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Legit Coffee

The quest for enlightenment through coffee.

Author Archives: marcusdcollinsphd

MarcusA while back, I promised some explication on how to get decent espresso at home. Now, the cafe is a wonderful thing, and I do think that what you pay for isn’t the coffee, it’s the place. If you’re going to have some coffee at home over breakfast, or in the car, you can make your own espresso and do quite well.

And, it is pretty hard to beat cuddling your cats, sipping espresso, listening to NPR while the sun streams in on a lazy morning.

I’ll assume you’ll be buying a good quality burr grinder and an espresso machine with a pump capable of reaching at least 10 bar of pressure.

STEP ONE: what do you want to drink?
You need, even before you go buy a serious machine, to decide what you’re going to drink. Straight espresso? Americano? Latte? This decides whether you want a double boiler or not. If you plan on foaming milk a lot, don’t screw around, pony up for a machine with separate boilers for your espresso and your steam. But also see below about foaming… It is not a trivial business.

STEP TWO: your beans matter a little less than you think they do.
While it is true that the start of good coffee is a good roast, there are so many ways to screw up, and so much personality that goes into making espresso, that you will really need to find a bean that works for you, your grinder, and your machine. To give you a sense, we have found at home that the Costco branded Starbucks espresso roast does almost as well as many primo roasts (Zoka Paladino, SCW’s Best, Gimme Leftist). Why? Because you don’t have a $5000 machine, grinder, and the time to get things perfect. That said, you can still get a fine, rich, chocolatey cup every time.

Lesson: experiment! Be brave!

STEP THREE: Figure out your grind.
There is a whole literature out there on how to do this. Common rules are that the pressure should be 9 bar or that a shot should come out in 20 seconds. Forget all that. What you want is to have a medium brown foam flowing into your cup. This depends mostly on your grind and how hard you tamp. Practice tamping: get a bunch of coffee ground, and mass or measure out equal amounts of coffee. Practice tamping until you can get consistent packing, as measured by the height of the puck in your portafilter. Now start playing with both the tamp and the grind until you find chocolate heaven. You can narrow in by trying one tamp with several grinds, then picking the best grind, and adjusting your tamp. Repeat until you perfect it!

Next time: beyond the ristretto! Milk!


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MarcusAt long last I made it to the Victrola on 15th Ave on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. It is shocking, really, that I hadn’t been there before. I’ve been drinking coffee in Seattle for almost twenty years, and I’ve even been to bars on 15th, I’ve been by tons of times.

So, when Monica (also of our Legit team) texted to see if I was up, I knew at last I’d go. My first advice: take the bus. Parking sucks here. But the bus is much more with the cafe ethic anyway.

The place is hopping. I have to say that for such a busy, well known shop, quite a few people were solo at their four person tables. I prefer the shared space attitudes one finds at Zoka or Fiore (which I’ll review soon.). But after getting our orders in Monica and I found a table and embarked. And everything she recently wrote on atmosphere totally applies.

First: the latte. Damn. For years, Vivace was the standard in Seattle, far and away the coolest and highest quality shop around. This was easily on par. This is almost certainly in part due to the Guatemalan single origin espresso, which was so remarkable that drink two had to be a macchiato. It is smooth, dark, I found it to taste a bit like pound cake, if one can imagine that. Like it melted in your mouth, but while a little sweet it wasn’t exactly chocolate. Just go have it.

The art: quite good. Standard rosettes for me, Monica got some fancier stuff. Foam was remarkably smooth to both the tongue and the eye. Even the best sometimes have some bubblies, but not today. This probably contributed to the pound cake feel. Fantastic.

The food: we have to eat, and they have some fine, simple eats. I had baguette with ham and Brie, and a tasty biscotti.

Atmosphere: people watching here is fun, as it is all over Cap Hill. All sorts of people converge here, and it had the feel that made Seattle great in the 90s (the dream of the nineties is alive in… Seattle?). People in jeans and flannel, people in suits with bowties and suspenders, piercings, whatever, and everyone is chatting.

I’ve long been a Zoka partisan, largely for their spectacular and very consistent cappuccino. Another few trips here, and I may switch allegiances.

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MarcusWith today being (Inter)National Coffee Day, the likes of this guy will be offering you free coffee.

For the love of all things, please don’t do it. There is good coffee to be had, at your local cafe. Mine is the University branch of Zoka Coffee, or the Cafe Ladro in Issaquah, depending on where I happen to be.

Why go to a cafe? Indeed, why go anywhere for your coffee when you can make it at home? Because of the people. You could sit at home, or have some lousy hot brown water and a lousy, bad for you doughnut, but spare the doughnut and your heart, have a good cup of coffee to start your morning in a relaxing way, and at least say hi to your neighbors, if not actually get to know them better.

Coffee is about community. So go have a great International Coffee Day!

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MarcusThese people are super. If you are serious about home espresso, start here. Lots of good videos and advice. Also check out upcoming posts on #homebrew.

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MarcusAs Val Kilmer once said, in a movie of course, there are a lot of decaffeinated brands out there that are just as good as the real thing. As we set out on our mission, there came the news that, according to some schmuck, Seattle was beat out as most caffeinated city in the USA. by NYC and Chicago, apparently on the basis that they spend more for coffee. Without getting into whether that is a good measure of caffeination, I wondered, is decaf so bad?

I don’t think so. It used to be that caffeine was removed with methylene chloride (yes, that methylene chloride) which removed a lot more than caffeine and your soul. It also used to be that Americans drank mostly robusta beans, not the superior arabica. So all the coffee was @!?$! back then. Now, we have better beans and don’t use toxic organic solvents to decaffeinate.

So, is Seattle the most caffeinated city? I hope not. These days, good crema can be had 24/7 without fear of insomnia. That means we get to have our favorite dose of soothing warmth, smooth texture, and, yes, notes of chocolate and blackberry as the sun goes down, enjoying the real purpose of coffee: to heighten the senses, remind us of good people and times, and sooth our souls.

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