Once upon a time the only coffee making machine was 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. Not quite a coffee maker but the beginning of better coffee
brewer methods to come.
Then in the 1970s, as with so many things, life changed forever. The drip method of coffee making which was
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 pot.
Later came pre-packaged coffee 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, the espresso coffee maker 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 chamber.
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 and 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.