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Ways to make coffee

Ways to Make Coffee

This is seriously sad stuff for people who don't love coffee ... read on at your peril :-)

At home, we really use only our Saeco Espresso maker from New York for making coffee (cappucino, cafe latte, long black or espresso). We use a hand-grinder to grind our coffee, and there is too much mucking around involved in getting the grind right for filter or plunger and then returning it to espresso, so we rarely make filter or plunger coffee. While the grinder is set perfectly for espresso, we are not changing anything !! As an indulgence, I have a Baby Gaggia maker at work ...

Making Good Espresso

The things that are important to us (and mostly passed on to us by Mal and Mel, our coffee-making, coffee-drinking afficianados) are:

  • heating the coffee maker for at least 5 mins with the coffee-holding piece in place so that it is warmed too. If the coffee-maker has been preheated in the steam position, make sure you release the all the steam until only water is coming out of the head otherwise you will burn the coffee and it will taste bitter and yukky.
  • heating the cups - we often skip this part, but you can tell the difference.
  • grinding fresh beans freshly - don't be afraid to ask your coffee supplier how often they get their beans delivered, and how they handle them. If they look at you as if you are weird, they generally don't take special care of the beans. We buy our Coffex SuperBar blend from Monaco's Delicatessan, a small family-run business in the Hartwell area, because they're open on weekends, and they have lots of yummy deli things and they are not too far away from us. We have bought excellent coffee elsewhere as well.
  • tamping it "just so" - not too firmly, but not too loosely.
  • watching the flow carefully and turning it off before the colour fades too much (depends on freshness of coffee and how well the coffee is packed).

Steaming the Milk

Steaming the milk can be a most frustrating experience for beginners, but is very easy once you get the hang of it. The nozzle should go all the way in very briefly until you hear a whooshing sound, and then the nozzle should be raised to just below the surface of the milk so that you have a steady whooshing and small dense bubbles forming. If the nozzle is too high, the surface gets scalded and the bubbles are large and break down easily. If the nozzle is too low, the sound is more rumbling than whooshing, and the milk boils and doesn't froth. We hold the jug on a slight angle and circulate the milk with a gentle circling motion. There is a certain time of the year (usually late January) when cows' milk is low on a particular protein that is important in the frothing process, and milk around Melbourne won't froth. At such times, we have resorted to UHT milk (on the basis that it is milk from a different time period ...) We use either Rev or Skinny milk, but in the past have used full cream and Keiran Perkins milk with pretty much similar success. The skim milk froths more than other milk, but is more likely to collapse. We always give the jug a firm tap on the bench to collapse the false foam before pouring.

Cleaning the Machine

It is important to clean an espresso maker regularly by removing the grid on the head thoroughly (you will need a short-handled screw driver to remove the grid, which is like a shower screen). I use a toothbrush and sometimes a small pin to clean the holes. You should also clean the excess oils and stuff from the coffee holder and clean whatever else need a thorough cleaning. Failure to clean the shower-screen can lead to pump failure which requires expensive servicing. Of course you should wipe down the steam nozzle every time you steam milk. We took the black plastic steam enhancer off our machine and use only the straight metal steam jet.

Coffee and Camping

The most satisfying coffee I have had while camping was on an impromptu camping trip in Western Australia with my friend Cheryl. We had minimal camping equipment (sleeping bags, a sun-shelta semi tent, a ground sheet), but we had some excellent ground coffee, some dubious teabags, a Prima juice container, a can of fruit and an ocky-strap. I drank the Prima, filled it with water, hung it on the end of a stick using the ocky-strap and held it over the fire (started from the embers of a previous fire by fanning and blowing and judicious application of appropriate fuel. We transferred coffee to the emptied insides of the tea bag and then placed the coffee bag into the prima container to steep. The whole process took about half an hour for about 80 mls of coffee - but it was worth it.

On our regular camping trips with Mel and Debbie (and now Tashara), we take Big Joe and Little Joe, our stove top espresso makers. If you go camping, make sure you get an espresso maker which is entirely metal so that it won't melt in the fire. They work beautifully directly in the fire, although they need to be placed carefully and to be removed promptly to ensure that the coffee doesn't stew. Placement should not result in the top section (housing the coffee ready to drink) getting too hot.

For the ultimate camping coffee (and hot chocolate) experience, you can't go past the stovetop milk steamer. We have rececently acquired a stainless steel version with a bakelite top, which should be kept out of the flames on the campfire. It also has a bakelite screw-in handle which we unscrew when the steamer is on the campfire. The steamer is ready for frothing when the pressure escape valve is squirting little jets of steam. We still use our other espresso maker for the coffee, and keep the steamer for steaming although it makes coffee too. We use a small stick to operate the steaming nozzle, and the whole set up works well on the back of the grill of the metal campfires at many camping grounds. The steamer doesn't seem to get to temperature on top of the Trangia.

Filter coffee is a good camping option especially if space is limited. Ortlieb make a soft vinyl filter holder which uses tent pegs or sticks to hold it over a cup or thermos.