coffee in the morning, and again at night, and I win praise from friends and family for the tasty brew from my electric-drip coffeepot.
I say this with total humility, as I think it has nearly nothing to do with me: I simply use a good coffee maker, and I buy a darker-roast coffee than most of my friends.
I own two 4-cup coffee makers that came years ago as free gifts with my Gevalia coffee membership. They made such supreme coffee that I put up with the hassle of having to keep multiple pots going when friends visited. In good-quality small pots, the water gets hot enough for good brewing, but the coffee doesn’t get too hot or burner-aged to give that bitter burnt edge.
More recently, I have become the proud owner of an 8-cup, insulated-carafe coffee maker that makes such a tasty brew that I continue using it despite a broken spout (victim of a strange accident in which it leapt off the kitchen counter while I was in the living room).
I used to get regular coffee deliveries from Starbucks. My apologies to the p.c. crowd, but this made consistently excellent coffee. I usually bought their Caffe Verona blend and kept it in the freezer, which goes against coffee experts’ advice, though I did grind it fresh as needed, to keep the experts happy.  When I got lazier (and didn’t want to wake the baby), I found that Starbucks’ coffee made a great cup even when ground a pound at a time and frozen for a week or two. My theory is that this is partly due to my grinding frozen beans — it’s messier than grinding room-temperature ones, but they don’t get as overheated during grinding. (I use a Krups blade grinder, though given the storage space I’d invest in a good burr grinder, which doesn’t heat up the beans.) I’d periodically buy a pound of beans elsewhere only to be keenly disappointed at 7 a.m. — never a good thing. To my dismay, Starbucks stopped its mail-order program last summer.
But  mercy, how that espresso machine has leapt into the breach. I haven’t yet had time to ferret out my bean preference (as I write this, I’ve almost run through a pound of beans, which suggests to me rather shocking amounts of espresso in our 12 proud days of ownership). With this machine, though, it seems almost not to matter.
I bought a Krups Artese, a pump-driven espresso maker that, once I got through all the directions, proved surprisingly easy to use and clean. In our eyes, it nearly paid for itself on the day of our 3-inch snow flurries. It had my son rejoicing over his “foamy milk” hot chocolate, gave my husband the java jolt necessary to match two kids’ snowborne energy, and blessed me with more excuses to play with our newest gadget.
(Unfortunately,  I didn’t get the jolt, as my java’s been caffeine-free for five years now, since my first pregnancy. Before that, and especially in my caffeine-fueled days in a college newsroom, I was the proud owner of a fairly insufferable attitude toward decaf drinkers, wondering how friends my age could be so wimpy as to drink the neutered brew of the aged. After all, being a prude, this was as close as I came to drugs. But caffeine never actually woke me up. If anything, it made me sleepier, unless I drank so much that I just jumped past alertness to serious jitters. Truth be told, it was a relief to have to switch to decaf for the baby’s sake, and made me realize that I really love coffee for both the flavor and the ritual.)
What I’ve noticed now is how superfluous an espresso or cappuccino makes any accompaniment. When I drink regular coffee, I usually want something with it — a cookie, or muffin, or breakfast food. I can’t quite match my parents, who would gladly drink coffee with almost any meal, from salmon to spaghetti, but I do find my cuppa cries out for a companion.
Not so with espresso, or especially cappuccino, which stand fine on their own. This must be partly because, after I’ve made the effort to steam the milk, heat the cups and tamp the grounds, I want to savor the results. What strikes me is how much more this seems like a meal in itself.
Which is why, even though I’ve rather immoderately raced through that first pound of beans, I think the espresso machine will fit perfectly into my “all things in moderation” mantra.
But if, even after you’ve made yourself a quadruple shot, you still feel that need for speed (i.e., sugar), you do have options. Nothing goes better with coffee than chocolate, to my mind, except maybe more coffee … as in espresso chip cookies, or coffee panna cotta, or coffee-toffee ice cream. With the ice cream, you get the bonus of being able to make a coffee shake with any (theoretical) leftovers. Serve that shake with an espresso chip cookie, and you’ll be over the moon (and able to leap it in a single bound, no doubt!).
First published in the Independent Weekly, February 4, 2004

Comments are closed.