Coffee has been an important part of my life as far as my nostrils can remember: my father prepared his early morning coffee in a stove-top mocha, and every time I make it that way I think of him! But I wasn’t allowed to drink it, until my godmother swept me off to Toulouse (France) to visit her family for the summer, at the tender age of thirteen! It never occurred to her that I might not be allowed to drink it, as kids start drinking coffe early in France, and I wasn’t about to protest French customs! It was in the form of French Pressed Coffee, and it was the most deliciously sinful drink I had ever had in my life! I was hooked! Needless to say, it has been my faithful companion since then! Black, that’s how I tasted it the first time, and that’s the only way I’ll drink it, unless my mom’s around (she insists I have at least a smidgeon of milk with it, or if it’s my third or fourth cup, and I am ready to dilute it a bit). But the black purity of my first morning espresso is not to be messed with!
I’ve tried different varieties: mocha, espresso machine, French press, drip, filtered, even instant (oh… I wish I’d blocked that out!), and I’ll begrudgingly admit that I’ve succumbed to capsules when visiting with friends and family who own those wretched machines of environmental destruction. I’m addicted… what can I say?
I’ve also tried different brands, regions, makes, granule size, beans, freshly ground and store-bought pre-ground. And I’ve had LOTS of experience in pretty much every kind of commonly found coffees. As you know, I’ve moved around a lot (as I explained here ) so I’ve had to rediscover the best coffees locally available. As I’ve expressed before, I have a special place in my heart reserved for Somali Coffee, and I have a love-hate relationship with Turkish coffee, more about that in a future post.
I will confess that I haven’t been able to find a coffee that brings me the exhilarating satisfaction I experienced with Ravelli cappuccino, because at the Ravelli (you can find it on this map of Locarno, Switzerland) they made their fortune getting their coffee directly from the cultivators, in South America, they roasted and ground their own coffee, and prepared the cappuccino with their own whipped cream (not your regular store-bought kind that you squeeze out of a canister), this is rich, thick, sumptuous and curiously sweet cream. Oh… the cappuccino at the Ravelli… is utterly unique, and unmatched! I’d get my friends and family to buy kilos of Ravelli coffee beans (which sell at a premium), each time they came to visit me, but I can’t get my hands on the right type of whipped cream. Nevertheless, the coffee is unmistakable, and absolutely delicious. You’ll have to try it if you’re ever in Ticino (the Italian speaking region of southern Switzerland). If you are there, have it with their freshly baked brioches or croissants, which are some of the best in the area! It’ll be worth the detour, especially since Locarno is the most beautiful city in all of Ticino, and I challenge anyone to say otherwise! If you’re going to make the trip, try to go in the summer, especially around August, as that’s when they have the International Movie Festival (more information on that here ) in the Piazza Grande (which is where the coffee shop is, of course). The piazza is surrounded by century old three story buildings that act as a sound buffer, on top of creating a magical outdoor theatre with its beautifully maintained facades over the notoriously crowded yet homely porticos. The sound and light effects are simply spectacular, which is why many bands have chosen this very spot to record their live performances (such as the Simple Minds, if you’re old enough to remember them… I was there, and you might hear me screaming in the audience in their live record!). But I digress…
Coffee! Yes, I was saying that I’ve tried hundreds, no, probably more like thousands or even tens of thousands. And this is my absolute favorite at home coffee. I won’t recommend any other coffee shops, simply because other than the Ravelli, I haven’t found a single one that makes coffee better than I do at home with the steps I’m about to share with you! So keep reading!
This coffee (I’m not getting commission, or any kind of remuneration for this, so you can trust that I’m being 100% unbiased when I say this), is not only the best tasting, but it also has all sorts of winning criteria: it’s fair trade, organic, sustainably made, and locally owned, made and operated. They sell their packages all over Canada and the United States, but they also sell online via a series of online businesses, such as Target, and iHerb. You can read more about this amazing company, their philosophy, their products, and anything else you want to find out about them here.
I like to get the beans and grind them each time I make a fresh cup of coffee. I also use my old, tried and tested espresso machine, which I inherited from my father. It’s a Mokita Café Creme from the 1990s, which is probably discontinued, but I attach a picture of it below, for your reference. He bought it in an Italian coffee-machine repair shop in Montreal’s Little Italy (Little Italy is located between St-Denis and St-Laurent, and spans from Jean-Talon to St-Zotique, all of which can be reached by the city Metro and buses), don’t ask me which, it was nearly thirty years ago!
I use an average coffee grinder I bought at my local grocery store for 20$, but you can find good quality ones at thrift stores for less than half that. You definitely don’t have to go out and spend more than 20$ on a top of the line coffee grinder, is what I’m saying. No matter how sharp or fast it is, it won’t cut the beans as the ones you find in coffee shops and grocery stores, but it’ll always give you the freshness you want for your cup of coffee. All you have to do is time it, and look at it, you don’t want it too coarse (such as your regular drip and filtered coffee brands), because the water won’t have time to go through the thick shreds in an espresso, and you don’t want it too thin (such as Turkish coffee, which is ground to a powder), because it’ll clog up your filter and make a mess of your espresso. Somewhere in the middle is perfect.
You use about 2 Tablespoons of this ground coffee for each large cup (tazza grande) of espresso (you’ll need about 2/3 of that for a small espresso, or a “ristretto” as they call it in Italy). You need to stand there and look at the stream: don’t let it get watery, let the frothy thick brown liquid pour, but stop it before the stream changes color, which normally happens around the same time as the water temperature drops (the light will switch on). It takes a few seconds, so don’t just press the button and leave it, time it and remember that time-lapse. Each machine is different, but on average I’d say you need about 10 seconds or less, which is pretty much the maximum amount of time you’d want the coffee to be pouring anyhow, unless you don’t care about the negative effects of caffeine oils seeping into your system (remember this type of coffee doesn’t use paper filters, so you’ll be getting the full strength of the bean). You want to minimize the time, while getting the maximum flavor.
This is what a freshly ground, properly made cup of coffee should look like (the brown foam isn’t milk, it’s all black coffee):
And last but not least, a couple of words about cups. Porcelain cups are best, ask any reputable espresso-making coffee shop. They are smooth, so they feel great on your lips, and they don’t rob you from tasting every little drop of coffee in the cup (as rough-textured ceramic cups will do), plus they keep the coffee’s temperature for longer (porcelain is baked twice and can withstand very high temperatures, which they maintain for longer periods of time). Preferably, you should keep your porcelain espresso cups over your espresso machine, so they warm up before you are ready to use them, but even if you don’t, they are still better than ceramic. A close second is bone china, and vitrified clays (such as the brand Corelle in North America), which are as smooth and thin as porcelain, though not as luxurious. I dislike glass for my coffee, perhaps because I associate tea with glass (as I explain here) and white porcelain with coffee. I find that this combination suits me best, but of course, you don’t have to agree with me. I just thought I’d share my insights with you, as I do consider myself to be a veritable coffe aficionado, not to say connoisseur.
Until next time, enjoy your espresso!
If you would like to know more about how coffee is made at the bean level, watch this Ted Talk.