Friday, March 7, 2014

Of espressos and black coffee

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This is what I wore yesterday, all black, just how I like my coffee.


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And this is the old rusted tank in our backyard, which we used before to pump and store water. Don’t worry, it’s no longer in use. That is an actual tree stump on it, from which grew the branches and leaves of the balete I mentioned in an earlier post. (Trust me, there is a definite connection between this and the brewing of coffee.)


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But before that, my apologies for any confusion caused by the back-and-forth chronology of events in my recent Yardstick Coffee post – I’ll do a proper edit by and by. With better time management, I’ll be able to blog every night about the things that happened earlier in the day.


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What you see above is the orderly spread of ceramic cups, metal decanters, paper filters, and coffee drippers (Hario’s (?) V60, called thus because of the angle of the cone, and Clever’s dripper with a more dependable rectangular base) before Yvette (my fellow workshop student – we were only two last night) and I made a mess out of the table.


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Suffice to say, the exercises last night were very precise and exacting, though I would say geeky and fun (like a lab experiment with controls and variables). Here is a list of the factors that we varied: the coffee bean, the grind size, water temperature, brewing type (drippers then aeropress), steep time, The amount of beans ground was kept constant (ie ceteris paribus), also the ratio between water and bean (a Yardstick preference). The brewing type, on its part, led to other complications like style of pouring water, consequent agitation, pressure, etc that affect the overall flavor of the cup. Sounds too much? Don’t worry, I too was barely able to keep up.


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So this was me and Eric, the barista. We were Team C. Sylvette and Andre were Team A.


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The Clever dripper, which according to Andre is still widely in use. Clever because it has a mechanism inside it that allows you to steep coffee in water before it drains to the cup, not so clever because how you pour the water into it is still left to chance, or technique if you’re used to it.


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Interesting and a bit meta that Andre used the classroom analogy, with variables such as class size and time, to help explain the relationship between coffee and water. Because, of course, recalling college, I can remember all the different distractions that prevented me from “steeping” in the lectures. Which is not to say that learning, like making coffee, can’t be fun.


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In one word, “balance” is what’s important. (Shown here is the V60 beside the Aeropress.) I remember Andre saying that, even though there may be an ideal machine or method per bean, one can vary the other factors to arrive at the preferred cup.


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And (sorry, this is me going back-and-forth again), recalling college once again, I do remember that I had my own style of learning. Sometimes studying on my own and totally disregarding lectures worked, sometimes it didn’t. Anti-social that I was, I chose limited classmate interaction. There were also times that I wanted to taste the bitter pith of the subject – or reading more than what was required – because I was genuinely interested in the topic.


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Needless to say, though I prefer my coffee black (so I can taste the flavor most times lost to body), I have never been an espresso drinker. I don’t know, I just didn’t the idea of slurping everything in one go (even if the Americanos I ordered at cafés were just, indeed, espressos diluted in water). Maybe I’ll try it sometime, but now I can say that I want to see and smell my coffee steep.


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After all, how different am I from water through a press or a machine, as I am sunk deep into my books – or for that matter, life's lessons? I still hate the idea of Cliff Notes and speed reading.

And about that water tank earlier, it does matter whether I’m distilled or filtered, prissy/fastidious/hard-to-please, because then, nothing would stick.


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