The Real McCoffee

Sweet Maria's Clever Coffee Dripper on top of my
favorite coffee cup

I make a good cup of coffee. No! Wait a minute! I make a great cup of coffee. I’m not ashamed to say so. I’m not blowing my own horn. Nor am I blowing my wife, Nancy’s, horn. She taught me. I am blowing my son, Benjamin’s, horn. He’s the one who taught Nancy. I don’t know where he got it from. Maybe, like Athena, it sprang steaming and dark from his own brow.

For those of you interested in coffee, here is what I do. First off, I make sure the beans I use were roasted yesterday, or maybe, in a pinch a day or two before. Fresh roasted is critical. A coffee bar down the street prides itself on its coffee. Let me tell you, it shouldn’t. I asked the barista when the beans were roasted. She said two weeks ago. Amateurs!

They are not alone. I rarely order coffee out. Most American restaurants haven’t a clue how to make good coffee. Or, more cynically and probably truer, they know how but they also know that most of their customers haven’t a clue how good coffee is supposed to taste. How else can you explain the popularity of coffee bar chains whose coffee, on a scale of 1 to 10, would rate, maybe, a generous 5? One of our favorite Cambridge restaurants, a $$$ one, makes coffee that is as bad as their food is good. It is astonishing how bad American-made coffee can be.

Why am I picking on American coffee? My son lives in Madrid. Now there they know how to make coffee. Ditto, Italy. I haven’t been to France for a while. But if you go to India, as I just did, switch to masala tea for the duration. The coffee at the Taj in New Delhi—I stopped in for a taste—is execrable. I suspect they use Nescafe.

Anyway, back to the grind. I measure out 32 grams of fresh-roasted coffee beans. I like Vienna dark roast. You’ll have to find your own taste center. I grind the beans in my indispensible (and expensive) Preciso coffee grinder with the micro-adjuster set about halfway. Properly ground beans are essential. The ground coffee goes into a paper filter that sits inside a gold filter that fits inside a Clever Coffee Dripper that Nancy purchased from Sweet Maria’s in San Francisco. That too is indispensible. If you get one, you’ll see why. Next I pour boiling water into a plastic container that is sitting on a scale. I stop when the scale measures 17 ounces. That exchange from water boiler to plastic container is sufficient to lower the temperature to the proper 200ºF plus or minus 2º. I pour the water over the grounds, set my timer to 4 minutes, stir the mixture, put a plastic lid on top and wait. Four minutes later, I stir again and place the Clever Coffee Dripper over my cup and let it run through.

You can drink it black if you like. I prefer my coffee sugared and light. Here is a final tip. Never use milk. It interacts chemically with the coffee and leaves a slightly bitter taste. Either cream or nothing.

One day my plumber came to the house. I made him a cup of coffee. He came again today. He said his wife refuses to make coffee the way I do. With small kids in the house her life is hard enough, she says.

I can sympathize with that. Each morning I work for my coffee. But when the work is done, the reward is commensurate.