Monday, 17 September 2012


I like coffee.
No, I love coffee.................ooh how I love my coffee.
For years whilst living in Britain and travelling a lot around the world I have tried and I have sampled many different coffees.........but..........I have never found my 'perfect' coffee.
I like it simple, black and strong and ever so slightly sweetened, too sweet it takes the flavour of the coffee away. After all, you can always add more sugar can't you, but it can never be taken away.
So? You'd think it would be easy to find the perfect coffee for such a simple recipe wouldn't you?


You couldn't be more wrong!

Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the large chain coffee outlets who serve things like 'double de-caff Sudanese fair trade fine ground low-fat caramel machismo' black stuff with a mountain of cream on top, but it isn't coffee is it? If that's what you like, great, but don't call it coffee.

And as for de-caffinated coffee? ..............................................WHY?

Nothing wrong with small marshmallows on the side either, but they should never be on top of cream on top of coffee, save that for children's hot chocolate!
The simple black coffees you get from most outlets too are either tasteless or too watery or too bitter, never a happy medium.

OK OK I know coffee is a personal thing, I know that we all have all our own tastes and our own preferences, just as we do in everything in life, but coffee, coffee is important.
It's what gets you going at the start of the day, it's what keeps you going during the longer days and longer nights of toil.
It lifts your spirits (Talking of spirits it can go down very well too with a Tuica chaser).
Stop it Steve....too early in the morning.
Coffee supports you, caresses you and at times keeps you sane, so it's important! Get it?

So, here am I, typical English businessman, occasionally travelling to various countries across Europe on business and for pleasure, and always trying the coffee. Some I tried wasn't too bad either, but only ever abroad, never in Britain, not until I started to see small cafes with the 'Illy' sign outside (No I don't work for Illy, this is not and advertisement). It was at these establishments that I started to find acceptable, but still not perfect, coffee, which was always a simple Espresso or Double Espresso with tiny bit of sugar.

So, many years ago I set out to make my perfect coffee at home, and of course, being typically British at the time, that meant buying some sort of machine to do the work for me. I tried them all. 
It started with that type of jug that had a plastic filter holder on top. Put the paper filter in, add a couple of spoon fulls of ground coffee from the plastic, conveniently re-sealable packaging that you bought it from the supermarket in, boil a kettle and then slowly pour the water over the coffee and watch it drip brown liquid into the nice clear pot. Then wait, until you can top the water up again without it spilling all over the work surface, and keep repeating this until you have a full which time the coffee is already cold.....and the wait wasn't worth it any way.
I know, things have moved on a lot since those early days and there are many more machines available, many more complicated and expensive machines.
I tried them all at one time or another, caffettiere's that when I put the amount of coffee I like into them, poured the boiling water into, and then pressed the plunger, the bottom would come off!! Too much pressure you!, as well as ramblings about coffee, but imagine the mess that had to be cleared up. It even happened to me in a restaurant one evening.....(at least i didn't have to do the cleaning :)
Expensive percolators that you would stand and watch bubble away for what seemed like hours before you could actually drink the was entertaining (I'm easily pleased!) but never, ever the perfect coffee.

Cartridge machines.......huh........they should all be shot.

'Instant' coffee? Quick, convenient way of making hot dark liquid from dried poo!!!

So many different machines, gadgets, aids, all in search of the perfect coffee.
It all culminated in me buying, about four years ago, a VERY expensive coffee machine from John Lewis's (No I don't work for them either! Not any more anyway). I won't say how much I spent, I'm too ashamed. It was one of those machines that you put the beans into the top of, put the water into a separate receptacle, and then just turn it on.
It filled the work surface in my kitchen so much that there was nowhere left to do any food preparation, but who cared, the perfect coffee was coming! Who needs food????
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!! It went, very loudly as it began to grind the beans. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!! it continued because I had set the dial to 'strong', which needs more beans, obviously, Duh!.
Bzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!, until finally, it stopped, then 'plop, plop, hisss, shhhhhhh, hiss, plop, plop' as the machine heated the water to make me, at last, that perfect coffee.
Imagine my delight the day I brought that machine home, this was it, it was going to be fantastic, at last my perfect coffee and here it was, doing the work for me. I watched and I watched fascinated by the chemical processes  that were occurring hidden away inside this machine. It even had a Thermos jug which would keep my coffee hot for me, and dream of dreams........a timer!........Hey! I could set this up at night, set the timer and then come down from my bed in the morning to a heavenly aroma (in my usual zombie-like state) and just pour my perfect, freshly ground, freshly brewed coffee.......................

.......'Heaven, I'm in Heaven, la-la-la-la......hmmmmmmm'.............thanks Frank, that's enough.

Eventually, the machine stopped making it's oh so promising noises.
My coffee was ready, at last, here it was, I savoured the moment.
Lifting the jug from it's plate I slowly poured the beautiful black nectar into glass cup that I had especially chosen so that I could see and marvel at the perfect colour.
 I filled the cup, then lifted it, slowly so that I could smell that beautiful aroma, mmmmmmm not bad.
I added just a tiny bit of sugar, and then lifted the cup to my lips. 
It wasn't bad, not bad at all, coffee it certainly was, but it was bitter, too bitter, and there was an unpleasant after taste too that I never did fully understand (no it wasn't oil in the machine I followed all of the instructions to get rid of it and even after many uses it never went away).
My heart sank to the cold tiles on the kitchen floor, the problem is that it was sooooo close, but still not perfect.
I persevered, oh how I persevered, for months and months I persevered. I played with the settings on the machine. I played with them so much I ended up having no idea of where they all  were (I found myself wishing that it had a 'restore factory defaults' button, but it didn't).
I bought different types of coffee bean, I blended beans myself, and the results weren't bad.
I tried everything, but never, ever achieved that perfect coffee. 

I remember reading a science fiction short story once, many years ago, about aliens who visited Earth and set about perfecting everything. One of the first things that they perfected was coffee.......they made coffee taste as good as it smells......that's the real secret isn't it?
That's what I wanted, but I resigned myself to the fact that I would never find it, after all, even though I live in Romania now I'm hardly likely to bump into an alien with a jug full of perfect coffee am I?.(Well actually, anything is possible in Romania, but even here this is pretty unlikely)

So, one day, here I am on another visit to Romania. Actually, the coffee here isn't at all bad in most cafe's, at least I kept telling myself that. Either my taste buds are getting old or I really have resigned myself to accepting what I am given and knowing, perhaps, that perfection doesn't exist, other than in my other 'alf, Alison, of course!!!!
It was she, she who should be worshipped in all things for what she has done, who finally delivered the perfect coffee to me.
We were in a supermarket together, and there hanging on display hooks were some red enamelled jugs, with pouring spouts and long metal handles. She picked one off of the shelf, pointed the price out to me, which was roughly the equivalent of 75 pence (remember that, it's important!) and put it into out trolley, I just looked, smiled, nodded compliantly.
A 75p supermarket Ibric
Then we went to the coffee shelves. Now coffee is popular in Romania, so the shelves are stacked with all sorts of different varieties of coffees, beans, instants, ground stuff, it's all there. I found myself looking at them and wishing I had brought my machine with me to be able to try some of the more expensive ones, but if I had bought it, it would have filled the boot of the car (who needs clothes anyway?)
Alison was searching too, but in a different part of the display. She held up a non-descript small brown bag and asked,

"Can you see one cheaper than this?"

Now as you might imagine from what has gone before that, 'cheap' has never been part of my thinking when I have been searching for the perfect coffee. I just looked at her bemused, and she just looked back at me with that little knowing smile on her face that she always uses when she is being patient with me, and when she knows something that I don't. We looked together, but couldn't find anything cheaper so it too went into the trolley and off we went to the check-out.

When we got home and unpacked our shopping Alison set about making us some coffee, I watched, fascinated by the process, but with no hope in my heart that what was about to be produced would be anything more than bearable, and only just about drinkable.
In went some heaped dessert spoons full of the brown powder from the bag, there was no careful measuring of quantities, it just went in until Alison thought there was enough. She then cheated a bit, pouring boiling water from the kettle over it rather than just relying on cold water from the tap, because this would have taken longer. Either she was impatient to see the look on my face when I drank it, or she just knew I have no patience at all and I was thirsty. Either way it seemed to me to be a haphazard way of doing things, this was supposed to be coffee after all, a thing of beauty, a blessed thing that has to be treated with care and reverence, and not just thrown into a cheap pot and have boiling water poured over it!!
Then she placed the pot onto the gas ring and started to heat it. It got warm very quickly, and this is where real care has to be taken, because as it gets hot it rises very quickly to the top of the jug and if it boils over it makes a horrible mess of the hob (I learnt this one from bitter experience). She lifted the jug until it cooled a little and the boiling ferment inside calmed down, then placed it back onto the heat. Slowly but surely, and with repeated liftings and lowerings the brown scum on top disappeared and clear, glossy brown liquid appeared. the aroma was delicious, and my mouth began to water it smelt so good. I still had no hopes for it though, after all, a 75p pot and coffee that had cost around 50p? What could it do.
After juts a couple of minutes Alison declared the coffee ready and turned to put just a little cold water from the tap into the pot (apparently this helps the grounds to settle more quickly).
She placed the pot onto a place mat on the table, then went to get cups and some sugar.
We sat and we waited for just a minute or two, and all the while she had that knowing smile upon her face.
Then she poured the coffee, carefully,slowly,  it flowed easily from the pot so she wanted to be careful that the coffee grounds stayed in the bottom. Once poured, she added just a little sugar (she knows me so well folks) and handed a cup to me.
I tasted it........................................I tasted it........................................I tasted it.................................... I simply couldn't believe what my taste buds were telling me last................perfect coffee.
But how could this be possible, a 75p pot? A 50p bag of coffee?? 
It was just impossible wasn't it???
It only took a few minutes to make???? 
After all of the hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds that I had spent over the years, £1.25 had been spent producing a whole pot of perfection. This was more than one small coffee would cost in London, so it was impossible wasn't it?
Wasn't it? I tasted again, and it was true, perfection passed between my lips, over my tongue, down my throat and into my stomach and just kept on going down.
I had finally found coffee heaven, and I had Alison to thank, just as I have so many other things to thank her for.

There's an obvious moral to this story isn't there? Finding perfection isn't about the amount of money that you spend.
I have analysed it, and we still search for the cheapest coffee we can find whenever we shop, and no matter what it is, it always produces that perfect coffee. So it must be the fact that the coffee is boiled, none of the machines I tried ever really boiled the coffee, but it must be this that removes the worst of the bitterness and brings out the full flavour of the coffee.

That's got to be the answer hasn't it?............................Or is it possible?..................even faintly possible?.........................That (drum roll.......wish i could insert 'The Outer Limits' theme music at this point)..................could it be that Alison is actually one of those aliens from the short story?



  1. Hi Steve, Romanian living in the UK here. Very nice to read your description of your coffee experience in RO. It made me homesick...

    Strangely enough, I've yet to see any of those long-handled devices ("ibric" in their native tongue) on the supermarket shelves here, I think I might have to get my mum to send me one. It surprises me how almost nobody here knows about this coffee-making method, as it's ubiquitous at home (having said that, my parents seem to have caved in and bought one of those buzz-splish noisy machine types and I've got to say it does deliver...)

  2. Hi Edith. Thanks for your comments. It's amazing the little things that you see sometimes that do make you a little homesick isn't it? I agree too that those buzz-splish (love that description) machines can make a passable cup of coffee but there is still nothing as satisfying as that Ibric is there? watching over it, making sure it doesn't boil over, making sure it boils 3 times, and then letting it rest for just a few minutes before you get to taste that perfect coffee. :)Steve


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