Wednesday, 4 July 2007


Because I am a clean-living pillar of society who likes to keep the temple holy, and because my entire capacity for substance-abuse is exercised in the regular consumption of chocolate (more recently, Green & Black's organic hot chocolate formula), I've never really gotten round to coffee. I realise that in saying this I lose all credibility as a Melburnean. I realise that those of you who have observed my sophisticated ways with relative pronouns and assumed that I'm some kind of sauve, macchiato-toting grammarian will be bitterly disappointed. But them's the facts. Coffee, and I, we just weren't meant to be.

Yet here I am, in a city whose inhabitants do espresso like I do air. Is it quaint and charming when I offer friends a choice of lemon grass and ginger or Siberian ginseng detox? Au contraire. It is, apparently, anti-social. As is, so I hear, telling them that my household consumes an average of 0.825 toilet paper rolls per week, and we'd like to keep it that way, thank you.

So I intend to reform. Not to take up the demon drink myself, but to stock appropriate apparatus, so that I can say breezily, "Oh, I won't have one myself - knocked back a few before breakfast and feeling a tad squiffy - but, behold, a deluxe percolator! Go ye into the kitchen and brew." Or something.

My question is this: do coffee drinkers (you know who you are) prefer coffee made with those glass jobs with the thing you press down or do they like those silver stove-top thingies?


alexis said...

Oh, and Pimm's. I also abuse Pimm's.

TimT said...


I use a silver stove-top thingy. You can get a decent size one of those for about 40 dollars.

I don't think the coffee itself tastes any different to the plunger-produced coffee, although you will see various coffee toffs carrying plungers thingies to work, where they can boil the water separately.

In America, I think the plunger system is standard, but the coffee they use is dreadful. Mostly instant, and they'll let it sit there for ages, occasionally refreshing it with refills of water - they appear to have missed the whole espresso craze. (One of my favourite passages in Raymond Chandler is when Philip Marlowe, the brandy-swigging detective, makes plunger coffee to the bemusement of a police sergeant. I think it's in 'Farewell, My Lovely').


My mother uses a small machine that makes a loud noise like a generator and producers drinkable short-blacks, albeit with a slight tinge of diesel. (The machine doesn't actually use diesel, but it sounds so frightfully like a gigantic generator, that you can't help but taste the diesel in it.)

If you're going to wave coffee drinkers into the kitchen then I'd go for the plunger, simply because if you open the metal thingy too early, it will throw hot coffee on you, and I don't think there's any way even the most cretinous visitor could get the plunger wrong.

Then again, if they're going to be the sorts who put milk and sugar in good coffee, then get instant, as the milk ruins the taste anyway.

TimT said...

Another literary reference. In Thackeray's 'A Book of Snobs', he describes one English snob who 'commits dangerous excesses on green tea'. Highly amusing!

To me, at least.

Pat said...

Ah, coffee.

A press is nice. But not my favorite.

Drip is for those morning when the eggs and bacon and hashbrowns settle in for a nap on top of last night's beer.

Instant is only to be used in the direst of emergencies. Such as, 'Unless you regain your superpowers, the entire universe will fall into a black hole.' That kind of emergency.

Now, like many Seattlites, I have my personal preferences as to which coffee bar has the best latte or espresso or pastries or whatnot, and seeing as how the most likely readers of this comment likely hail from rather far away, I won't go on and on and on about the relative merits of Uptown versus Vivace versus Lighthouse, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But for me, the daily morning 'hey, howya doin' is a soymilk latte (SilkTM Very Vanilla) made with Cafe Alegro Red Sea Blend in a Bialetti Brikka. That's one of those shiny stove-top jobbers, for all ye non-twitchy types.

Tim, Tim, Tim. When were you last in America? And where, most importantly? Here in Seattle, you can go to the dentist and get espresso. To ask a restaurant or bar for espresso and be denied is grounds for a look of slack-jawed disbelief and a quick report to the Better Business Bureau. Here and there, you'll find a cafe that serves presses, but they are rare. It's espresso, espresso, and espresso.

TimT said...

Ha! It would seem I've made the mistake of generalising about one of the most populous nations in the world!

Pat, all I can say is in the cafes of New York and San Francisco the espressos seemed to be few and far between. (There were exceptions.) In San Francisco in particular, 'cafe' seemed to mean 'place where you drank alcohol', as opposed to Australia, where it's definitely a coffee place.

Now would seem an opportune time to quote one of my favourite Ogden Nash poems, about the customer who goes into a French restaurant 'famed and gay' and demands 'Coffee with, coffee with, coffee with the meal!' Alas, I can't remember it, and google can't either. I think this nicely illustrates Australian/American cultural differences. Surely, I wonder, coffee should be had after the meal?

Pat said...

We are a populous and varied country, to be sure.

I wouldn't think Ogden Nash an authority on modern dining habits here. Coffee with breakfast is perfectly normal. It's not unusual with lunch, but definitely odd with dinner; in the evening, the appropriate place is with dessert -- or booze.

I don't get to NYC very often nor much to SF, but here it's very odd to find a commercial block without espresso for sale. You can get espresso in most grocery stores, many quick-stops and gas stations, almost all restaurants and bars, and in the rare commercial block that doesn't have a cafe, you'll find a little portable coffee cart on the corner. There used to be a lot of those maybe ten years ago, but since espresso is considered de rigeur these days, there ain't so many. In the suburbs outside of the city, you'll also see drive-through espresso stands, little 10x10 (3m x 3m) huts in parking lots with long lines of cars, their drivers waiting for the morning fix.

But, in this country, Seattle is known for its coffee mania (also, airplanes, software, rain, serial killers, and a very tolerant attitude towards marijuana). We are the home of Starbucks after all -- in fact, I walked by the original store not two hours ago.

alexis said...

Pat, this is for you: the immortal Francis Heaney's tribute to Geoffrey Chaucer, whose name, as Heaney astutely observes, is an anagram for "carry huge coffee".


In tholde dayes of the towne Seatel,
Of whos charmes Nirvana fans yet pratel,
Al that reyny land fayn slepen late.
Thus ofte a sutor failled to keepe a date;
And werkers reched offices at noon,
Noddyng of although the sunne shoon;
Husbondes were too tyred by the eve
A staf for plesyng wyves to acheve.

Now to this citie in a languor stukke,
Came a fair knyght cleped Sterrebukke,
Beryng benes from a forein land
Ygrounde to a poudre in his hand,
From which a potent brew could he deryve
That causeth wery peple to revyve.
Whan word aboute his draghte hadde sprede,
To his shoppe the custumers al spedde
Til everich veine felte a rush of blood,
With humours boyed upward by that flood.
Soone men who herd the crowyng cok
Wolde rise withoute cursyng at the clok,
The thoughte of facyng daylight not so bleke
With coffey bryngyng roses to the cheke
And helpyng them to holde their swords alofte
And shethe them before they falle softe.

Sterrebukke so bygan to thynke
Of other ways to selle the same drynke.
With stemed milk and sprenkled cynamone,
�Twas fit, he sayde, for kynges on the throne;
The capuchino joyned thus his wares,
As wel as mocas, sweter than eclares,
And lattes riche in creme, ofte fresen
And beten to a froth in sumer seson,
And tall espressos armured with cappes
To stoppen scaldyng spilles into lappes
As may hap when one is in a hurry
Upon a pilgrymage to Caunterbury.

alexis said...

Serious Australian coffee quaffers seem to make it their business to scoff at any coffees other than their own preferred coffee. Thus they proclaim the greater sophistication of their coffee palates and prove themselves true scions of the original French existentialist long black drinker, or something. Anyway, I have no aesthetic opinions about the coffees, but I hear these serious quaffers talking about "American coffee" as some kind of homogeneous syruppy swill, the caffeinated equivalent of warm English beer. My suspicion is that such talk is largely a rhetorical manoeuvre to suggest the speaker's superiority to a nation of 300 million people - quite an achievement, in anyone's book.

Jo said...

You're kind of asking if a heroin addict would prefer you to cook up their fix on a silver or copper spoon.

alexis said...

So, I'm thinking a plunger might be the go, yes? Tim, you mention your mam's machine: there's no doubt that those coffee machines are handsome beasts, but I haven't got the space for handsome beasts in my kitchen. Pat, you say something about drip: but that means filter paper and all manner of palaver, doesn't it?

alexis said...

Jo, it's true. I'm nothing but an enabler. But now that you mention it, maybe I should order a gross of opium pipes.

Pat said...

Très drôle doggerel, Miss Harlot. (For a moment I read 'Francis' as 'Seamus' and my head was all afuddle, as that's just not his sort of verse.) I shall add it to my morning recitations toot sweet.

Once upon a time, say thirty years ago, I suspect that criticisms of American coffee were well founded, and they are still for most of the rural areas. We city-folk got religion a few years back. My favorite term for this watery bitter brew is from the French: jus de chaussette. But it's the way my mom made coffee, back in the day, and it took me and my sibs a few years of coaching to convince her that it's much trickier to take water from weak coffee than it is to add it to strong.

TimT said...

A gentlemanly gentleman, as mild as May,
Entered a restaurant famed and gay,
A waiter sat him in a draughty seat
And laughingly inquired what he'd like to eat.
'Oh I don't want venison, I don't want veal,
But I do insist on coffee with the meal.
Bring me clams in a chilyl group,
And a large tureen of vegetable soup,
Steak as tender as a maiden's dream,
With lots of potatoes hashed in cream,
And a lettuce and tomato salad, please,
And crackers and a bit of Roquefort cheese,
But waiter, the gist of my appeal,
Is coffee with, coffee with, coffee with the meal.'
The waiter groaned and he wrung his hands;
'Perhaps da headwaiter onderstands.'
Said the sleek headwaiter, like a snobbish seal,
'What, monsieur? Coffee with the meal?'
His lip drew up in scornful laughter;
'Monsieur desires a demitasse after!'
The gentleman's eyes grew hard as steel,
He said, 'I'm ordering coffee with the meal.
Hot black coffee in a great big cup,
Fuming, steaming, filled right up.
I don't want coffee iced in a glass,
And I don't want a miserable demitasse,
But what I'll have, come woe, come weal,
Is coffee with, coffee with, coffee with the meal.'
The headwaiter bowed like a poppy in the breeze;
'Monsieur desires coffee with the salad or the cheese?'
Monsieur said: 'Now you're getting warmer;
Coffee with the latter, coffee with the former;
Coffee with the steak, coffee with the soup,
Coffee with the clams in a chilly group;
Yes, and with a cocktail I could do
So bring me coffee with the cocktail, too.
I'll fight to the death for my bright ideal,
Which is coffee with, coffee with, coffee with the meal.'
The headwaiter swivelled on a graceful heel;
'Certainly, certainly, coffee with the meal!'
The waiter gave an obsequious squeal,
'Yes sir, yes sir, coffee with the meal1'
Oh what a glow did Monsieur feel
At the warming vision of coffee with the meal.
One hour later Monsieur, alas!
Got his coffee in a demitasse.

My favourite is the bit about tne 'snobbish seal'. I'm not sure whether Nash is making a comic social observation or he's deliberately created an eccentric character there. My own observations, above, are of course very flawed, and I will bow to the observations and experience of those who actually live in the country.

Pat said...

'Drip' does involve a bit of palaver, and is a decent cup if done right. It really isn't worth having one just for the occasional guest. They take up space and inevitably get crammed into the most inaccessible cupboard behind the big baking dishes, leaving the hostess to joke glibly while the guest feels guilty for causing such a ruckus. So, um. No drip.

The silvery stove top ones will give you an amount determined by the size of the gadget. Small ones give you enough for one; large ones can serve eight; and in Rome I saw one big enough for a hundred. Not very flexible, and it can take practice to get a good shot. If my non-caffeinated hostess whipped out a machinetta and brewed up a crema-adorned sip of black death, I would be most touched and surprised. Though, on the flip side, it can be troublesome for the large dinner party if you get the little one; and awkward for one if you get the big one.

A press, on the other hand, sits nicely just behind the cocktail shaker, and a large one can make enough for one or two as easily as six or eight. Just use a medium grind, hot water, and steep for four or five minutes.


emmy said...

lexi, i've packed my travel-sized stove-top espresso jobby, and some cawfee already. i'm that excited! see you sundee. xxx

TimT said...

Oh, I realise I forgot to answer your question. Yes, I believe Pat is right; a press is the way to go.

Though, as a side benefit, you may get a silver stove-top thingy with a behatted continental chap on the side, like mine.

Pat said...

I must concur with Tim. If you do get a silvery stove-top thingy, consider a Bialetti. I have this one.

nailpolishblues said...

I work with a woman who pronounces coffee exactly like the title. Well, I hand her money a lot...

lucy tartan said...

[paragraph elaborating on my experiences with US coffee self-censored]

Plunger coffee is much the same as stove-top percolated but it's a bit easier and cleaner to make.

The real problem is likely to be the coffee itself: once ground and exposed to air it goes stale within hours so unless you have a grinder as well, I reckon send your visitors out for a nice brisk walk to the nearest shops.

Toast and marmalade for TimT said...

Last time I ordered espresso in New York, I got Sprite. (No kidding.) Only real coffee I got in six weeks was in Hilo.

I'm a stove-top man. I have a plunger, but never use it. My Brazilian stove-top (regrettably now gone to god thanks to a deteriorated and irreplaceable rubber ring) used to make the most erotic noises, especially when you poured the freshly-perked coffee.

A gurgling "oooo [baby!]" while you poured, a long, satisfied, sizzling, post-coital "ahhhh" when it was upright again.

The coffee was alright too! (Much prettier unit than the Italian Brikka... I spit in your general direction.)

I note that Roquefort has to be pronounced in a bisyllabic way to scan in the poem. Like the Monty Python team, I pronounce it as a trisyllabic.

Yours, very seriously...

torshy said...

In gerryland the coffee is all filter coffee, awful, awful stuff and I never drink it here, unless it's in a cafe which is only marginally better.

Funnily enough, they call the filter coffee American coffee in shops. Maybe, subliminally, they know its awful.

“Like the drink…” said...

Alexis, I haven't had a coffee experience prepared by way of a stove-top Moka, so all I can tell you is that you can't make espresso with a plunger! Coffee prepared in a plunger is far too watery, no matter how strong or concentrated the brew is – there is simply no pressure build-up in the brewing process – so I'll hazard a guess that espresso/macchiato/cappucino drinkers will prefer coffee prepared in a stove-top thingy.

That said, as a household instrument to facilitate social interaction, whether a plunger or a Moka is more suitable depends on a number of factors: whether the stove is in direct, unobstructed view of where you and guests will be sitting; whether you prefer to prepare beverages in the kitchen and bring them to the table only when they are ready, or to do so in front of your guests and chat during the process; and whether you will, as you suggested, direct your guests to prepare their own coffee.

I agree with TimT and Pat that, for your purposes, a plunger will probably serve you and your guests better.

emmy said...

in answer: a glass job with the thing you press down will do perfectly adequately for guests of a non cawfeer. but i must point out that glass jobs are NOT much the same as those silver stove-top thingies wot make espresso. ok i've said it. i'm a cawfee snob.

JahTeh said...

I bought a corningware percolater in an opshop for $12 and one day I'll be able to afford the coffee to go in it. Large jar of Moccona Kenya style was $9.98 at Safeway today. I know it's freeze dried but all I ask in the morning is that it's strong enough to pry open my eyes.

Maria said...

I like Mr Coffee. I didn't make him in a plunger or a stove top thingy. But every so often I stir him, it keeps him flavoursome and appealing. That and he's better not too early in the mornings and with a bit of sugar. Then Mr Coffees can be quite good with friends. Serve up with some nice choccies.

Bridget Moans' Diary said...

I sympathise, JahTeh. I was so incensed by a recent "price cut" in the Lavazza range I seriously considered starting a new consumer watch bitch blog.

The Coles "Special" announcing a new Lavazza range, cut the price by about ten percent.

Being shrewd and cynical, I looked harder. The groovy new packs are 20 percent smaller. Grrr, grrr!

alexis said...

'lo, pals. Whole days have passed and I haven't responded to these 'ere comments of yours - but that's the kind of slackness you have to expect when you're dealing with someone who only drinks peppermint tea. I'm grateful for all the wordiness you've waxed on the coffee subject. I really am. But I'm having dinner tonight with a food historian so I'm not going to get time to enact my gratitude in prolix-reply form until tomorrow morning.

trixie said...

It's late in the commenting day but this is a topic i feel passionately about and i am well qualified to interject.


Plunger? Fahgeddaboudit.

And may I say to you from afar, Lady Harlinator, how perversely happy it makes me to see just a wee bit of vice in proliferation.

btw. vietnamese coffee is made by means of a nifty cuptop compression filter device which drips the coffee onto a lake of condensed milk. is very gut.


alexis said...

Right, so thanks for sorting out the Coffee Question while I was off gadding round the dining rooms of the 'Bourne's inner north. Here's what I've learnt:

1. Chris Boyd assumes a diverse array of pseudonymage and was once fed Sprite instead of expresso;

2. Maria fancies a certain Mr Coffee;

3. Germany filters;

4. coffee-enthusiasts take no prompting to practise their French (here's looking at you, Seattelite);

5. Emmy is bringing her own stove-top percolator so my concerns about how to equip Hotel Harlot with appropriate brewing facilities are temporarily alleviated;

6. the hard-core addicts are erring on the side of the stove-top percolator, but warn that it may be unsuitable for novices such as myself;

7. you are all jolly good sports.

alexis said...

Trixeeeeee, view hallooo!

I wrote what I just wrote before I read what you just wrote, so thanks! for this here what you say. About stovetop perk-u-laters. I enormously value your opinion in matters gastromical.

Mwah to you aussi.

trixie said...

perk you later then, toots

Chris (not hiding or anything just bored with the sight of my own name) Boyd said...

What Trixie said about VN coffee...

Am still using sweetened condensed milk with sludgy hard-core cawfee on occasions!

Sorry about polyphrenic shape shifting. (At least I fess up in the web page bit!)

I'm very envious that you write four pars, go away and paint your nails and come back to thirty-odd (very odd indeed!) comments!!


alexis said...

No, please, shift away; it creates the momentary illusion of a larger commentariat than I've actually got.

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Frederick Guyton said...

I share your point of view, I'm fully a coffee fan! post has some curious facts about tea and coffee!