Sunday, March 13, 2011

Coffee on the cheap

I have friends who who are serious coffee gourmets. I mean, they have coffee makers that cost more than I spend on groceries in two weeks, multiple coffee grinders, special gadgets and carafes, and they never drink anything but coffee made from expensive gourmet freshly ground beans and distilled water. These are the people who keep the real coffee bars in business.

I understand their love of really good coffee, and I occasionally treat myself to a cup of one of those gourmet coffees. But I admit I don't know the difference between Sumatran and Brazilian (though I can find the countries on the map, more than most Americans can), nor is that kind of obsession in my budget. I buy the cheap brands on sale (I start watching for sales as soon as I open a canister). At 5:30 AM, my taste buds aren't awake enough to tell the difference anyway, and as a bonus, I get plastic canisters that I use for storage (there are currently at least 7 of these on my counter with everything from flour to split peas.)

But I don't just go cheap on the coffee. I make it cheap too. Years ago, a gourmet coffee friend recommended one of the cheap line of coffee makers as making decent coffee for the price range, and I bought one. That first one lasted about 3.5 years, which was a reasonable return for the price, though I would have preferred a model that held up a little longer. So I bought another one. The second one lasted about 1.5 years. I was pretty upset when this one gave out that fast, but I took a chance on a third one because at $25, it was one of the cheapest, and I had been told the other cheap ones didn't last either. The third one lasted less than a year, and at that point, I'd had enough.

The same friend had also told me about something called a French press coffee maker, and I had bought one for my older daughter to use to make small amounts of gourmet coffees (she is a foodie, btw). At the time, I thought it was a nice toy, but the drip coffee maker seemed a little safer and more convenient, largely because we didn't have a garbage disposal. But at this point, I went looking for one for myself along with a good whistling tea kettle. The French press cost a bit less than $20, and I don't remember how much the kettle was but probably around $15.

So, what is a French press? It's easier to describe how it works. You take the lid with rod and attached screen out, put coffee in the bottom of the carafe (it came with a scoop, I use around 2 scoops to get a really strong coffee). Boil water (the reason for the kettle). When it boils, pour it into the carafe part, pull the rod with the attached screen up to the top of the lid, and put it on. The rod should stay pulled up while the coffee steeps for about 5 minutes. Then slowly push the rod down, which will strain out the grinds. And pour. That's all there is to it.
Here's the Wikipedia article on them, with a couple of decent, though not great photos:
It's recommended that you use a coarser grind of coffee, but regular grind coffee seems to work fine for me. I've been using this press exclusively for over 2.5 years, and it's still in perfect shape. I may have to replace the screen at some point, but the rest of the pot is very durable, I may be using it for 10 or 15 years. Certainly a lot cheaper than $25+ every 10 months.

It has two minor possible drawbacks. It doesn't make a huge amount of coffee at a time. I get about 4 cups out of a pot, which is generally perfect for me, but that could be a drawback if you have several serious coffee drinkers. And I think it uses a bit more coffee per cup, but you don't have to buy paper filters either. Otherwise, it takes about the same length of time as the drip machines I've owned, and I think the coffee tastes better. It's probably as easy or easier to clean, especially if you have a garbage disposal. You do have to use the stove to heat water, but this could be a plus for a family with both coffee and tea drinkers. Heat up a kettle of water and make coffee and tea from the same kettle.

Oh, and if you camp, just think about how easy this is to take along...


Portia said...

The other drawback is that the French press has no way to keep the coffee warm. While I like the taste, much less bitter and more smooth, it cools off too fast! I've been thinking of going back and trying it again, maybe with a cozy on it!

Ami said...

Cheaper to just give up coffee... which, no matter how much sugar, milk, cream, chocolate, peppermint... name your additive... it still... Tastes. Like. Shit.

Dawnfire said...

Portia, a cozy would probably work, or put it in a thermos carafe (a good idea with the drip makers too, to save electricity). Another thing I like about the French press, no panic 2 hours later wondering if you turned the pot off.

LOL, Ami. You have your sodas, I'll have my coffee.