Sunday, October 16, 2011

"I'm Just a Moka Pot Kind of Guy" - Guest Post

This is a guest post by Metro Espresso reader Michael, you can read his blog at  If you would like to be a guest contributor to Metro Espresso, please email me at Duderino102 *at*

My new coffee pots. The Moka Coffee Pot was first patented by Luigi De Ponti, an Italian inventor, for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933.

A moka pot is a type of coffee maker ubiquitous in Italy, but not very popular in the U.S.. Mostly called a macchinetta (little machine) by Italians, this stovetop device makes a very strong brew somewhat akin to espresso. A moka pot works by the same principle as an espresso machine - pressure builds up to push water through a compact "puck" of coffee - the resulting coffee has its own distinctive qualities.

A few months ago I purchased my first moka pot. It's a nice 6 cup size that I found at Marshall's on clearance for $7.50. For an aluminum pot the casting and finishing is very good. It says "Hotel Diamond Collection" on a band around the middle. It took me a little practice to make good coffee with it, but now I know how to control the heat at the end of brew so I don't have it spitting clear boiling water (and ruining it). Aside from the need to maintain a patina of coffee residue in the upper chamber, the big drawback from aluminum pots is the deterioration of the surface of the inside of the lower chamber because it's so hard to keep it dry. Many of the knock-off Bialetti types have really rough casting pits in the bottom chamber. The major benefit of the stainless pots is that they don't get so cruddy from moisture left in them between uses. It probably makes sense to get an aluminum pot if you know you're going to use it every day. They are so much cheaper. But if the pot will see more infrequent use, then it would be better to spring for a stainless model.

A couple of weeks ago I found a vintage stainless Guido Bergna 6 cup pot on ebay that I scooped up for $13.25 (+ $6.70 s&h). One of the photos of the pot on ebay gave the impression that there was serious heat-related damage to the bottom. But when I received the item it was actually in pristine condition, and a little Barkeepers Friend polished it up like new. What a find! This pot also makes good coffee. On this pot, since there is only one little opening on the stem for the coffee to exit, it is important that I turn the pot around so I can watch the progress as the coffee dribbles out.

There was a time (almost twenty years ago) that I routinely roasted my own green coffee beans. I used an old hot-air popcorn popper, and rigged up an exhaust fan system to cool the beans, and vent most of the smoke. I did my coffee roasting in my woodworking workshop so that the acrid smoke wouldn't stink up our home. In recent years I have been able to get freshly roasted coffee so I haven't bothered roasting.

My stomach is pretty sensitive to stale coffee. I can tell immediately that I'm drinking canned coffee; it begins to burn even as I drink it. There is a kind of dull thud that lets me know I better get out the Rolaids. Coffee that's been roasted within a couple of weeks doesn't bother me at all. And good freshly brewed coffee from say, Costa Rican beans roasted in the past couple of days, almost "rings a bell" as it goes down.

Now that I have the moka pots I've begun roasting again. I have a small Precision brand roaster, which I take out on the back porch. Mostly I roast just enough to carry me through to when I can buy more freshly roasted coffee. Back in the days when I was roasting coffee in my hot-air popper, I had a Gran Gaggia espresso machine. This was a pretty low end device, and it took forever to produce even a couple of espresso drinks of middling quality. Right now I am quite satisfied with my moka pot coffee. My wife drinks her coffee black also, but she prefers drip coffee. She finds the coffee from a moka pot too strong. It works out fine actually. I have one moka pot at my office and the other at home. A 6 cup moka pot really only produces one big U.S. mug-full anyway. So, in the morning I make coffee for myself in my pot, and my wife has auto-drip for herself.

Espresso Snob
Some people - usually espresso snobs - turn their noses up at moka pot coffee. I have developed a taste for it; mostly because I can't afford good espresso. Decent home espresso machines cost over 600 dollars, with commercial models costing over 10K. These machines easily maintain a constant pressure of 9 bars (or nine times earth's atmosphere) during the twenty-five seconds it takes to "pull" a shot of espresso. In order to pay for the machine, good quality coffee, and a competent barista, coffee bars need to charge upwards of $3 for a demitasse of espresso.

A good cup of espresso is covered with a light brown layer of emulsified oils called "crema." This is a feature of true espresso that can't be produced by any other brewing method. Now, I like good espresso. I really do. But it's not something I can have on a daily basis. First of all, it costs too much. A single shot isn't enough for me, so I want a double. That's going to cost $5 easy. Instead, almost all of the time I order a cup of auto-drip house blend. And I often have a grilled muffin with it. That's going to run me something like $6. I've decided to cut way down on going out for coffee, and instead enjoy moka pot coffee, and without the muffins!

In the past, when in an expansive mood I'd impulsively order an espresso. That is, if I'm sitting in a real coffee house with a busy barista, and I can see the shots he's pulling. Even so, I've been disappointed. I never have espresso in a restaurant. There are just too many things that go into making good espresso: The expensive espresso machine. The freshly roasted coffee. The heavy conical burr grinder adjusted properly. The correct amount of coffee tamped down and "polished" with the right amount of pressure. And on and on.

The whole thing is more like fine wine. I appreciate the cultivation of a high level of connoisseurship, but at a certain point I just throw up my hands and say it's not worth all the trouble and expense. I'm just a moka pot kind of guy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Peeping Tom in DC Starbucks

According to the Mail Online, one of the numerous Starbucks (7th street and Pennsylvania) has a peeping tom.  Apparently, the perpetrator has not been identified and hasn't been narrowed down to either an perverted employee or a perverted caffeinated patron.   The indecent occurred in September.  

Oddly, the article on the Mail Online's website shows a picture of a video camera stating  "The camera that a five-year-old girl found in a D.C. Starbucks was smaller than this video camera, and fashioned to a sink pipe."  AKA, we have no idea what the camera looked like, but it was probably smaller than this outdated camcorder from 5 years ago.  Also the Mail used a horrendous pun, "Not So Grande: A Girl in D.C. found a hidden camera in the toilet."

Here is an excerpt from the article, "William Yockey and his family were visiting the capital in late August from their home in Norfolk, Virginia. His daughter discovered a video camera hidden underneath the sink that was pointed towards the toilet. Yockey determined that the camera was on and recording, then notified the police.

The camera was taken by police for further investigation, and no suspects have been named. Because so little is known about the camera- including who put it there and when- this lawsuit could theoretically be opened up to include anyone else who used the restroom at that Starbucks. 

'We continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement on this matter; however, because there is pending litigation, we cannot comment on the specifics of this case,' Hilowitz continued. 'However, we can tell you that as a part of regular store operations, we monitor the seating areas and rest rooms in our stores on a regular basis to identify potential safety or security concerns.'"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Double Espresso - Gaggia Baby with Rocky Grinder

I am entering new territory.  I have done a video once before, but this lays bare my ability to make quality espresso.  Please, don't judge too harshly!  The espresso tasted creamy but a bit bitter.   The beans used were Starbucks Mexico Shade Grown.  It's a lighter roast than the other products they sell, but you can't dress an ugly duckling into tails.

Notice the quality swirling after the shot was pulled.  Professional through and through.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

DC is 6th Most Caffeinated City in the USA

Another D.C. superlative: America’s 6th most caffeinated city - The Buzz - The Washington Post

According to the Washington Post, the political center of our country runs on caffeine, specifically we are the 6th most dependent.  Congratulations us!  This means we are facing an unavoidable crash in the future.  Now, when we see another political gridlock or a threatening of government shutdown, we are assured that either politicians have not had their coffee or are crashing from their caffeine high.  We should continue to watch CSPAN to ensure our elected officials and lobbyists enjoy coffee responsibly without abuse.

DC is behind Chicago, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in caffeination, yet it is unclear whether the study means per capita or total consumption.  We can take solace that DC's population is 600,000 people whereas New York City has 8,000,000.  I will have a second cup of coffee to ensure that we get one step closer to overtaking Gotham City.  

Skip to 40 second mark for coffee addiction...

The Yankees lost, yay....

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Coffee Setup

My artistic flair and inspiration: Coffee and Wedding Ring
Wow!  I can't believe it, I am married!  After a wonderful and joyous wedding weekend, I returned to the DMV to resume my studies. 

One perk of weddings is that you get stuff, and in my case, coffee stuff.  While 90% of the gifts were directed to my bride, I received a new espresso machine and a coffee grinder, specifically a Gaggia Baby and a Rancillio Rocky.  The differerence between this and my Lello Ariete (espresso machine) and Capresso Infinity (grinder) is tremendous.  The espresso tastes thicker and I have better control over grind size.  The Gaggia' s steamer is powerful and can whip the milk around the pitcher.  Sarah received a nice Cuisnart drip machine equipped with a water filter.  It evenly disperses the water over the ground coffee with a special nozzle. 
An updated picture of my coffee bar.
I am toying around with grind size and tamping with the new portafilter.  The portafilter cannot be filled to the brim; room must be left so it can fit securely into the group head.  I'm sure over the coming weeks I will work out the kinks, but right now I have plenty of new coffee toys to play with :-) Any tips for these high octane, prosumer machines is welcome!  If anyone is wondering, here is my first coffee setup.  Note that everything is replaced except the moka pot.

I love my moka pot.

Monday, October 03, 2011

MIA - Metro Espresso

Some readers may have been wondering where I went for the past six months or more. While I may have vanished into the ethereal blogosphere leaving Metro Espresso inactive, I have been quite busy.  I am getting married in a week, in August I traveled to Berlin to research, and the rest of the time I was preparing for my comprehensive examinations, which is one step to receiving my doctorate.

I have partly returned to have an outlet outside of school, but also many friends and acquaintances have requested for more articles and posts, pestering me about why the blog has not been updated.  To quell there questions and probing, I have quietly returned to Metro Espresso. While I can't dedicate time to Twitter and the other social media accouterments I used in the past, I can promise content on the blog itself, all else is filler. :-)

Coffee Bean Mystery Delight

Last week I ground the last of M.E. Swings's Diplomat Blend.  Too cheap to buy good coffee, I peered inside the "coffee closet" finding an airtight Tupperware.  An odd mixture of light and dark roasted beans were in the container, most likely aged Dunkin' Donuts and Archer Farms coffee.  Yes, the great recession has hit the coffee budget hard.  Gone is Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, and Third Wave coffee.  Enter First Wave.

I poured the beans into the coffee grinder, set it to a coarse grind for a French Press, and boiled water.  Pouring it into the press produced miniscule bloom, a nanometer thick to be exact.  The coffee looked anemic, little life, no luster.   Yet after serving myself, signs pointed towards to a good cup; a nice chocalety film hugged the edges and after first sip, my eyes expanded to the warm, velvety, and bittersweet taste.  After 5 minutes, I voraciously consumed my beverage.

The coffee cup was used and abused. 

I have a half hopper of this mystery coffee left.   This is why I should start a coffee journal; to keep notes and remember which coffee I have bought and when, but then the mystery would be gone...