Sunday 1 January 2012

My Personal Coffee History - Part 1

This morning I made a cafe latte for my wife and myself. The beans were roasted just a few days ago at one of my favourite specialty coffee roasters in London - a blend of El Salvador and Guatemala - and then precision ground just seconds before I brewed. The resulting thin flow of espresso from my machine was reminiscent of dark, golden honey with a buttery, sweet fruit aroma. Steaming the milk I then added it into the rich coffee base managing to pour the shape of a heart on the top - especially for my wife. Delicious.

But it hasn't always been like this.....

The first cup of coffee I remember making was for my dad and a friend he was meeting with at home. I'm not sure what it was - probably Nescafe, but I also remember Cafe Hag floating around the kitchen. Whatever it was, it was instant coffee. (It's okay. I was just a kid. I didn't know any better.) I would have been around eight or nine years old and the responsibility of handling a kettle of boiling water then bringing the cup of hot, brown liquid to my dad is what made the impression on me rather than the coffee itself: 1 tsp of coffee granules, 2 tsps of sugar, add some milk (full-fat back then) are the instructions I recall. Nevertheless, it was the start of a journey which has and still does bring a moment of pleasure with every cup.

I drank tea before I drank coffee, and at quite a young age. My mother was from Ireland and my father England - two great tea drinking nations. It came naturally. I still drink tea today (possibly just as much as coffee; some days more so), but I no longer drink it with lots of sugar as I did when I was younger. On rare occasions someone may accidentally hand me a cuppa with sugar in it which I will, of course, graciously accept and for a moment I'm transported back to different times simply through the taste of hot, sweet, milky tea. On the flip side I struggle to drink coffee with sugar added to it. A freshly brewed cup of quality coffee will be naturally sweet and probably more flavourful without milk.

I can't say for sure when I started drinking coffee, but I would guess it wasn't too long after learning the art of independent coffee production. I certainly can remember coming home from secondary school (11 yrs old), flicking on both the kettle and the TV and sitting down to enjoy a cup of coffee and a Wispa chocolate bar. (Thank you Cadbury's for bringing them back!)

Cups of sweet tea and instant coffee were all well and good, but an early milepost in this journey occurred when a new coffee machine appeared in the kitchen of our small house in South Wales. I have a vague feeling that we already owned a coffee percolator (can there be a worse way for brewing coffee?), but this was different. It was a present from my dad to my mum I think and it featured two main functions. One was that it brewed ground coffee into a small jug at a high ratio of coffee to water in order to extract as strong a flavour as possible. The other feature was a steam arm used to heat, no scald, a jug of milk. This morning as I steamed my milk I carefully skimmed the surface introducing air to the milk and stretching it with fine microfoam. The result is a velvety, textured milk brought to a high enough temperature to produce a caramel sweetness, but stopping before the milk gets too hot and tastes burned. Back in my mother's kitchen however the aim was to produce big bubbles in the milk by raising and lowering the milk jug so the steam arm would gurgle while submerged and splat as it was removed from the milk only to dive back in again. The result was astonishing and the finished product was affectionately and rather aptly named. This was years before knowledge of the cappuccino. This was the age of the Frothy Coffee. No matter the quirkiness of the name the very act of personally crafting such a drink was enough for me. I was smitten.

Years later and then living in England I learned a valuable, but heart-breaking lesson. My grandmother accidentally placed that frothy coffee machine on top of a hot oven. It melted and was ruined. I hugged my grandma while she cried and told her that it didn't matter. It was just stuff.

Today I am very happy with my growing and varied collection of coffee machines, grinders and brewers. It has become quite an investment, but is very satisfying. I do feel a little bit proud when every now and then I get a drink just right. But I've learned to hold loose to it all. There are things far more important than coffee.

More thoughts on this journey to follow.


Coffee shop Croydon said...

It was quite interesting read your article !best of luck for your business!

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