Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Perfectly - Percolated - Pot - of Coffee

Some people are hardcore coffee drinkers.  It's as if their mothers had fed them coffee in their baby bottles instead of formula.  For me, although I loved the smell that wafted from my Dad's coffee can of Folgers, I could never get into drinking the famous morning elixir.... until I had to. 

I have always been a tea enthusiast.  Whether it be the frigid nights of January or the hottest evening of August, I will brew a pot (yes a POT) of tea after dinner.  For the mornings however, tea just wasn't cutting it.  Tea does not seem to give me that caffeine high that coffee produces - and despite being delicious, I needed something with a little more "octane" for my wake up time of 5:30am.  I decided it was time to MAKE myself become a coffee drinker. 

Then the question arose of how to make my coffee -- and what kind of coffee to use.  For those that know me or follow my blog, I am not a fan of modern technology.  Oh yes, I am addicted to my iphone and would be lost without my laptop and Netflix, but I prefer a time when things were done more by hand and weren't as disposable as they are now (my Iphone 5 is less than a year old and I am already seriously thinking of replacing it because I constantly have issues with it -- while my 70 year old rotary phones work as well as the day they were made).  Also being limited on counter space in my small apartment, I did not want a bulky auto-drip machine taking up valuable space.. and the ever popular Keurig machine is just way to Star Trek-like for my home which is perpetually stuck in 1947. 

The solution?  A percolator of course!! 

I had never personally seen a coffee percolator in use.  Growing up in the 80s, Mr. Coffee machines were the norm.  Through my love of old movies I was well aware of this former coffee making king which was dethroned in the 1970s thanks to the plastic auto-drip coffee revolution.   But what kind should I get?  Electric?  Stovetop?  Aluminum? Stainless steel? Glass?  How do I use one?  

I'd seen old commercials that would talk about a housewife's ability to make good coffee... but never quite understood this commentary, jokes about the wife's brewing abilities.  After all, the machine makes the coffee -- if you don't like the taste, just switch brands... why blame the wife?  It wasn't until I started using a stovetop percolator  that I realized it was very possible to make an awful pot of coffee - usually by over brewing it.

As I mentioned earlier I am not a coffee enthusiast, but have really come to look forward to my morning pot of miracle juice... that helps to keep me from killing my co-workers when I stumble into my office early in the morning.  There's something about the routine... the ritual of actually MAKING my morning coffee that I really love --- Turning the burner on -- measuring out the water for the pot - counting the table spoons of coarse (NOT fine!) ground coffee and waiting for that moment when the water starts to percolate in the glass knob... then watching the water getting darker as the coffee gets stronger.  It's like magic!!!

It surprised me how defensive and snobbish hard core coffee drinkers get about different coffee making methods. No matter what the topic is, if you are passionate about something, I guess  you're going to be very defensive of your ideas... Politics, Religion, Coffee.  It makes no difference.  When I was first learning to make coffee on the stove, I Googled "using a stovetop percolator" and found all sorts of snarky responses such as: There's no such thing as GOOD percolated coffee... and Step one, throw out the percolator.  Step two, but a Keurig.  Being a fan of all things vintage and retro - I plugged along with trial and error -- watching all sorts of youtube videos and learning all I could about the percolator.

Now I have become a wiz at making coffee in my stovetop percolator.  I feel just like Edith Bunker or Jessica Fletcher!!   After trying out many models and styles, I have settled on a neat vintage Farberware stainless steel model pictured here. It's from the 1950s and looks so cool.  I feel like a little kid as I wait for that moment the water starts to bubble and splash and love to hear the sound of it merrily perking away.  Yes, a percolator can make a very bitter cup of coffee... but if you know what you are doing, you'll have perfection in a cup!!

For all percolators, use COARSE ground coffee -- the pre-ground coffee in most stores is fine grind made for autodrop machines - which pass the water through the grounds once.  If you use this in a percolator - which passes water through the grounds multiple times - you'll end up with battery acid as it will extract WAY too much out of the beans.  You can buy whole bean coffee and either grind it at home or in the grocery store.

Keep the pot over high heat until the perking action starts -- once the water starts bubbling steadily, REDUCE the heat to low/simmer.... it won't take much to keep the perking action going.  If you have the heat turned up too high you will burn the coffee (which is where the poor housewife of yesteryear would get the blame).  Let it perk gently for 6-8 minutes on low heat until the desired strength is achieved (you can see the coffee getting darker through the glass knob on top of the pot to help determine its strength).  I personally don't like my coffee super strong, so six minutes is great for my taste -- but if you like high octane coffee.. let it brew longer.  After the coffee is done, I use a teapot warmer - a cast iron trivet with a tealight candle underneath - to keep the coffee pot warm while not on the stove. 

When done correctly, percolated coffee is delicious!!!  When making percolated coffee the right way, you'll get a smooth/rich cup of java.

For Christmas my siblings and I pitched in to buy my Dad yet another fancy Keurig coffee maker since his previous model died after two years of use.  My simple stainless steel Farberware stovetop percolator is still making amazing coffee after 60+ years... and barring me denting it or breaking the handle (which is entirely possible because I'm a klutz), it should be making many many more pots of wonderful coffee for years to come!