Gaming my Coffee

This post is somewhat different than my others. Most of the other posts get into uses of wireless technology that may or may not improve upon their wired counterparts. This post discusses the decidedly low-tech process I use to make coffee. If this sounds as interesting as listening to your neighbor at the block party droning about his home beer making operation, read no further. However, if the intricate process of making coffee is your thing, read on.

First, a confession. My senses are dull – I don’t hear, see, or taste well at all. In fact, my ability to discern nuanced tastes seems bottom 10%. If coffee has a “fusion of orange and chocolate notes” or a “lingering caramel and wine-like berry finish” or “balanced acidity with hints of apricot” the only thing that doesn’t escape me are the pretentiousness of these coffee statements. The rest is lost on me – I can’t taste any of it. I can, however, taste the difference between swill and a good cup of coffee.

My wife is a tea drinker and I drink one cup of coffee and don’t drink it throughout the day. My process is entirely manual and goes like this:

  1. Boil water on the stove in a regular, old kettle. This is the only electric part of the process and the water is typically shared with my tea-drinking wife.
  2. Scoop some of my single origin, organic, shade grown beans from a farm with a privileged microclimate, where workers are treated with respect and paid a fair wage, from an Airscape Coffee and Food Storage Cannister. Note that these are the only socially acceptable beans in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area.
  3. While the water is boiling, grind my fancy beans in a Hario Mini-Mill Slim Hand Coffee Grinder. Yes, an electric grinder is faster and more efficient, but it’s important not to distress the beans with the harshness of the electric burr grinder – no one wants to consume the oil from distressed beans! It takes a surprising amount of elbow grease to grind beans for one cup of coffee. So I know that if I do nothing else in a day, I’ve burned 10 calories grinding my coffee.
  4. Place a Bee House Ceramic Coffee Dripper with a #1 filter on top of a coffee cup
  5. When the water is boiling remove the kettle from the stove and transfer the water to a Hario Buono V-60 Pouring Kettle
  6. Gently (and lovingly) pour the water over the grounds until the cup is filled.
  7. Cleanup is the quick part – toss out the grounds and rinse the Bee Dripper.
All the accoutrements

If your first reaction to all of this nonsense is, “Why would someone who claims to have no taste buds go through all of this for a cup of coffee? Just buy a Kuerig and shut up about your process,” you have hit upon the question I ask myself every day. It’s a very slow routine to make a single cup of coffee that could only be made slower if I also went through the roasting process. A friend bought a hot air popcorn popper solely to roast beans; it sounds like a sticky, smelly mess, but I admire his fortitude. Japanese tea ceremonies can occur faster than my procedure. Whenever I go through this process I think of the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where the immense machine wheezes, belches, and smokes only to produce the tiny everlasting gobstopper. The analogy doesn’t go too far because it turns out that the everlasting gobstopper is the lynch-pin of the movie whereas my coffee process amounts to a large amount of effort for something insubstantial.

Although this post espouses a time-consuming approach that replaces an easy one, it fits into the Tyranny of the Cord ethos – replacing corded solutions with cordless ones. With the exception of the electricity required to heat the water, the rest is cordless and could have been replicated by frontiers-people (provided they had access to fancy Japanese imported products). Furthermore, like my other posts, the point here is not about saving time – it’s about enjoying the aesthetics of the process; sometimes, I just have to channel my inner-Gwyneth.

The conclusion I draw is that as a human I need to abide my inconsistencies. Although I devote a lot of attention and energy to finding more efficiencies in my life, I enjoy this time-consuming ritual enough to continue it. Each piece of the process is simple and utilitarian, but there is elegance in simplicity. I love the smell and feel of hand-grinding the beans and appreciate the delicate curve of the thin, goose-neck kettle, and the feel of the ceramic dripper. The process results in one cup of coffee with no leftover.

In the end, the coffee I make is good, maybe even great, and I do like it more than most coffee I can buy elsewhere. If I use my imagination, I might even detect a floral hibiscus finish. Of course, it’s not for everyone, especially those who drink coffee all day long. I look forward to hearing about other’s over-the-top processes for brewing the perfect coffee.



9 Replies to “Gaming my Coffee”

  1. Mr. Coffee Jr. with Maxwell House. More like “under-the-bottom” than “over-the-top”, but it works for me. I’ll leave you to your brew-ha-ha.

    1. Annie, you never know when the man-bun wearing hipsters will rediscover the retro appeal of Maxwell House, just like they did with Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR). Then it’s time for you to start drinking the good stuff!

  2. Okay David, well first of all, you totally avoided the obvious connection between coffee and getting wired! I suppose in the sense of only drinking one cup of coffee a day, you’ve cut that cord.

    I have an Italian friend as a neighbor back when I lived in New Jersey, and one of my favorite things was when I’d show up at his house for a chat, it would be espresso time. Hand ground to a precise size. Hand tamped with a precise pressure into a classic cast metal espresso pot. Wait forever for the espresso pot to brew, which didn’t matter since we were chatting. Get the little espresso cups ready with their tiny spoons. Pour piping hot. Then sip like you are drinking a dram of 21-year-old scotch. I suppose you could say we crossed over from process to ritual, and the longer it lasted, the longer the chat.

    1. Pete – The getting wired thing complete escaped me! Excellent connection! Regarding the espresso ritual with your friend – this is awesome that it became a part of your friendship!

  3. David, I think we were separated at birth! This nearly describes me to a T!

    I have long since given up roasting in the popcorn popper. It was the best coffee I ever had, but way too much work. Plus, while it was cheaper if you did it right, I ended up burning every 3rd batch so had to either drink burnt coffee or throw it away. Being cheap, I drank it.

    Have you tried an Aeropress yet?

    1. Kyle – You were always a coffee pioneer! It was your antics that convinced me not to try roasting at home. No, I haven’t tried an Aeropress, but have heard about its wonders for years from you and others. Thinking I need to branch out…

  4. I wonder, what goes through your mind when you come to the office and get to bypass your process entirely. I never thought about it in the terms of cutting the wires, like you did, but I recently bought a french press and that has replace all other coffee making at home and since I warm up the water on the stove, my process is completely wireless.

    1. There you go, Javier. You’ve cut the cord yourself! When I bypass my process in the office, I experience mixed emotions — elation at not having to do anything to get coffee and disappointment in the quality.

  5. What you captured is the ability to create the extraordinary from the ordinary. It slows you down and helps you enjoy (coffee? life? the moment? all three?). Well written sir. Hope you are well!

Comments are closed.