If you think I have one of those familiar automatic electric drip-type coffee makers you see everywhere, in homes and in offices (and a LOT of them in department stores), which have become the most popular equipment for making brewed coffee, you’re wrong. I threw away mine long ago. Well, not literally, but I wonder where it went, coz I can’t find it now, now that I wanted to take a picture of it.
Why so? Coz the coffee these automatic drip-type brewing machines make sucks. Ops, sorry if I offended many coffee lovers who rely on this brewing machine every morning. But I’m just telling the truth. Didn’t I say this is a no holds barred type of blog? I found it out myself the moment I first tried the French press, coz suddenly, the same coffee tasted significantly better. I was just glad when I began reading tons and tons of information materials on coffee because none among the coffeegeeks use the automatic drip-type coffee maker. Simply because most of these coffee makers don’t heat the water to high enough temperature for good coffee extraction.
Well, okay, maybe that was an exaggeration, because there is one of such coffee makers that is good — the Technivorn, made in The Netherlands. But it comes with a price, in the $250 range. (Wow! That’s the price of a computer CPU, or one of those “netbooks.”) Sweet Marias says the Technivorns “are good enough to be certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA),” the reason they’re selling only this brand of automatic drip-type coffee makers. Other well-respected coffee gear vendors, the likes of Terroir Coffee, are doing the same.
So, what coffee makers do I use?
French press (aka plunger, press pot)
This is a very simple device, yet produces great, rich coffee. You just put the grinds into the bottom of the glass carafe, pour in hot water (not boiling, but slightly lower temperature), stir, place cover on top, wait a few minutes, plunge all the way down, then pour coffee into cups immediately. Don’t let the brewed coffee stay in the pot, along with the grinds, any longer, coz it’ll continue to extract and you’ll get bitter tasting coffee. This guide from Coffeegeek explains the process in detail, complete with pictures.
The most popular brand is Bodum, a Swiss company (now, I’m beginning to doubt if it’s the French who invented this gadget). Here in the Philippines, Starbucks sells rebranded Bodums. The small ones, good for two small cups or maybe a mug, sells for about P500. The big ones sells for a little over P1,500.
But Chinese-made press pots are showing up in department stores all over! (So, which items aren’t made in China these days?)
In Cagayan de Oro, I found the 88-peso store at Lim Ket Kai selling the small plungers for, well, 88 pesos! At the second floor, at Robinsons department store, they also have plungers of various sizes, ranging from 130 to maybe 350 pesos, depending on size. I was also able to buy French presses at Gaisano-Cagayan de Oro at a bargain. They have the expensive Japanese-made Hairo brand, too. The problem is, supply of coffee plungers in all these shops is unpredictable. Now you see them now you don’t. So if you see some, buy 2 or 3, or more, coz you’ll never know when they’ll show up in the shops’ shelves again.
Why you need to buy extra? Because, the problem with press pots, they break easily. They’re glass, so they’re prone to breakage. Especially when they’re slippery when you’re washing them in your kitchen sink.
I have a few issues with the French press, though. One is the fine grinds that settle in the bottom of your cup. Because the steel filter isn’t fine enough, quite a lot of the coffee grinds get past through it. And while they’re there, with hot water, coffee extraction continues, which could lead to bitter-tasting coffee. Aside from the fact that it might not be healthy to swallow those particles.
To minimize sludge in your cup, you need a good grinder. No, not the usual blade grinder we see in department stores, or that accessory that came with your blender. You need to grind COARSE if you use a press pot. Unfortunately, to be able to grind coarse, you need a burr grinder so you can control grind size. And burr grinders are expensive, and soooo difficult to find in this country, even in Metro Manila. Blade grinders can’t give you uniformly coarse grinds; it’ll give you boulders and powders.
Those few but important issues with the French press, are absent in the Aeropress, now my coffee maker of choice.
The Aeropress was invented only a few years ago, but is now very popular among coffee fanatics. If you log in at Coffeegeek’s forums, it is the most discussed coffee maker. The Aeropress was invented by a man who knows his coffee and his science. Alan Adler is with Aerobie, of the Frisbee fame.
The Aeropress looks ugly, which appears like a device that belongs to the hospital or the chemistry lab with its plastic look, unlike the glass and steel and the romance of the French press. But my French press is now more of a display item in my coffee rack, while my Aerobie is hidden somewhere, ready to be pulled out when brewing time comes.
If used as desired by the inventor, the Aeropress produces a good, clean cup. Too clean, in fact, because of its paper filter. That’s why many coffee fanatics hack the Aeropress. A guy named Scott, who’s frequent in the forums of both Coffeegeek and GCBC, invented the “inverted method,” which he described in detail in his blog. This is how I brew my coffee, too. It produces rich coffee similar to the French press, but without the grinds. It just requires more coffee, though, because of the much shorter steep time. I pour water into the grinds, stir 15 seconds, then press into a cup, dilute by adding more hot water.
The inverted method does not use the stock paper filter. Scott uses some kind of polyester material, a filter medium, readily available in online shops in the US. But I don’t know how to source them out in this Third World country. In my search for a filter alternative, I came across a textile material they use to stiffen collars and the like. I don’t know how it’s called; I just point it to the salesgirl when I visit the textile shops. Then I cut them into circles the size of the stock paper filter, wash them with soap and water, then dry them on a fresh clean towel. I do this filter-making ritual once a month. One doctor who once had coffee at home commented if the material I’m using for filter is safe for food use. Well, my answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s carcinogenic, or if it’ll mutate you into some kind of Ninja Turtle. If you’ll die at 99 instead of 100 years, don’t blame me. I warned you beforehand.
The beauty with the Aeropress, because it uses a filter, you can live with a cheap blade grinder. It’s so easy to clean, too. Just hold it under the faucet with running water, and wipe off the grinds. You don’t even have to use soap, although every now and then I do.
As you can see in the picture at the start of this post, I have two of the Aerobie — one for travel, and one for the home. I bring my coffee kit in a small bag when I travel, so the wife still has an Aerobie at home.
The Aeropress shows up every now and then on Ebay Philippines. But it’s not there when I was writing this. It’s also available at a shop named Eyo on the third floor of Vira Mall in Greenhills, San Juan. Don’t be surprised if you find the shop and see nothing but video games on its shelves. Just ask for the Aeropress. I learned the owner is a good friend of the Aeorpress distributor, Blue Sierra Enterprises, an I.T. company. (Hmmm, I can smell coffee in their office.)
Moka Pot (aka Moka Express, Espresso Pot)
This is Italian made, by Bialetti. Not really an espresso maker, but the Moka Express is referred to as the stovetop espresso maker. This is so common in Italy, maybe even more common than our usual coffee maker here in the Philippines. I tried brewing coffee with this a few times, but I didn’t like the resulting coffee. But the coffee I roasted, brewed by the maid of my friend Pressia when I visited Cotabato City once, was good. They say it takes a little bit of practice to make a good brew out of the Bialetti. But I like the ease of use of the Aeorpress such that, like the French press, my Moka Express is now a decorative piece in my coffee rack.
If you’re somewhere near Cagayan de Oro or Ozamiz, there’s a surplus shop called Brockenhaus owned by a Swiss with a Filipina wife. (The Ozamiz branch is spelled Brokenhouse!) It has a lot of used Bialettis. Got mine for maybe 200 pesos.
So, Bob, why didn’t you include other great coffee makers like the Ibrik and the Yama and the Chemex? I don’t have them and I haven’t tried them. So I couldn’t write about them. Should I acquire any of them later, I’ll add them in my list.