Once upon a time there was only the lowly percolator. Coiffed housewives would sit lovingly staring at water
being heated until pressure forced it up a small tube and over a basket full of grounds.
Well, it was amusing to watch even if the coffee couldn't be very good. Boiling coffee and running the liquid
over grounds more than once can each produce a brew less than ideal.
Then in the 1970s, as with so many things, life changed forever. The drip method - inexpensive, quick and
even an improvement in taste - came to dominate the scene. A cup of grounds thrown in a plastic container
over filter paper, a few minutes of nearly boiling water dripping over the result and - voila! - coffee in a glass
Later came pre-packaged 'pods' of a favorite blend, changes in materials and all sorts of controls to adjust the
brew, and internal spouts that spread the water evenly over the grounds. Whether cone or flat, always near
200F (93C), please.
In the '90s, espresso makers became the rage, with the importation of European culture and the application of
American ingenuity to lower the cost without ruining the flavor. Hot water is forced under pressure through
finely ground dark roast and in a few minutes, out pours a delicious, aromatic drink.
Add steamed, frothy milk and you have a cappuccino or latte, depending on the ratio of milk to coffee. A
definite improvement and the variety of espresso makers makes for delightful experiments in chemistry.
The French plunger is another device aiding the spread of European methods, anywhere open-minded coffee
innovators are seeking the new. A metal rod extends through the center of a glass cylinder, where it is topped
with a handle. At the other end is a filter, fitting snugly inside the container.
Put grounds into the container and pour nearly boiling hot water in. Unlike the drip method, the grounds steep
until the plunger is pressed. The result is a dark, full-bodied brew served right from the device.
One of the more esoteric brew methods uses the vacuum brewer: two glass or metal bowls, one atop the
other. Heat causes water to rise into the upper, similar to the percolator principle. Remove the heat and as the
liquid cools slightly a partial vacuum is created, drawing the hot water through the grounds and into the lower
The process is a pleasant show at a dinner party and a wonderfully fresh cup, since it can be carried out right
at the table.
Of course, none of these methods is really new - most go back centuries in one form or another. The Ibrik
from Turkey may be one of the oldest. Water is heated in a brass or copper container with a long handle and a
grooved tongue. Finely ground coffee is added directly to the hot water and then poured, unfiltered. Strong!
Any of these will produce a delicious cup, but all bring out distinctive aspects of the ground. Try them all!
You may find that a history lesson can also be a delectable taste tour.
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