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The Start of the Education Process
I have been an enthusiastic consumer of good quality coffee for years. My wife and I were given a Cona coffee maker as an engagement present in 1971 and we have used the vacuum process since then except for short periods when we thought that we might try alternative processes including manual drip systems (filter), automatic drip systems (filter paper and gold filter), cafetiere systems, the jug or coffee pot method (pour water over coffee in a jug), and of course various expresso techniques and systems. Always we come back to the Cona. We do of course own several different type of Cona and we have a Bodum system. EBay has at times been our saviour as it has at times been the only place to buy spare parts to permit us to continue using some of the Cona equipment.
Recently I asked myself how much I knew about coffee and I was appalled by the results of my reflective self analysis. I regularly and for many years have made large orders of coffee beans from Braithwaites of Dundee, Scotland and I sample most of the different coffees on offer. (Video below) Every time I place an order I realise that I am no clearer about what I think is good coffee. I also am never any clearer about what I should order. I make 'on the spur of the moment' decisions and this has continued year after year. I also know very little about how coffee is grown, how it is harvested and 'processed' prior to it being delivered to my kitchen. What a shocker!
When it comes to making a cup of coffee the only issue about which I am clear is that I like to use one of my Cona devices. My coffee making technique is a perhaps bit erratic. I generally use a 1 pint Cona unless I have guests and I set the grinder to grind approximately the same quantity each time fairly irrespective of the type of coffee. I boil fresh water in an electric kettle and pour it into the Cona base pot and put it on to the cooker hob at high heat. The ground coffee is added to the upper container and it is inserted into the base. Once the water is in the upper container I mix it carefully with the water using a plastic stirrer and leave it puttering like that for 3 minutes approximately. After the 3 minutes I take the Cona off the heat and let the water come back down into the pot. This generally produces a clear, well filtered, good cup of hot coffee. There are occasional mistakes when the water sticks in the upper container and the pot has to be re-heated from the bottom. We commonly call this a 'sticker' and we question our level of competence. Occasionally, if we are impatient, and if we agitate the brew unnecessarily, we get some of the grounds coming down with the water into the lower pot. When this happens it is a level of disgust that we feel with our level of competence. The coffee has been spoiled even if we leave it to settle or even if we decide to filter it using a standing filter paper.
I buy ready roasted beans and grind them as required in a Starbucks Barista Burr Grinder, model EL60. The beans are ground fine - in fact almost as fine as is possible. I generally buy around 5kg of different types of beans in 0.5kg and 1kg measurements which I decant into plastic containers. On receipt these are sealed with sellotape and put into my freezer as soon as possible. I defreeze as required and just enough to have a small supply in the grinder. The coffee is great for a couple of weeks, but after that degradation even with the freezing is noticeable.
As a result of my recent coffee-related self analysis I purchased a copy of "Coffee Basics - A Quick and Easy Guide" by Kevin Knox and Julie Sheldon Huffaker. This proved to be an easy but interesting read which sparked an interest in me to find out a little more. I subsequently purchased "Home Coffee Roasting - Romance and Revival" by Kenneth Davids which unfortunately for has not taken much of my attention simply because I didn't like the layout and style of the book -= not a good enough reason. I must find another text which will help me move forward.
There are of course many excellent sites available to help people learn more about coffee and coffee making and I have spent much time working my way through these and I have spent considerable periods of time lurking in many of the related forums.
Well, interest was given a boost when my kind wife purchased a Hearthware iRoast 2 for me for Christmas plus a Green In My Mug subscription from Has Bean so that I could roast and sample a range of coffees supplied on a weekly basis. The In My Mug subscription has an associated weekly video blog about the coffee supplied that week which adds considerable interest to the process. (Sample video blog from Stephen Leighton, Has Bean, below)
Education has thus started as roasting and tasting with recording and writing. To find out more follow my Coffee Blog on this site.