Monday, October 15, 2007

Mr. Espresso

Commenter Betsye has just consumed her first ever Starbucks quad venti latte - resulting in the instantaneous addiction where so many of us innocently fall prey, and are never quite the same again.

Upon which event, she may have discovered that the latte cost her far more than the gas to get her there. Me, I had to fork over lots of $5's and more for this out on the road, when I couldn't plug in my espresso maker or nuke the milk and cream part on my own.

So! Here's how I make it at home. Or when camping in a little tent in the mid-Keweenaw with all the electricity a person could wish for. This strategy can pay for itself in less than a month. Don't worry. Starbucks won't miss your business, they're doing just fine.

On the way up to Chicago on the Great Gypsy Trip this summer, my old espresso machine bit the dust. I dashed off to Walmart and replaced it, so I have some recent Cheap But Good Espresso Machine Purchasing Experience under my belt.

This Mr. Coffee model cost about $30. Some of you may remember the advent of Mr. Coffee, the first drip (versus percolated) coffee maker available, back in the mid 1970's. It was simultaneously regarded as both horribly kitsch cheap plasticky stuff - and as heavensent. The TV ads featured Joe DiMaggio, who said, *A perfect cup of coffee every time!* This inspired a musician acquaintance of mine to dream up a name for a new band: *Mr. Coffee and the Perfect Cups.*

Well. Time went by. The old coffee percolators bit the dust. New entrants into the market tried to leave Mr. Coffee in the dust, but he's never been shaken off the top perch. Caffeine was declared Highly Unfashionable by the Food Fashion Police, so coffee became much weaker. Then, in a powerfully fueled backlash, drinks like *Jolt* high-caffeine cola - and espresso - hit our taste buds.

And nervous systems.

And wallets.

I can tell the difference in taste between the antique-type Italian espresso makers, and this Mr. Coffee one. I can't tell much difference between the Mr. Coffee model and most of the up-market ones available. So me, I'll take the Mr. Coffee maker, and let the Espresso Fashion Police sneer to their hearts' content.

My personal favorite brand of grocery store espresso grind is Cafe Bustelo, a Spanish brand: the famous Cuban coffee we drink in South Florida is simply a shot of espresso. If you want it sweet, then to do it Cuban style, you put the sugar in the little basket with the espresso grind - you don't mix sugar into the prepared cup of espresso. Other espresso grind brands are available, including Starbucks itself at some stores. Whatever brand you like, most agree it tastes better if it's freshly ground coffee beans. Me? I just don't have the energy, and buy it already ground.

When you put the grounds in the little cup, you may want to leave some space on top. Some commercial establishments then pack the grounds tight. Not me. Down here, Cuban-style, one carefully leaves the grounds very loose. To me it tastes better that way.

The water is best if it's distilled or purified (reverse osmosis, virtually the same as distilled.) When water has the fewest *extra* ingredients, like naturally occurring minerals, it can absorb much more of the flavor of coffee or tea or chicken soup or whatever.

The hot milk and hot cream bit I've been indulging in since the mid-1980's. It's basically latte, which of course isn't a new recipe at all, but an old French one. That type calls for a ceremonious display just before serving it: holding the coffee container in one hand and the dairy in the other, high in the air, pouring each ingredient simultaneously into a big coffee cup, and perhaps tossing in a throwaway comment about how Italians can make good espresso, sure, but they certainly can't do it with style, those cretin barbarians.

For much of my life, my senses of smell and of taste were extremely potent. The way food tastes matters a great deal to me. Some of the ways I get there seem odd to others; again, let them sneer all they like. Me, I couldn't care less. Eat your food how YOU like it, right? The other guys have taste buds of their own to please. Mine are simply Not Their Business.

The formula for my own favorite latte type blend measures out to 1 part prepared espresso, 1 part hot milk, and 1/2 part hot cream.

That means making the maximum amount possible in this espresso maker. It comes out to 1 cup. Meantime, I'm nuking (for 3-4 minutes) 1 cup of fat free organic milk in a big chipped and crazed old coffee cup. Then, I take it out of the microwave, add 1/2 cup heavy cream, and nuke again for 2 minutes.

If you prefer your milk frothed, cappuccino style, there's a little thingie for that too; it works by forcing steam into your cup of milk. It's the black and chrome part hanging down on the right in the pic.

The on/off knob on the upper left works like this: turning it toward the back sets it for espresso; turning toward the front, for frothing the milk. Either way, it makes that satisfying self-important hissing steaming noise that announces, --I'M making ESPRESSO just now! oh what a FINE little machine I am! Not nearly as loud as the old Italian machines, but hey. Can't have everything.

The nuking the milk mix business? I have no idea why in the world this makes it taste so good to me. The fat free organic milk has much more flavor than 2-4% non-organic milk; that one makes sense. But why do I need to nuke them in two stages, separately? And use fat free milk, with added extra heavy cream? Yet if I don't do those things, I can taste the difference. No sense to it at all.

The cream is absolutely best if it's very heavy cream, organic if one can find it. In the pics I'm substituting some Sam's Club el cheapo wussy so-called heavy (not!) cream because I ran out of shopping energy last week.

Right when the espresso is done, so is the dairy nuking. I pour the espresso into the milk mix - not from an exalted mid-air stance - and proceed to enjoy myself just immensely, drinking it up. I almost never finish it. Often I only have a few sips. But I still make the whole thing, almost every morning.

Nuking the milk and cream, rather than steaming or frothing it, makes a skin form on top. Many coffee connoisseurs just abhor this.

One day back in New Orleans, staying at a friend's place for a few days, I stood beside her husband in the kitchen one morning, making my coffee as he cooked griods and grits. He watched with great approval as I made my potion. (At the time, I was totally hooked on French Market brand coffee with chicory, which really must be perked to get the great flavor. But the milk and cream bit was the same.)

Half-asleep, all quiet and poker-faced, I softly said that if I were down at Cafe Madeleine, they'd never let me nuke it; I'd have to use their proudly displayed *STEAMED MILK!* dispenser.

To which he cheerfully replied: --Hey, cher, but then you wouldn't get the skin on top. That's the best part!

Whereupon we all fell about giggling our coonass asses off.


betsye from chattanooga said...

after my first 'viewing'...i FOUND a Mr. Coffee Expresso machine for just under $30.00...and, friday/pay-day...we shall 'belong' together...more smiles...
...and, i shall make my expresso...with the EXACT and SAME recipe...and, savor the 'joy'...the flavor...clear waters, organic and fat free milks and, heavy, heavy creams...hmmmm...
...i thank you for your sweet and generous spirit...and, the way you 'love' us through...all those things you know are spirits and hearts...
...i am in the process of 'celebrating' ME...learning to love and cherish...ME...and, in you, i find both a mentor and a 'soul sister'...

i am blessed...and, i KNOW this...


k said...

Ah, betsye. I thank you. Now I understand a little better where you are in life's journey.

I'm glad you enjoyed *k's guide to luxury coffee on a tight budget!* And I like to think my little recipe is good both as an end in itself, and as a starting point for exploring some of the unique coffee jazz available today.

After you get yourself set up, and learn how to use your espresso machine, you may want to try some of the other options too. The various flavorings used at places like Starbucks are available in most grocery stores today. Even better, those good old-fashioned natural spices and such in our kitchens can do very well, or even better.

I like espresso plain, yes. When I have some Coffee Company over, though - a rare and precious treat - I have a little repertoire I can use for their espresso too. Most of my guests like to experiment.

Vanilla extract. Spices like nutmeg, clove, ginger, cinnamon. A secret special ingredient that always confuses them, one that nobody's ever identified on their own? Cardamom. That can be a strong flavoring, and one we're not as used to here in the States, so I literally only use a couple of grains for flavoring. It's particularly good for folks who like their espresso sweetened.

So if you'd like to explore those Creative Coffee Options, the world's at your door. This is a great time to do it. And with your own machine, it won't break the bank.

Have fun, betsye! Let me know how it goes, come Friday. There's a particularly fine TGIF day for you, this week. ;-)

Jan said...

Who knew coffee could be such a mind expanding experience! LOL

I am going to have to go looking for my own espresso machine, used once or twice, packed away in a move, and forgotten all about, until just now.

When you mentioned 'chicory' k, I was reminded of the coffee that my mom used when I was just a kid. I think it was called Luzianne, or something like that, and it was potent stuff!

pepektheassassin said...

k, you are an expert at just about everything! (I bought a couple of mangoes yesterday, and I thought of you. --I have never bought mangoes before. These are good, but not as good as yours were!)

See how you have expanded my horizons????

k said...

You guys are so invigorating! Almost like a nice shot of...

oh, I can't say it!

hee hee!

Walter said...