Confession time. I’m cheating on my beloved.
We’ve been together since 2003 so I suppose it could be the famed ‘seven year itch’. Only this is more serious. This isn’t just an illicit fumble in the stationery cupboard. This is more. This is love.
Since I began nurturing my love of coffee I’ve tried every method under the sun to attain the perfect cup of Joe. For a while the Cafetiere was enough to see me through the mornings, heaping coarsely pre-ground beans into the warmed jug. The resultant sludge was passable but there was no panache, merely the niggling shadow of 1980s dinner parties and After Eight mints.
The trusty Moka Express came next – ‘every Italian home has one’ came the re-assuring sales pitch and sure enough it proved to make a cup up from the workmanlike brew that spewed forth from the Cafetiere.
Getting the brewing time right was difficult though – too fast and the coffee scorched becoming bitter as the final drops puttered through the spout and the bottom pot boiled dry. Too slow and it took an age for the coffee to appear. It was also a pain to clean and more often than not remained sullied with wet grinds for longer than was suitable.
There was also a frustrating lack of crema – the nutty caramel coloured layer that adorns the finest of espressos, a drink that was becoming my coffee of choice whenever away from home.
For a while I gave into my Swedish heritage and enjoyed the simple delights of filter coffee. Smooth and strong without being overly bitter, it was a coffee to drink throughout the day but it lacked that specific oomph and I never got excited about it in the same way I did about a really good shot of expertly made espresso.
There was only one course of action: to admit that I was a fully-fledged coffee nerd and invest in a machine that would allow making of exquisitely crafted espresso at home.
After much research I chose the La Pavoni Europiccola machine – as much a piece of iconic design as an espresso maker. I was dazzled by its classic lines, its manual mechanics and its apparent simplicity. It was a thing of shiny beauty – curvier than Marilyn Monroe and heavy with brass fittings, I adored it from the moment I bought it.
The love affair lasted quite some time. It had quirks that made it impossible for anyone other than myself to make it work. It was high-maintenance in the extreme, needing constant tweaking. There was no temperature or pressure gauge meaning a sustained period of trial and error before the two were in sync to yield a perfect shot of dark espresso with a satisfying crema.
The boiler itself was small – once enough water had been drawn through the machine to heat all the components there was barely enough left for a couple of coffees. It would have to be re-filled – a task that only the bravest of baristas would dare to undertake.
Tea-towels had to be wrapped around hands to avoid being scalded by the burst of steam that spewed, volcano like, from the boiler as the lid was unscrewed. More waiting, more releasing the pressure from the steam wand, more failed coffees if any aspect was amiss.
Drawing the perfect espresso is a hard task – if one single element is out of kilter, it drags the whole process down with it. Freshness of beans, size of grind, temperature of water, latent heat in machine, pressure, speed of extraction. All these had to be perfect before the Europiccola would even consider emitting a good espresso.
I grew to think of my machine as a well-bred, hot blooded Italian lady: happy to comply on rare occasions but unwilling to compromise and prone to increasingly lengthy bouts of sulking where compliance was NEFC (not-even-fucking-considered).
But those rare occasions when the planets aligned, they made me forget about all those failed shots poured down the sink. Those sleepy hungover Sundays when all I wanted was a simple coffee and instead what I got was violent steaming temper tantrum from an apparently inanimate object. The time I’d spent making coffees for more than two people. The red raw hands scalded from the steam. All those went ignored when I sipped the one 1% of shots that passed muster.
Inevitably though I grew tired of the tantrums. Frustrated by La Pavoni’s increasingly erratic behaviour, I sought solace in the simple pleasures of others.
Telling myself it was just a temporary measure, that I would have my machine serviced and the love would blossom again, I dabbled and toyed and conducted electric affairs with as many coffee makers as I could, desperate to find that spark.
Everything from the Aeropress, a plunge device made by a company famed for their flying rings to futuristic handheld gadgets powered by nitrous oxide. I tried them all desperate to rekindle that spark I’d once felt for the shiny silver elephant now in the corner of the kitchen.
But each brief encounter brought a growing realisation that the relationship with my Italian diva was over. The reality was that most of the methods I was now using made better coffee than the Europiccola ever did. I was just blinded by adoration, rendered incapable by its gorgeous curves and flawless design.
Heartbroken, I resolved never to love again.
And then my brother went travelling. ‘You can babysit the Gaggia, if you want,’ he said. I agreed, thinking it would serve a purpose but nothing more.
In the month since it has been resident in the kitchen, this wonderful machine, this glorious piece of modernist design, all square edges and simple function, has become as much a part of the household as the cats.
We’ve called him Gary. Gary the Gaggia. He sits next to the grinder, taking up more than his fair share of the space in our tiny kitchen but we don’t care. He tells us when he is ready, he never overheats, his pressure is so well maintained I think he may be on statins and he steams milk to textured perfection.
Once the coffee is ground and tamped into place, a simple push of a button is enough to have glorious espresso dribbling through the portafilter. Crema is inevitable and even the GF – who never dared go near the Pavoni – is happy to make coffees now. It is a thing of perfection.
The only problem is, at some point I’m going to have to give him back. Adam – if you’re reading this I might have to look after Gary a little longer…
So – how do you get your coffee fix? Is it a matter of anything goes as long as it is fast and caffeine jacked or are you more of a perfectionist? Share your thoughts below and there may even be some sort of coffee based prize in the offing.
Speaking of coffee, I will be putting my expertise to good use as part of the judging panel for the World Aeropress Coffee Championships at Caffe Culture, Kensington Olympia on June 25th. Come and say hello.