Updated: May 21, 2018
Coffee is a ritual of its own in Europe. From a morning pick me up to the end of evening meal. Below is my take on how the Europeans drink, prepare, and accent their coffee.
Although the Starbucks of the world are starting to inflitrate the continent a deeper coffee tradition is keeping them from popping up on every corner.
“Coffee: a liquid hug for your brain.”
It all starts with the beans. Large coffee houses and I have a big issue with this first step. The source is important yes. But the roasting process is equally so. When roasting beans you have a delicate balance between too little (in which case the coffee will taste acidic) and too much (in which the coffee will taste burnt). In my opinion the large coffee houses always taste one of these two. Usually burnt. This is because the bean freshness will be extended if you over roast the beans. Spend some time looking at local roaster and perhaps even engage in a conversation with them about your preferences. Trader Joe's has a broad selection and they are of course willing to let you taste ANYTHING. Don't be shy life is too short to drink bad coffee.
Coffee Preparation- French/Aero Press
I know this may be overkill but I have 5 ways of making coffee. My favorite for straight coffee is a French press. I own both a Bodum and a Le Creuset. I love them both. The Le Creuset is great because its signature heavy stoneware keeps the coffee warm a bit longer. To make coffee in a French press. Simply boil water (slightly under boiling 190-200 degrees F will do), scoop the amount of grounds you want into the bottom of the press (rule of thumb is 1 table spoon per two cups water), pour the hot water in, and then stir vigorously with a wooden chopstick. Wait between 5-6 minutes for coffee to brew. Pour and enjoy. Aeropress coffee is a similar experience and is designed for a one cup wonder experience.
Coffee Preparation- Drip coffee
I do have drip coffee maker. But unless large numbers of guests are over this generally stays in the cupboard. There are some amazing health benefits attributed to drip coffee and I believe this is the most commonly used method in the United States. You can set a timer and walk away. For me the French press just tastes richer.
Coffee Preparation- Espresso and Cappuccino
Before I go any further I must have a discussion with all American baristas. A cappuccino by definition is equal parts espresso, milk, and foam. If one more person ask me if I want a 12oz or 16oz cappuccino I may cry right there. If one shot of espresso is one oz how can my cappuccino be 12oz or 16oz? I would have to be getting 4+ shots of espresso to have that math work out. I know what you are thinking...order it dry. But even then I am sometimes met with the deer in a headlight look. 1 Shot of espresso, 1 shot (oz) of milk, 1 oz of foam. Done.
Now that we have that clear on to how I do mine at home when the thought of having the above discussion with one more coffee house has me running back home. I have a Breville Barista. They are expensive. However they grind the beans fresh, and have a perfectly executed route to make truly amazing espresso and cappuccino complete with milk frothier. If you can invest in one they will last a very long time and you may become your friend’s new favorite coffee shop.
I also have a Nespresso machine. The coffee is good and it is a fast and easy way to make your espresso dreams a reality. Nespresso is known not only for picking great spokes people (a la George Clooney) but for dedication to quality and freshness. That is why you can't officially order the pods off amazon or in other large box retailers. They want quality control. A very German thought for the Italians. But a great deal at 40 to 80 cents a pod. One affordable way to get good espresso.
Finishing Touches- A European Tradition
After the perfect coffee is poured it is time for finishing touches. In Germany they dust the top with a bit of unsweetened cocoa powder. In France they have a combination of spices which can include clove, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and sometimes a hint of pepper corns. This elevates the coffee to the next level of amazing. No sugar needed.
A Final Note
Upon moving to the United States I encountered one of the most puzzling juxtapositions of my life. I was in a store and saw the label "fat-free half and half". I could not understand this. Fat-free half and half? What was the other half if not fat? How was this achieved? Sugar. They took out the fat (which is the FLAVOR) and put in sugar. I cracked up right there in the dairy isle. #thingsyouwontfindineurope
My advice. Use real milk. Full fat amazingly rich and creamy milk. If you have a lactose problem I completely understand. But if not skip the sugar infused creamers and skim milk (aka water) and just use milk. It will taste better. You won't want to add sugar because the flavor will be so rich.
Now get to brewing!