The best cup of coffee I ever had was made by my cousin in London when we were both impoverished students. I was visiting, and to celebrate he sprang for a slim packet of freshly roasted and ground coffee, which he then brewed by putting it in a chipped juge and pouring boiled water over it. After a bit he ran the back of a cold spoon over the surface of the water, as I recall, causing some floating grounds to sink to the bottom. And then he poured. Lovely.
Of course, it was London. We were young. I was on holiday. These things work on the taste buds — and on memory. But the simplicity of it all has stayed with me, elusive, haunting, and a little mocking, as I spent the next umpteen years working my way through one coffee making device after another in search of the perfect brew. Some people give up or don’t care: I see them in the morning returning home bleary-eyed with their pressed cardboard trays holding paper cups from Starbucks or Timmy’s, and I think $2.07 x 2 x 365 = $1,511.10 p/a. (Well actually, I think: hmm, probably a lot of money.)
Mind you, I’ve probably spent that much in the intervening years on coffee gear, searching for the perfect brew. I’ve roasted my own green beans. I’ve used, and busted, two burr grinders. I’ve made-do for a whole lot of frantic child-rearing years with canned coffee and your basic drip-and-paper-filter-cum-cone machines. I have a Bialetti 2-cupper that I rarely use sitting icon-like over the stove. And in some cupboard I’m sure I’ve still got a French press, a Breville espresso machine, a Hario hand grinder, an Aeropress, and more besides. I’ve even flirted with the idea of giving up the quest and going with something that takes plastic plugs of factory-filled stuff.
I’m not alone in this curious quest, however. Just search for [how to brew the best coffee] and glory in the advice. (Let me know if “cold brewing” works for you.)
I’ve gone back, though, to pretty close to where I started, thanks to this Globe and Mail article by Chris Nuttall-Smith. I now brew using a simple crockery Hario cone and a Coava Kone permanent steel filter: ground coffee into the filter, water off the boil, pour over. That’s it. (The trick is to pour slowly in small amounts.)
Way back at the beginning — and I mean way back, when percolators were still to be seen in the land — there was Chemex, with its paper filters and laboratory-looking glassware. Turns out I could have saved myself a trip or six. Next thing you know, I’ll be writing with pencil on paper.