Friday, December 5, 2014

Hacking Coffee

copyright WJ Kowalski, 2014
Hmm, where do I start? A number of years ago I was at Coffee Fest, the international coffee and tea show in Seattle. I wholesale tea, among other things, so I was checking out what was available. Among the cool tech on display was the newly invented Clover, an $11,000 single-cup-of-coffee machine. It made great coffee! But no matter how much tech it included, I wasn't even going to try to sell my wife on the idea that it was a necessity.

Fortunately, an aisle or two over, Alan Adler, inventor of the Aerobie (flying ring for sports) was demonstrating his new Aeropress for making coffee. It was about $25-30, and it too made great coffee - in my opinion, maybe even better than the Clover. I bought a case of his devices (and more afterwards) and shared a great deal on this rig for making excellent coffee with friends, family, and co-workers. Both devices were invented in 2005, so this was probably 2005, but no later than 2006.

Single-serve coffee machines have come to dominate many home counters - the Senseo, the Keurig, the Tassimo, the Nespresso, and others. All offer convenience, but at a price of relatively high cost per cup and not the best coffee.

Fast forward to 2014, and the Kowalskis in Indonesia. I still have my original Aeropress, along with a hand grinder, the Hario Slim. It still makes great coffee, but it's not practical for serving a large group, or so I thought. I wanted (reluctantly - I hate serving coffee that's not incredible) a Nespresso, but they're not yet available in Indonesia in the retail market, they're expensive to buy and to feed - about $0.70/cup for the capsules, and arguably a good regular cup takes a couple of capsules. But if we're having people over, what other game was there? The other similar options offered no improvement in price and were lower in quality.

So I began to ponder doing something with the Aeropress, using it to produce coffee concentrate. I found a number of articles, and settled on this procedure by Marco Arment to make super-concentrated iced coffee or hot, as needed. We're on the island of Java, and Kopi Aroma here in Bandung makes terrific coffee, arabica as well as robusta. It costs under $2 for 250 grams, a bit more than half a pound. That'll produce enough concentrate for 20-25 excellent cups of coffee. I can make the concentrate in advance (it'll keep for a couple weeks in the fridge). I buy ground coffee at the factory, ground just before I walk out the door, and prepare the concentrate right away. When it's time to serve company, the jug comes out, along with our super-fast Kamjove induction kettle, sweetened condensed milk, milk, sugar, and cups. For the purists who demand their coffee straight, that option is of course there. But I find that a lot of Indonesians enjoy a bit of coffee with their sweetener, and the condensed milk is pretty popular. 

Oh yes, see that photo up top? I just made myself a cup of iced concentrated coffee, except it needed no ice. There's a story behind that cute little cup, which is an espresso cup and saucer set from Indo Porcelain (we were able to get our dishes at wholesale from the maker, in Jakarta). I offer folks the option of the cold concentrate, straight or with additives, or I'll put a jigger (an ounce to ounce and a half) of concentrate in a regular cup, add really hot water, and you have instant coffee that does not inhale sharply (suck).  In fact, it's smooth, delicious, and not even the slightest bit bitter.  This coffee has produced nothing but raves. I'm afraid I may have induced some folks to be rather more addicted.

That square on the saucer? Just the best cookie/squares ever - something my darling wife concocted. Maybe I can talk her into sharing the recipe. And for those who believe that this has not enough tech to fit this blog, let me point out that without coffee (or Mountain Dew or the like), precious little programming would get done. It's fuel, baby!