Monday, March 9, 2015

French Press Morning

Life tweaks— I recently made two to my day, in an effort to break up the monotony of winter.  Both happen to involve the morning. The first is that I’ve left behind our old, plastic drip coffee maker and moved on to a shiny 100% stainless steel French press. I have no idea why I’ve waited so long to make this change to something that gives me so much pleasure. I was stuck in a rut, I guess. Sure, it takes a bit more time, but oh is that cup of coffee with the froth on top and the dense mouthfeel and the bit of sludge in the bottom ever worth it.

It tastes like real coffee. Like the coffee I had the first time I lived in France while in college when every sip from the wide, handle-less bowl in the kitchen of my host mother Madame Lavier was a revelation. She served it black and I drank it at her wooden table as she sliced baguette for our breakfast tartine while regaling me with colorful stories I struggled to comprehend. I left her kitchen buzzing from the giant bowl of coffee and ready to delve into the day’s adventure. 

I now realize (lagging behind the many coffee aficionados out there) that the method for making coffee is of the utmost importance. Quality beans roasted to perfection are key also, and fortunately we have lots of options for these here in Vermont. I seek out rich, earthy, full bodied coffee, similar to my taste in chocolate and wine. And I tend to like medium to darker roasts as well. Although we have many excellent local roasters, I’m going to give a shout out to Middlebury’s Vermont Coffee Company and its organic, fair trade beans roasted “big and bold.” Even their decaf is big and bold, a rare and beautiful thing. I’ve known the owner Paul Ralston for years—producer of avant-garde Shakespeare productions, former state legislator, and entrepreneur. He also roasts some damn good coffee. 

Once you’ve identified and acquired your beans, here’s my method for making a satisfying cup: Grind the beans fresh, right before using them. Don’t be tempted to buy pre-ground beans to save time (or worse, to join the ranks of the nearly one in three American households that have a pod-based coffee machine). So much flavor is lost with pre-ground, plus you miss the intoxicating aroma the beans give off while they’re being ground. I use my trusty grinder that was given to me back when I was in grad school (and drinking lots of coffee) by my apartment-mate Sharon. (Yes, Sharon, it’s still grinding away!) Grinding your own also allows you to attain the correct coarse consistency for the French press.

My French press is a single serving size, just 12 ounces. So I grind enough beans to yield 4 scoops of grounds and put those in the bottom of the press. (Lest you wonder why I’m not making coffee for two, the reason is that we have different coffee preferences in my household. Chris goes for single origin beans and lighter roasts. He also starts his day a tad earlier than I do.) Meanwhile, heat your water on the stove (not a microwave) and remove the kettle just after it starts to boil. Let the water rest about 30 seconds and then pour it over the grounds. Set your timer for four minutes.

After about two minutes, give it a stir. I love this part, when the “bloom” swirls around and you can see the frothy foam forming on top. Another hit of the coffee’s heady aroma rises from the press, and I start to wake up.

When the timer goes off, it’s time to plunge.

Slowly press the plunger down so the grinds are forced to the bottom.

Then pour the coffee into your favorite mug.

I like a splash of milk, so it’s nearly black but not quite. Inhale again, sip, and enjoy.

The only downside to converting to the French press is the clean-up process. But in actuality it only takes about a minute. For one of life’s little pleasures, a minute of clean-up is not a big deal. And the only waste that’s generated from this whole process is coffee grinds, which go right into my compost bin. No K-cup is added to the growing pile that threatens to take over the world.

I’ll tell you about my second morning tweak in my next post—making homemade bread from a sour dough starter, another kind of beast that lives right on my kitchen counter.

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