I used to spend a lot of time at trade shows for a previous job. Like A-LOT of time. At mind-numbingly boring trade shows, where you have to pretend to be perky and engrossed in everyone who stops by your booth for four days straight after flying in on the red eye, spending most of the night setting up the booth, then arguing with the hotel staff during the wee hours of the morning because they thought it was okay to give you a room that they’d already allowed 2 very flamboyant (but very friendly) gay men to check into. (Thanks MGM Grand, we’ll never forget that one.) Phew! I need a cup of coffee just after typing that sentence!
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I made it through these crazy years thanks in most part to one thing: lots and lots of coffee. Or, according my good friend and trade show buddy, Chaz, the Gourmet Warm Beverage (GWB). It’s most certainly tongue-in-cheek though – we’re not talking good java, but instead the crappy beverage cart kind where the “baristas” (if you care to call them that) really could only make one drink – a kind of hybrid latte/drip/cappuccino with a lot of flavored syrup thrown in for good measure. It was brutal. My teeth hurt just thinking about it. But no matter whether we were at the “Air Conditioning, Heating & Ventilation” expo, the “Shooting, Hunting & Outdoor Trade” show, or the “American Meteorologist Society” conference, the GWB got the job done.
Fast forward to my life in Seattle, where I suspect even the 7-11 makes good coffee. The people here drink even more coffee than my trade show friends! At last count, we had four coffee shops within about 100 steps of our front door. Thankfully, my GWB consumption has gone down to a much more manageable level – actually, it’s quite low comparatively speaking. I don’t even own a coffee maker. But now that I’m working at home a few days a week, I’ve pulled a reliable friend back into the regular rotation – my french press. I see no evidence of the quality of my work suffering just because I’m in sweat pants (let’s face it – pajamas). So in an effort to avoid being labeled “the crazy redhead who walks around the neighborhood in her pajamas”, I make my morning latte at home.
If you’ve never had a cup of coffee made in a french press, try it the next time you’re in a coffee shop. Any Starbucks will make you one. It brews the most wonderfully silky smooth coffee. Since a french press steeps the coffee grounds, it never runs through a filter like regular drip coffee does. Your coffee maker’s filter removes the oils that are naturally occurring in the beans, and that’s a lot of flavor and texture that you’re missing out on.
I think many people probably shy away from a french press because they think it’s too much work. Sure, you can’t set it to turn on automatically while you’re in the shower, but the effort involved is minimal. The basic gist is: measure the coffee grinds into the press (about 1 tablespoon per cup of coffee), heat water to just the boiling point and add it to the press, put on the lid, steep, press, pour. See? Not tricky.
My good friend Alton Brown dedicated an entire episode to brewing the perfect cup of coffee, and I’ve found that he’s got it figured out. Here are the main pointers to remember:
- Use filtered water – the better the water tastes, the better your coffee will taste.
- Let the coffee steep exactly 4 minutes – any more and it will start to develop a bitter taste.
- Add kosher salt to eliminate that bitter coffee flavor – it actually works better than sugar. (a scant 1/4 teaspoon per 6 tablespoons of grinds. I promise, your coffee won’t taste salty!)
Voila! Great coffee! I like a pretty light cup of coffee, so I go the extra mile and warm up some skim milk to add. When I’m feeling really fancy, I whip out the emersion blender and froth it up a little. Then I’ll add a drop or two of flavored extract for an easy flavored latte. My favorites are peppermint, almond, and vanilla. I’ll let you know when I start making latte art.
Actually, you need one more thing before it’s the perfect cup of coffee, and that’s a great mug. My GWB mug of choice is from Chaz’s 30th birthday party a few years ago – besides being oversized, it reminds me of all those crazy trade shows with Chaz, and the Gourmet Warm Beverage dance he used to do while we were waiting in line at the coffee cart. Enjoy!