Coffee (in isolation)

For some, coffee is what gets them up in the morning. I cannot deny the smell of coffee first thing in the morning is one of the most motivating of aromas. To raise it to a level of the sublime, have coffee perked outdoors over an open fire. Now that conjures up images of days gone by when I was flexible and energetic enough to bend myself into a tent, roll out of a sleeping bag, walk 250m to find a washroom, chop wood, light a fire, walk 250m to find a water spigot, fiddle with a blackened aluminum coffee pot, and wait ever so impatiently for the first burbles of coffee. Follow that up by sizzling bacon outdoors…. oh my…..

My coffee drinking career started early, perhaps grade 9 or 10, around about the same time I took up smoking. Both were done because it was cool and I wanted to impress my friends. Then the addiction took hold and both smoking and coffee drinking became automatic and joyless, but both begat social behaviour which was pleasant.

I have memories of sitting at the dining room table with my Mom, every morning, smoking our cigarettes, drinking our coffee (made in a counter top coffee maker, using a coffee like Nabob or Edwards or Maxwell House), taking about the news and what we had planned for the day ahead. It’s just what was done.

When I started working, coffee was also a given. Bunn-O-Matics in the staff kitchen, the smell of burned coffee thick in the air, overflowing ashtrays. I had coffee at home, I had coffee on my way to work, I had coffee beside me all day while I worked. Every breath I took had either a drag of a cigarette, or a sip of coffee in between.

Zoom forward some 25 years, and suddenly I start having these things called supra-ventricular tachycardia (SVT). Out of the blue, my heart would start beating out of control. Pulse would get upwards of 170 beats per minute (I know this because I ended up in hospital twice with it).

Although it is a ridiculously scary thing to happen, and a ridiculously easy way to get your heart pumping, this is not what fitness gurus recommend you do to get your heart rate up.

To stop this from happening, I was instructed to eliminate coffee and caffeine. Did I? Of course not. I had long ago ditched smoking, but coffee was here to stay. So I tried decaffeinated coffee.

A slight pause here. As I aged, my appreciation for coffee, much like the rest of our North American culture became snobbish and particular. I had beans delivered from roasters in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. I invested in a burr grinder. I was gifted a lovely Hario dripper (the beautiful cousin of the Melitta plastic pour over cone and five times the cost). I would go out for coffee with friends. I’d drink coffee after dinner.

It was all very pretentious and whoop-de-do and completely ignored the financial advice of the likes of Gale Vaz-Oxlade and Rob Carrick. I could have probably bought a condo in Canmore with all the money I spent on coffee and coffee paraphernalia.

Back to decaffeinated coffee. I bought a bag of this from my local roaster, and, well, when it’s ground in a burr grinder something mystical happens. It becomes statically charged and coffee grounds end up e v e r y w h e r e. I thought perhaps it had something to do with that particular bean, so I tried a different company’s decaf bean. Same thing. Static! I don’t know about you, but when I’m around static electricity, it makes me irritable. Add that to a morning pre-coffee, knowing there is no jolt of caffeine, it makes for one miserable Cathy. So I switched to tea.

The caffeine in tea didn’t make my heart race, so I took up tea with the same zeal as I had with coffee. I needed the best tea, the best kettle, the best pot. I settled on tea bags and a mug, and use tap water boiled in our mineral crusted kettle. I started to become practical. I also had a procedure done where a heart surgeon “tinkered with the electrics” in my heart, and got rid of the SVT episodes.

Overtime, I started introducing coffee again with a decaf coffee in the afternoon bought at a food court coffee chain store. Then it became a half-decaf half-regular coffee. Then it became full strength. The afternoon coffee break at work became, well, a time and space to not only enjoy the company of coworkers, but also a time I looked forward to enjoy my old friend, coffee. On weekends, Michael and I fell into the routine of running our errands, then stopping in at our favourite coffee shop to enjoy a coffee and solve a sudoku puzzle together. We also met up with family and friends at this time, making it a nice opportunity to catch up.

Then Covid-19 happens, and this brings us to the purpose of this post. I start working from home full time. It took me a good two weeks to find my groove. But what was missing? My afternoon coffee. I dug out my old and beautiful Hario pour over, and that solved the immediate problem. I toyed with the idea of getting a Nespresso machine, hoping it would also come with George Clooney. What did happen was images of a frustrated Greta Thunberg.

So, although housebound, and no longer buying a daily afternoon coffee, that money saved was burning a hole in my pocket. There was one machine I had not yet tried for home brewed coffee, and that was the moka pot.

The Bialetti Moka Express

I have seen it used, and had delicious coffee results. In fact, it was the inspiration of the Spiced Coffee blog I wrote about back in 2010. This type of coffee maker always conjured up images of steam hissing, followed by a devastating explosion. I’m not a fan of explosions, so never invested in one. However, something about being stuck in an apartment by myself for 8 hours a day made me brave. I went to the Italian Centre Shop, bought myself a 6-cup Bialetti Moka Express and stepped into the adventure of stove-top coffee, the Italian way.

Not too full and don’t tamp

First, I watched dozens of videos about the “right way” to use the moka pot. Instructions were as varied as is there is stars in the sky. I settled on the instructions that came with the Bialetti, meaning, using cold water, filling it to the steam escape valve, grinding the beans between fine and espresso, not using too many grounds, not tamping it down, and putting it on the stove and allow it to do its thing over medium heat.

The moka pot makes a lovely gurgling sound to announce when it is ready.

I became brave when I learned that the pressure in a moka pot does not reach anywhere near the level of a coffee shop espresso maker. Nor does it make espresso. Moka pot coffee is between espresso and drip. The people at Bialetti will encourage you to use it like espresso though, and helpfully give you the proportions to make cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites, etc. I settled on filling my coffee mug a quarter full of milk, and heating that up in the microwave. When the coffee is done, fill the mug to the brim and stir. Right now, I will say this is the Most Delicious Coffee I have had. It’s not fancy, but it’s good. And what makes it better? Although working in isolation from my workmates, we now set up regular 2 pm phone calls and catch up.

Coffee time!

Are you still with me? Here’s a post-script. I was going to post this as a separate entry, but will slip it in here. COVID-19 also started a social media craze for Dalgona Coffee. Of course I had to try it. To make it, mix in a bowl:

2 tbsp instant coffee
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp hot water

Whip this until it turns into a beautiful, glossy, froth. Put it on top of cold milk.

Dalgona Coffee

I had two of these in a row. Thirty minutes later my brain started to throb. I had to lay down because the room began to spin. This Dalgona coffee nearly did me in. It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong, but way too much caffeine for me.

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