For the Coffee Aficionado, there is Life Before Discovering Espresso and there is Life After Discovering Espresso. It’s as if discovering Espresso causes the movie versions of our lives to switch from Black & White during LBDE to Technicolor in LADE.
LADE has its own chapters, as well. For some, while the pursuit of the perfect espresso is reward enough, for others discovering espresso is, often, the gateway to discovering an entire world of coffee that, during LBDE, was invisible. I was an espresso guy for 7 years, for instance, chasing, but never quite reaching, that perfect shot that exists only in the minds of the espresso devotee. My day would start, officially, after I’d reached my cafe and downed two shots of the very best.
I was that guy for 7 years. There was a lot going on in my life at the time. I was rushing from one project to the next. I was busy. I was productive. And those 30 ml shots of liquid gold through the day kept me energised and they fed into this notion I had of myself. Of being fuelled to be busy and to be productive. Till suddenly I wasn’t that busy. Or that opinionated, come to think of it. Or that confrontational.
It was probably just age. But by and by, and then all at once, I no longer saw myself as that guy who had to be right about everything; had to be dressed just so and had to drink just the right number of the perfect shots of espresso. I wanted to be around people smarter than I; to learn from them and to discover new things about this world that had shrunk tight around me. I wanted to put espresso on a shelf and find out what else was out there.
I reached out to estate owners, roasters and sellers of coffee – people who know their stuff and aren’t bound by the demands of espresso-cafes – to see how they had their coffee. Their methods were diverse – I discovered the Aeropress, the Pourover, the Moka Pot and many more curiosities during my research – but there were a few common threads to most of the responses.
For one, they were simple. When you’re making coffee for your own pleasure and not as a commercial transaction you avoid the overheads of machinery and the ceremony of setup. Some methods took longer than others but they were all simple to the point of being foolproof.
Most popular methods maintained large margins for error. Again, when it’s not the primary business you engage in, making coffee shouldn’t need you to be spot on every time. And methods like the Aeropress and the French Press are, not only forgiving, but also allow for adjustment to the temperature of the final output via the heating of the cup the coffee will be served in.
And lastly, most methods were gentle – no brewing over direct heat and no pressure. When you’re dealing with the very best beans available – top-grade Arabica only, no Robusta that gives espresso its crema – you want to bring out the best the bean has to offer. And that is done gently.
I collated what I had learned and I started to experiment on my own. I fell in love with the Aeropress. What’s remarkable is that the Aeropress coffee sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from the espresso – no oil versus significant crema, light body versus a heavy, full-bodied drink and light to no acidity versus a significantly acidic drink. I guess I was rebelling against the espresso and all that it stood for in my life.
We are who we are, though. I began to obsess over the Aeropress, declaring it The Best Way To Make Coffee and prosletyzing it every chance I could get. The anti-espresso was the new espresso, apparently.
Long story, short, I’m much better now; reformed, even. My primary method of coffee preparation is the French Press whose ease I value above all else given how busy I am with Life. I have 2 sets of Aeropress, one that I travel with. I routinely drink espresso when I’m out and there are no third-wave cafes about. And I’m considering buying a Moka Pot because I’m fascinated with how an espresso grind reacts to a non-espresso method of extraction. I just need to find one that works on the induction plate. Hit me up if you have leads.
What is the point of this piece, you ask. Consider it an old man’s appeal for Secularism. I love coffee. And, if you’re reading this, you probably love coffee as well. If so, I urge you to free Coffee from the constraints of any one method of preparation. Experiment. Broaden your coffee horizons. And don’t judge anyone on the basis of how they drink their coffee – yeah, that’s a thing. And if we ever meet I’ll let you choose my coffee.