Coffee Musings

Ever since we went to Italy a few years ago, I’ve longed for their wonderful coffee. Not just the espresso, but even the American-style coffee they serve at the hotels. What makes it so good?

Mostly, I suppose it’s the coffee itself. Unlike the extremely dark-roasted coffee usually marketed in the U.S. as “Italian Roast”, Italian coffee is much more lightly roasted. Many companies also include Robusta beans instead of using all Arabica beans.

But that isn’t the whole picture. I’ve purchased coffee from Illy and Lavazza, and the results at home were rather disappointing. I suppose the water makes a bit of a difference too, but I think that most likely it’s the equipment.

I started wondering how they make the American style coffee in the Italian hotels. They serve it at breakfast by the carafe, and I doubt someone is in the kitchen making dozens of servings of espresso to make carafe after carafe of Americanos. But maybe they are… I wish I had thought to ask about it while we were there.

Does anyone know?

I realize that no home coffeemaker of the traditional drip kind is going to compete with a commercial coffeemaker (drip or otherwise), and no matter how good the beans are, I’m not likely to get the kind of coffee I want from one of them. The water temperature isn’t hot enough, and the brewing period isn’t long enough. Paper filters remove the oils, and metal filters let a lot of sludge through.

I’ve tried Moka Pots, vacuum brewers (Yama), and pour-over brewers (Chemex). They make good coffee, but they’re a bit of a pain to use and/or clean, and there’s no way the hubby is going to make coffee if he has to use one of those. I’ve had French Press coffee, but I’ve never owned one. I wasn’t too keen on the filtering process, and I don’t like the muddy sludge in the coffee.

Then it occurred to me that on at least some of the cruise ships I’ve been on, they use large commercial coffeemaker urns that are evidently percolators. Hmmm. Percolators. My mother used one when I was growing up, but by the time I started drinking coffee, she had changed to Mr. Coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever had any home-made percolator coffee.

Percolators are a controversial item. Some people claim that they make the worst coffee, and others say it’s the best. But one of the articles I came across said that the main criticisms of percolators aren’t valid. Most critics say that percolators boil the coffee, which is evidently not true of electric percolators (the water is near-boiling, but does not actually need to boil in order to perk). Instead, the coffee is kept at in the optimal brewing temperature range at around 200F. (Besides, at Salt Lake City altitudes, the boiling point is 204F,  so even if it were boiling, it would be just barely within the optimum 195-205 brewing range.) The other main criticism is that the partially-brewed coffee is poured back over the grounds multiple times. A few people said that they couldn’t see how this was really any different from immersing the grounds for the same amount of time, as is done with a French Press.

Of course, there’s a lot of difference in specific equipment. For example, a home drip coffeemaker is probably not going to make coffee as well as a commercial one, and different brands of coffee makers will perform better than others.

And ultimately, it’s all a matter of personal taste. Some people like strong coffee, others weak. Some like the oils that are retained by brewing without paper filters, while others prefer the filtered coffee. We like what we like.

At any rate, in my quest to see if I could find a method for making coffee that suits me better than the drip machine, but which Larry is also willing to use, I decided it might be worth giving an electric percolator a try.

Tomorrow’s post will show you where that idea went.

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6 Responses to Coffee Musings

  1. margene says:

    That’s quite a quest! I’m quite happy with my move to tea only, but I’m interested in where your quest leads and in tasting your brew, too!

  2. Chris says:

    The suspense builds!

  3. Cookie says:

    Could you email the hotel and ask how they make their coffee? 😕

  4. Cookie says:

    ps… this is why I drink tea. :p

  5. jill says:

    Love my coffee. Best coffee I’ve had has been at Mother’s in Portland. Stumptown Coffee french pressed. They have a pretty sweet website. Can’t wait to hear more…

  6. Kitten says:

    I like my coffee black, bitter, and doctored heavily with flavored cream. Anyway, Rick used to tell me that percolated coffee (specifically, using his camping-set perc-er) was the best coffee ever, but that he was too impatient to wait for it to make every morning.

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