Here in the US, most people treat coffee as a commodity. We drink it on the go, whether quickly making it ourselves in the morning before rushing out the door, travel mug in hand, or hitting Starbucks or Peet’s to have jittery baristas prepare it in true assembly-line fashion that keeps the long lines moving.
In other parts of the world, though, coffee is not something you drink out of a paper cup while walking or driving or even working. It is something you sit down — and slow down –to properly savor and enjoy.
Especially in Europe, the ritual of appreciating fine coffee is reason in and of itself to linger for hours in a café (rather than free Wi-Fi). For them, coffee represents a respite from a busy day rather than the fuel for one.
That whole slow-joe philosophy starts with the attention and care that typically go into roasting, grinding and brewing European coffees, and it is something you can taste in every cup.
What got me thinking about all this was that Corey sent me a bag of the new Kenyan organic whole bean coffee that Golden Gate Organics is offering from Sunrise Coffee Roasters in San Leandro.
The folks at Sunrise buy green coffee beans from all around the world and create unique blends for each client, roasting each batch to order for individual customers (like GGO!). Their roasting machine handles about 400 pounds per hour, a very small batch compared to the typical industrial roaster that roasts ten times that much per hour.
One sniff of the Sunrise Kenyan and it was clear to me that these folks are giving their beans a lot of love and attention to make them special, so I wanted to put as much care into preparing their coffee as they put into crafting it.
I started by grinding the beans in an old-school Italian burr grinder and was going to use a Melita cone to do a pour-over, but that’s how I usually make my coffee and it didn’t seem very special at all. Instead, I decided to break out my grandma’s 1947 Pyrex vacuum brewer, which I’d only used once before.
Looking like something out a high-school science lab, the clear glass contraption actually consists of two pots, one sitting on top of the other. The center of the top pot has a glass tube (the siphon) that extends down nearly to the bottom of the lower one, and the two pots stack snugly together with a gasket.
You insert a nifty glass rod into the siphon hole in the top pot to act as a filter, and then add the grounds on top of that. The bottom pot is filled with water and the whole mad science apparatus gets set on the stove to boil.
According to Wikipedia’s explanation of the physics involved, “as the water heats, it is forced by the increasing vapor pressure up the siphon and into the bowl where it mixes with the grounds. When all the water possible has been forced into the bowl the infusion is allowed to sit for some time before the brewer is removed from the heat. As the water vapor in the lower pot cools, it contracts, forming a partial vacuum and drawing the coffee down through the filter.”
Translation: When it boils, most of the water gets sucked from the bottom pot into the upper one, where it then boils with the grounds. When you turn it off and let it sit for a bit, the coffee goes back down into the lower pot and the grounds stay behind up top.
My gram’s antique vacuum pot was just the right thing to bring this artisan-roasted Kenyan from Sunrise to life. The result was a wonderful pot of coffee with a mellow and nutty flavor and surprisingly few grounds or sediment at the bottom.
It took me the better part of an hour to drink my cup out on my sunlit deck, doing nothing but listening to the birds and slowly savoring every sip.
There’s just no way commodity coffee in a paper cup can even come close.