For years, I suffered from side effects of drinking coffee: sleep disturbance, stir craziness, headaches, burning pit of despair in my stomach. None of that does a body good but I loved coffee so much, I dealt with unpleasant conditions it created. After my doctor suggested cutting out caffeine last year so I could, you know, not feel terrible, I actually started to feel better... physically.
When I axed coffee from my routine, another unexpected side effect occurred: a burning pit of despair in my soul. Dramatic as that sounds, it is true nonetheless. Somehow not drinking coffee was worse than drinking coffee. Coffee was a small, simple pleasure that held my days together. When I didn’t have it, something always felt like it was missing. The big things help shape our lives -- but it is the small things that help shape our days. Both are equally important for a well lived life.
For a while, I switched to herbal tea. While it is certainly enjoyable, and satisfies cravings for hot beverages on cold days, let’s face it: it ain’t no substitute for coffee. Upon lamenting the loss of beloved coffee, the doc suggested trying decaf. I made the false assumption that decaf was subpar but as it turns out, it’s not. As it also turns out, I don’t drink coffee for the caffeine. I drink coffee because I love how it tastes. I love how it smells. I love how it starts my days, quietly, with its delightful hot nectar. Decaf satisfies all my coffee needs, without any burning or pits or despair.
Here’s something new I love about coffee: making it. In a coffee-shop-friendly city like Chicago, a well made cup o’ joe is highly accessible, especially if you have an extra thousand dollars a year burning a hole in your pocket. I don’t, nor can I justify the expense everyday, mostly because I’m a chef and I should be able to prepare my own damn coffee.
Except… I never learned how. Over the years, someone, be it a roommate, a coworker, or friend, usually made it for me. When I confessed my lack of coffee brewing skillz to Sandra, owner of Floriole Bakery, she offered up a home tutorial on pour over coffee (and she made me breakfast, so I totally scored). Because I like to make things with my hands, pour over seemed like the best option. I push enough buttons and engage with enough machines daily that I prefer coffee making to be manual.
Pour over coffee is a tactile experience. Boiling the water. Crushing the beans with a hand grinder. Setting up the mug, filter, and dripper. Blooming the grounds. Watching the black water foam up, listening as it drains through the dripper, leaving a ring of sludgy grounds clinging to the filter: it is one of my most cherished daily rituals. The process takes approximately 10 minutes, but it feels longer in the moment. Life can often seem like it is moving too fast, so I’m grateful for the time each day when things slow down on purpose.
As important as making time for making coffee is setting up a coffee station. Like a well-organized kitchen, it is stocked with all my coffee mise en place so I’m ready for prep each morning. Included: paper filters, hand grinder, pour over dripper, slow pour kettle, and decaf beans. I wholeheartedly endorse the purchase of quality beans. Life is too short to drink bad coffee. Some favorites include Box Car, Intelligentsia, and Blue Bottle, but use what you like. No judgement.
Lastly, I suggest not doing anything else* while making coffee. Be present and enjoy the small, simple pleasure of coffee time. (Read: put the damn phone/tablet/television/watch/laptop/media away.)
Guidelines for pour over coffee:
Bring water to a boil in a slow pour kettle. Turn it off and allow the water to settle for a minute. It is not advised to use a regular tea kettle because the water will splash and make a huge mess. Stop being stubborn and buy the special slow pour kettle. (I am not speaking to myself in the past here at all.)
Grind the beans to your preference. I use a Hario Mini Mill Slim hand grinder. Coffee grinding is more fun unplugged. I generally go for medium coarse, kind of like raw sugar or sea salt. If you like coffee stronger, grind it finer. If you like it weaker, grind it coarser. It takes time to figure out what you like. Enjoy the process of discovering your grind (heh heh).
There are plenty of science-based grounds to water measurements for the perfect brew but I don’t mess with that too much. On the Mini Mill, I grind the beans until the grounds fill the base just over the 1 cup mark, which is probably 2 tablespoons. I pour enough water so a standard mug is filled almost to the rim, which is probably about 8-10 ounces. These results are good enough for me.
Place the pour over dripper over your mug and a paper cone filter in the dripper. I use a basic V60 single cup dripper and the filters made for it because they are thinner and impart no papery taste.
Pour hot water from the kettle over the filter to wet it and warm the cup. Pour off the water in the cup before brewing coffee (or else, like me once, you’ll overflow watery coffee everywhere and have to start over.)
Add the grounds to the filter, and wet the coffee grounds with a little hot water. Try not to pour the water directly on the paper filter. I don’t know why you shouldn’t do this, but coffee expert people say not to, so obviously they must be right.
Wait 30 seconds before adding more water so the grounds can bloom (a fancy word for hydrate). Continue to gently pour water over the grounds in a circular motion. Pour enough water into the dripper to fill your mug almost to capacity and wait a couple minutes while the coffee brews and drips down into your mug.
Clean up your coffee station so you are ready for the next session and then enjoy your coffee!
If you can drink your coffee while not doing anything else (*see above for definition), extra bonus points. That said, sharing coffee time with people/animals you like is recommended.
Drinking coffee out of mugs that have great stories makes the experience more meaningful. I have two: 1) a porcelain mug from Black Bear Diner, where I ate before heading into the desert for Burning Man last year and 2) a slightly beat up enamelware cup used while camping in Yosemite, filled daily with instant brew while staring at Half Dome in morning light. Such great stories, remembered while making coffee.