Today I am quenching a curiosity: how does one make their own latte or espresso-based beverage at home? I am embarking on yet another adventure in the hobby of coffee brewing, and I’m itching to try out my new stovetop contraption—the box reads: For Italian and Cuban style coffee—of the Primula Espresso Maker variety.
I unpack the cardboard box, arrange the aluminum pieces on my counter in a inquisitive manner, not unlike a scientist examining rare species of butterflies in a tropical rainforest. I honestly have no idea how to brew espresso, and I would be hard-pressed to describe the functional role of various metal tidbits that lay before me now. I scramble for the enclosed instructions available in English, French, and Spanish.
Coffee is a language in itself ~ Jackie Chan
Within the mixture of mysterious brewing components, minced with sparse Instrucciones De Uso, my mind recalls my recent stroke of good luck. Well, I say good luck, but it is a circumstance rooted in misfortune. I’m sure you’ll remember the infamous Day 163 in my project, when I wrote Death, Deserts, and the Brutal Beauty Thereof, which featured the not-so-fantastic realization that all of our gift cards were stolen on vacation while we drove across the width of the United States of America. The idea was simple: purchase various gift cards, in advance, to offset the cost of traveling that month.
Needless to say, but I will anyway, sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
You may be trying to connect the dots between Freddy Five Fingers and the Driveway Bandits stealing my box of gift cards in California and that of brewing stovetop espresso—yep, I’m getting to that.
For Christmas 2016, my brother-in-law gave me a gift card to a local Italian grocery store (Pennsylvania Macaroni Company), and it was included in the stack of plastic vacation-bound-bounty—even though it was for a Pittsburgh-based store. Prior to vacation, I had this grandiose idea that I would have time to swing by the establishment and purchase some fine cheese and crackers for our cross-country odyssey, but time never permitted.
For the last few months, my wife has been asking me to contact the store and tell them my Tale of the Stolen Gift Card. “Perhaps they will replace the stolen card,” she’d say with extreme confidence in the human race. I would counter with equal proportions of doubt and cynicism: “yeah, right, there’s no way that they will do anything.” The funny thing about me is that I expressed the same level of I-know-everything in regards to other gift cards that were swiped in the same episode of misfortune, that were later reissued after explaining the circumstances and antics of Freddy Five Fingers and his gang of no-gooders.
Needless to say, but I will anyway, sometimes people will surprise you with pure kindness. A telephone call, several rounds of pass-the-call-to-someone-else, and I found myself talking with Rose. I’m still not certain as to her official job title or position, but I’ve designated it as Official Problem Solver. And she excelled, on all accounts.
I explained my story, she checked her documentation—I’m imagining it as a leather-bound journal with ribbons and multi-colored sticky notes—of gift card purchases, and finally confirmed that the stolen gift card was never spent by Freddy Five Fingers and his band of hooligans—I suspected that the gang had no class for the finer cheeses and crackers in life.
Rose was willing to credit an in-store purchase with the value of the former gift card, but we had to complete the transaction on a day that she worked. I made arrangements to meet her, in real life, at the grocery store on Saturday. My wife and I, still spending some of our time alone without kids, journeyed into town to see Rose and her collection of famous cheeses. And crackers, coffee, pasta, bread, meat, vegetables, sauce, and nearly everything else that you can imagine that is freshly made, based on top-secret recipes from the boot-shaped Motherland.
With instructions from Rose, we paced the isles of this amazing store. Being a bit of a coffee snob, I knew that I wanted to purchase some type of quality bean, and when we walked past the espresso shelf, I knew that I wanted to use this opportunity to purchase the tools and ingredients to make espresso. I grabbed a metal tin of Illy ground espresso, and decided on the smaller Primula maker. But that’s not all, Johnny, choose something else too.
With extra money to spend, we decided to purchase the ingredients for a delicious (or so we hoped) dinner for our family. And off we roamed the store some more, searching for fresh ingredients: black olive infused pasta sauce, homemade garlic and basil fettuccine, and a gargantuan loaf of Italian bread. Following Rose’s instructions, we headed to the checkout and purchased our items, ensuring that we received the credit from the stolen gift card. All of the ingredients added to within twenty-five cents of the original balance, and Italian culinary high-fives were issued all around. We exited the store without spending a single cent of our own money.
Pouring espresso is an art, one that requires the barista to care about the quality of the beverage ~ Howard Schultz
I have completed the initial read on the new espresso maker, and assembled the proper doodads and thingamajigs. Packed with fresh coffee grounds, placed directly on my electric stovetop, water is boiling in the bottom chamber. Aromatic coffee is sputtering over the top and collecting in the reservoir. Simultaneously, I heat whole milk in the microwave while locating my dusty french press coffee maker that has been stuffed on the top shelf of the corner kitchen cabinet. I pour the hot milk into my glass container and plunge away, producing a thick foam. Removing the brewed espresso from the stove, I pour the dark liquid into my preheated ceramic mug, and finally add the frothed milk.
The slow sip pulls the brew from the bottom of the cup, through the thick foam, and on to my lips. The result: pure fantastic fabulousness; I cross #55 Make my own cappuccino or latte from my bucket list. What an enjoyable experience.
One of the kids comment about all of the work that it took to produce one cup of coffee—they couldn’t be more correct. Yes, this is a slow method of beverage production, but it is the process that is to be enjoyed just as much as the final cup of coffee. Like many time-consuming things in life, there is value in the process. While I am far from medaling in the Barista Olympics, a window has been opened into the world of espresso-based beverages, and more specifically, the preparation and appreciation of such.