Thursday 13th of February 2014

A Bad Workman Blames His Gaggia

December 14 2007
A cup of coffee always seems the natural progression after a great meal with fine wine, while your taste buds are still singing.

Coffee and wine are similar in their complex challenge to the palate. For us consumers wine just needs to be 'stored and poured' whereas there is an art to a good coffee. Your journey has barely begun when you have selected your beans, you haven't even left 'the Shire'.

I am a single espresso man, I find the double espresso vulgar, and decaf sour and pointless. I occasionally venture into macchiato territory, enjoying the fluffy dab of milk, the icing on the cake. Sugar disguises a multitude of sins and should be avoided.

My main gripe it that restaurants charge a fortune for an espresso and then fall down on one basic issue - The espresso is only small, and therefore needs good insulation to keep it from being lukewarm when finally touching your lips. Countless times I am served with a cold cup and saucer. Its like being served a hot meal on a cold plate, unforgivable.

A friend recently gave me a Gaggia coffee machine, which I accepted with glee, hoping that this kind hand-me-down was only surplus to requirements and not simply rubbish.
I studied its inner workings, and after about eight attempts finally produced something that looked and tasted like a good espresso - Dark and inky with the characteristic rusty crema on top, hiding the contents like the opaque atmosphere of an undiscovered world.

Several days later, with unfounded confidence I offered some dinner party guests a coffee. Oh dear. You need the patience of a saint and the technical precision of a Swiss watch maker to create espressos to order. I ended up with coffee all over the floor and a room full of steam. It spurted out like I had just ruptured a carotid artery, I thought I had killed it. Drinking the watery stuff that I managed to save was like swimming in the Mediterranean. You suddenly hit a cold pocket and all bets are off.

Since then I have been to a couple of friend's houses where their swish coffee machines simply 'misbehaved'. I am starting to appreciate why I always have to queue up in Starbucks.

I am told that to make exquisite coffee you not only need to grind you own coffee beans, but you should also buy your beans 'green' and roast them to taste. Maybe I am best reverting back to instant to make up for my inadequacies as a coffee maker and queue up for the real stuff, but once bitten by 'proper' coffee, it's hard to see a way back.

Instant is so detached from real coffee, it's in a whole drink category of its own. It has an extremely stressful, and frankly unappealing journey to jar - Imagine waking up bleary eyed and making a really hot strong cafetiere. Just before you can get your caffeine hit, it is whisked off by NASA and blasted into space. The cold void freezes the coffee. Once frozen the cargo is broken up and approaches the sun. The combination of a vacuum and the right heat evaporates the frozen water crystals, leaving those irksome freeze dried granules we know so well.

So instant is just a dried cup of someone else's coffee. Yuck.

For decaf instant it is even worse. Problem beans are selected on their penchant for solvent abuse. This foul habit happens to banish the caffeine. The beans are then forced to go cold turkey and are steam stripped of their dubious past before being freeze dried.

I have decided that wine drinking and espresso making definitely do not mix. You need a very clear head to work the mysteries of a Gaggia.


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