A Bold Surprise
Believe it or not, I used to hate coffee. I began my day with a deliciously sweet, ice-cold diet soda. Compared to soda, coffee tasted bitter and was watered down. It was weak. Then my husband introduced me to espresso and a whole new world opened up. It wasn’t weak at all! I found a depth of flavor I had never experienced before.
It has been many years since that coffee introduction, and much has changed since then. For one, my taste has evolved. The coffee I considered as good coffee in those early days I now consider as being burned. These days I use only freshly roasted specialty-grade coffee from Texas Coffee Club. It is always fresh and never burned. Another thing that has changed over the years is how I prepare my coffee. I have gone through a multitude of machines and preparation methods. All had something that made it worthwhile, and most produced good coffee. But nothing has been so perfect that I would say it had no drawbacks. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Hooked on Mocha
Sometime around 1988, my husband, Kevin, came home from Italy with a prize: a mocha pot. We were early in our marriage and he traveled a lot with his work. On a trip to Italy, the Italians introduced him to espresso and got him hooked on it. He liked it so much that they gave him a mocha pot to take home. Now being a cola girl, the idea of a strong coffee in a teeny tiny cup sounded just awful. But I humored him and gave it a try. It blew my socks off. There was a ton of flavor in that little cup! It was just awesome.
Now my mornings started with a stovetop espresso. Every morning we used it and enjoyed our big-flavored coffee in little, bitty cups. The flavor was great, but I would say the downside was having to wait 15 minutes for the coffee to finish brewing. Granted a small part of the wait was waiting on our electric stove top to heat up. But still that was a long wait for such a wee bit of coffee. Also, the whole pot got very hot from being on the stovetop. The only part that stayed cool to touch was the handle. So if we wanted to make another pot of coffee right away, we had to use potholders to take it apart, empty, refill, etc. That was a bit of a pain. Sometimes literally.
For months, we enjoyed our teeny cups of coffee every morning. We loved espresso so much that we decided it was time to trade up to a serious espresso machine, so we got a tiny little electric Krups machine. We thought we were some serious coffee folks when we got that little beauty. It looked so sophisticated with its long handle protruding from the sleek carafe. It was a beautiful addition to our little kitchen and had a small footprint on our very limited counter space.
Both the Mocha Pot and the Krups only made 2 cups of espresso at a time, but at least with the Krups we didn’t have to deal with hot metal to get another cup going! And our coffee was ready in about 5 minutes, so that was also a big plus. At first we thought it made great coffee and we enjoyed it for quite a while. But then Kevin noticed something. He was still traveling and, after Italy, began ordering espressos as he went place to place. He loved them. But when he would get home, the espresso he got from our little Krups was disappointing in comparison. The flavor wasn’t nearly as rich as those from the restaurants and coffee houses. So that must mean we needed a better machine, right?
Super Automatic Espresso Machines
By the way, Kevin is not only a lover of espresso, he is also a lover of gadgets. And electronic gadgets are the best. So when I asked you if we needed a better machine, it was rhetorical. Of course we needed a better machine! And it turns out there were machines that would not only make your coffee, they also ground the beans. It was an automatic espresso machine and we had to have it!
That first machine was not actually a super automatic, but it was a big step up and made great coffee! It had a huge tank for water and a big bin for the beans, so we didn’t have to put in water or beans with every single brew. Although it would grind, it did not deposit the powder into the doser or expel the puck. The coffee was really good, but didn’t quite have the same crema as the restaurants.
However, our later machines did have the nice crema and they did it all: ground the beans, dosed the powder, made the coffee, and cleaned the puck. The flavor rivaled the restaurants and had nice thick crema. While the coffee was outstanding, these machines do come with two drawbacks. One is their cost and the second is the huge footprint they took up on the counter. These are big boys with big boy price tags. If you don’t mind shelling out the cash and you have room on your countertop, they are pretty darn awesome.
Somewhere in between super automatics, my in-laws introduced us to their Senseo. It was a whole new way of making coffee. This little machine used pods to make individual cups of coffee. The pods came in all sorts of flavors and roasts offering a smorgasbord of options. When the 4 of us got together, we could each make a different type of coffee if we wanted. And that’s exactly what we did.
This is when we got our first Keurig, which was the same concept as the Senseo but a different brand. The Keurig didn’t do espresso, but it gave a decent cup of regular coffee. And it was the most convenient by far. Pop in a pod, wait 30 seconds for the coffee to brew, toss the pod and enjoy your coffee. Clean up was so easy! No messy grounds or cleaning out baskets, filters, and carafes. It was a coffee-loving clean-freak’s dream come true.
Needless to say, these things became very popular and took off like lightening! They were in homes and break rooms everywhere I went. Businesses and schools supplied the machine and left it to the employee to furnish whatever pod their little heart desired. Everyone could get the specific drink they preferred, have it quickly, and the break rooms stayed clean.
Cost of Convenience
Unfortunately, the drawbacks associated with the convenience are huge: cost and waste. As far as cost, I’m not talking about the cost of the machines but about the actual coffee. When I bought a box of pods, the price didn’t seem so bad. I paid about $17 for what I thought was a nicer and better coffee. Here’s the deal though, those boxes were only providing me with 24 cups of coffee. When I looked at the cost per pound, it was sickening. About $50 per pound!! This was a deal breaker. On top of that was the mounting waste of plastic that was coming in fast and furious from how popular the pods had become.
A Disappointing Fix
Then came an outstanding idea that tackled both drawbacks: a reusable filter. Fill it with your own coffee then empty and reuse the filter. Sounded ideal. I could spend a reasonable amount for coffee and not generate extra trash. Unfortunately, that great idea did not work well for me. The first problem was the coffee it deposited into my cup. Even though I was using great coffee and should have had a tasty treat, my cup always had grounds in it. I’m sure someone is going to tell me that I didn’t get the grind right, but that was my experience. Repeatedly. A line of grounds going from the rim to the bottom of the cup and a puddle of grounds at the bottom. Gritty coffee is not good.
The second issue was cleaning the filter. I’m convinced that wet coffee grounds are evil cousins to glitter. Trying to get the grounds out of that mesh was awful. It didn’t want to come out. It stuck to the mesh so I used my sprayer to help loosen it, but it was still stubborn. And what did come out seemed to multiply and somehow got onto places I know I didn’t touch. Just like glitter. Some of the grounds made it into the trash, but somehow it also ended up on the countertop, the cabinet, and the floor. Not to mention what it did to my sink.
It tinged my porcelain sink so I had to using a scouring pad and powder to get the sink white again. Granted, we have to do that with coffee, but this was supposed to be the k-cup solution, right? One of the bonuses of the pods was how clean it was. This destroyed that whole benefit of using the pod in the first place. Needless to say, the convenient and clean experience was completely gone. This was a total bust and became one of those little gizmos that takes up space in a drawer somewhere.
In spite of the coffee cost and plastic trash, the pod craze was not waning. It was growing. We found out about a new one from Nespresso that actually offered espresso. A pod espresso! It tasted really good and had nice thick crema. Yes! Convenient espresso that was quick, easy, and clean.
The original Nespresso used very small pods. Later they introduced the Vertuo that used large pods and offered bigger cups of coffee. Unfortunately, the tiny Nespresso pods and the big Vertuo pods require separate machines, and you had to use the Nespresso brand machine to use their pods. The machines were not cheap, although not as crazy expensive as the superautomatic espressos. Also, these pods were not nearly as cheap as the K-cups, which weren’t actually cheap, remember? Add to that, we had to order them from Nespresso at the time. We didn’t have the option of Amazon Prime to help us out when the supply got low, although, that has changed now. But we don’t use those machines anymore.
So, I was looking for a good cup of coffee that didn’t take too long to make, didn’t take up a big chunk of my countertop, was easy to do, had a reasonable cost, and a relatively easy clean up. It was time to try the Pour-Over.
I used a pour-over device and a filter along with specialty grade coffee, and the flavor was excellent. The cost was very reasonable and down-right dirt cheap compared with the super automatic espresso machines. Using a disposable filter made the clean up super easy – the paper filter with the used grounds fell right out of the carafe and into the trash. Easy peasy. And the filters were biodegradable so that was another plus.
The drawback? Well, it’s personal. Turns out I did not have the patience for the pour-over. It was agony. Pour a little. Wait. Pour a little. Wait. Repeat, repeat, repeat for what seemed like an hour. It was probably 15-20 minutes. Some people say it’s zen-like and that they find it so soothing. Not my experience. I didn’t have time to babysit my coffee while it brews. Next!
Clearly the pour-over and I were not a match made in heaven, so it was time to try the French Press. Again I was able to use my own specialty-grade coffee. The little carafe looked ever so cute and took up very little space – two boxes checked. The cost was reasonable and once I got the ratio of coffee to water right, the flavor was outstanding. Putting the grind a bit on the coarse side helped so I didn’t have grit in my cup. And I only had to wait 4 minutes for the coffee to steep.
The wait was a little longer than I wanted, but wasn’t nearly as long as the pour-over or mocha pot. And I didn’t have to stand there babying it. I set the timer, walked away, and came back to great coffee. On top of that, the only waste was the used grounds. That was all fine. To me its drawback was the cleanup. It’s wasn’t quite as bad as the reusable pod filter that had the grounds stuck to the mesh! But it was messy compared with the pour-over that dumped everything straight in the trash with one swoop. Also the little mesh strainer had to occasionally be taken apart for a deep cleaning to get all of the hidden grounds out.
For now my favorite is the Technivorm Moccamaster. It works much like a pour-over by using a paper filter and intermittently slowly pouring water on the grounds. Like a pour-over, the grounds are not submerged, clean up is convenient, and the flavor is outstanding. But better than a pour-over, you don’t have to keep fiddling with it. Set it up, go about your business, and come back to great coffee in about 4 minutes.
It’s one drawback is the cost as compared to the French Press or Pour-Over. However, compared to the super automatics it doesn’t seem quite so bad.
Enjoy the Experience
Coffee is one of those things that appeals to a broad range of people and offers an array of choices. Whether we are visiting friends and relatives or traveling for work, almost everyone offers a coffee. But from place to place it’s never exactly the same. While one may use a French Press another may prefer a pour-over instead. With coffee, we don’t have to be in a stale rut. We can breathe life into our coffee routine just by switching up the preparation method. It’s fun to have options!