Sunday, July 27, 2008

French Press and Nostalgia

Every time I come back to Chicago, especially after traveling to sunny, pretty, pleasant-smelling locales, I feel a tremendous rush of relief. Oh, it's good to be home. On that first morning back, even the dour faces of Chicagoans on the El, their eyes skimming the ubiquitous insipid RedEye, move me nearly to tears.

Do I really love the city this much, or am I just glad to be getting back to my old habits, well-honed as they are over the years? Who knows, but I do miss them when I am gone. A few weeks ago, as I steered our rented Prius onto Stony Island Boulevard towards our stunning Skyway, I was anticipating a week of fun in the sun in North Carolina, to be sure, but also to a week of mornings filled with freeze-dried Taster's Choice.

On our way South, in a last-ditch effort to keep Taster's Choice at bay, we stopped at Murky Coffee outside Washington DC. Murky inhabits an entire two-story house in Arlington. It is ramshackle and sprawling, with open staff-only rooms filled with coffee equipment and bicycles in various states of assembly. It is one of those reverse stereotype situations - it could be a typical coffee house, except virtually no coffee house is anything like it.

The place was surprisingly laid back for button-down DC, and we had some lovely lattes, recharged our electronics, chased the rugrates around the place for a while. It was perhaps our desire to take a little bit of this last urban outpost into the backcountry with us that forced us to splurge. We bought a Barratza Maestro grinder and a Bodum Columbia press pot. I never believed in the French Press. Our attempts at home were not tasty. But this was quite different. In the morning, I unpacked the new machinery, set the grinder to 28, as per instructions given to me by the Murky people, threw a fistful of Kuta, and OMFG, or rather, voila - pure awesomeness, just like that.

Long story short, we are still on it, back home in Chicago. I love the simplicity of it. The one fancy machine you need is the grinder. You need a conical burr grinder, for an even grind. The pot is pretty much only there to get the grounds out of the way, which is somewhat optional. Our current recipe is as follows: 18 grams of coffee, 12 ounces of water, 4 minutes. One wrinkle is that after one minute, I open the pot and give it a quick swirl to have the grounds sink.

We are still experimenting with the formula, because at the end, we would like to serve it at Stella. It is different from good old drip, mostly because the pungent, earthy grounds are right there in the pot, and, to some degree, in the cup. Some of our customers will surely appreciate it.

So, it is one more thing to add to the post-modern gentleman's travel kit. With an iPhone, a Brompton and a press pot, you can circle the globe nostalgia-free. No need for a sword even, no matter what the Supreme Court says.

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