I shall now delve into the mysteries of making the perfect cup of coffee. You'd imagine if you're paying 40 bucks for a cup of coffee at Barista u'd get somethign good. Unfortunatly the mix-masters at these places are just doing their job, which happens to be, pouring coffee for customers. They are NOT coffee lovers, they're robots trying to pull the perfect shot of espresso...

There were 2 baristas which made excellent coffees, one is in Shivaji Park, Mumbai and the second was on CG Road in Ahmedabad, unfortunatly the Ahmedabad one got demolished for some reason.

The image on the right is all that remains of the joint. Dont know about the shivaji park one, probably its still there. I just went there ONCE....

And for all the machines that they have, u'd think there'll be SOME consistency among the different branches of Baristas all over India. Unfortunatly, there isnt, except that most suck. My suggestion: Fire the staff, invest in an army of automatic coffee machines.

Now these bad boys (on the left) can make an excellent cup of coffee, and there's no shame in using an automatic. The benefit is it makes the perfect cup everytime. There's no room for human error, (unless you manage to fuck up the beans) and is ideal for a joint like Barista. Where HUMAN INTERVENTION does not add to the product, it just fucks it up.

This baby grinds the beans, tamps them, shoots out espresso, then foamed milk/hot chocalate for cappucino/mocha repectivly. Operator has to make sure the beans and water is loaded. That's it. Not like barista where they keep this Grinder in your face just to show how serious they are about coffee (SEE WE HAVE BEANS!). Then they get the grounds and tamp it non seriously. Then just plug it in the machine and out comes half-ass espresso, which they further ruin by adding badly foamed milk etc. Sometimes, u get MALAI in the cappucino !! THE HORROR !!!

Anyway, enough of Barista rants. Here's how to make a great cup of coffee at home, for cheap, using indeginously procured raw material.

Recipe for making South Indian coffee in North India

If you're a coffee lover and have the misfortune of living in North India.. well, join the club. It's awfull up here. Anyway, eversince the Honorable Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Company, aka, Cafe Coffee Day started enchroching upon barista's territory, the struggle has been easier.

Not that I'm promoting CCD over Barista, both suck, what with their trashy stale food and overtly loud yuppy customers and snobbish waiters (Sir, do u know americano is a black coffee?). The reason is coffee day has better ground beans for sale than the barista pack. Also, CCD Arabica pack costs half of the barista trash.

Anyway.. onto the recipe.

Ok... first u need coffee powder and a filter. Two options there, the Arabica pack is for 50 bucks (100g) and another option is Dark Forest for 100 bucks. Dark forest is a good blend, good aroma, finely ground powder, makes for a good wake up drink in the morning. But lacks the strength of the plain old Arabica. Experiment and decide.

Note: CCD sells two other blends called Charge and somethign-else. Both suck, they're Coffee and Chickory blends. Ignore them. Buy the 100% arabica thingy.

You also need this ingenious south indian filter coffee device thing. Its a two part container with the top one having holes in the bottom. You put ground coffee, then comes the tricky part. You have to tamp the grounds. What it means is compress the grounds with a seive press that comes along with the filter. This step cannot be overemphasised. It can ruin a perfectly good shot. There's no specific instructions, only experience and a rabid dedication towards perfection will tell. Heres what the experts have to say:

This is a small art-form in itself, with espresso fanatics going to great lengths to achieve the perfect puck, and prevent the pitfall of uneven extraction that occurs with uneven compression of the coffee. It is not unusual for the tamping process to involve several steps, including compression with different tamps, at different pressures. A small set of scales is useful to quantify the pressure used for each tamp. Increasing the tamping pressure will increase the brew time of a shot of espresso, and thus increase the extraction from the coffee, resulting in a stronger shot.

Dont be so rabid that u buy a bunch of scales to mesure the pressure. Just do this: Put the beans, then press lightly (almost tap) the sieve on the beans once, then rotate the sieve and tap again, rotate and tap. Repeat till u do ONE whole circle, this will make sure the coffee is spread evenly. A very important point to note at this stage is that the filter should be straight, dont hold it in a slanting position. The grounds would be tilted to one side, whcih means sucky espresso.

Once u;re done with the tapping, press it firmly. U should feel the grounds compressing. Do it too much and it'll take hours for the water to seep through, do it too little, and u'll get weak ass espresso. Experiment. We'll discuss ways to check for strength later.

Now quantities. For one cup of coffee, the ideal amount of beans would be 3 heaped teaspoons. If you're making a mug, then go for 4. If you want to bring a corpse back to life, use 5. Four is ideal, trust me.

Now water. Water and coffee ratio is another thing which can fuck up a good espresso. From now on we'll talk in cups (not mugs, and I dont know the volume in mililiters or !GASP! ounces).

Remember, what we're making right now is espresso, or decoction if u please. We'll dilute it with water later on. So, for now heat 1/2 cup water in the microwave for 1 min on high. It shouldnt boil, use whatever time, but half cup of water should be heated, but not boiled. No bubbles. Use clean water.. not mineral water, not tap water. Clean filtered water. Aquaguard is great.

Back to the "now-tamped" filter. Place the sieve on the coffee and leave it there. Now place one finger on the sieve and pour the 1/2 cup hot water over the grounds. The reason for folding the sieve is that sometimes it starts floating. Which is wrong.

Self Check: If you tamped the coffee properly the water will remain slightly clear. There will be a few undisolved beans floating, and it gets discolored, but the whole thing is still clear. Thats a sign u got the tamping right. It could also mean u tamped it too hard and the grounds are as hard as concrete.

Now put the cover on, and leave it. Make sure the top part of the filter is straight. Just out of curiosity, lift the top part and see if coffee is dripping, this may take some time. In the meantime do somethign constructive, fetch the coffee mate and sugar.

Welcome back, your decoction is ready. Observe the top portion on the right. There's a minimum of coffee powder over the seive, thats a good sign. It means the tamp was good. Now observe the left container and drool some. Look at the thickness of the soup, the color, the consistency, the way the world reflects from the surface of a freshly brewed coffee :p~

Ok. Now we pour this in a clean cup. Ideally it should be around 1/4th of the cup.

Now we shall observe it like a wine connoisseur. Now's the time when we check if everything went according to plan. Take a spoon and get some of that liquid out. Swirl it around in the spoon. You're looking for consistency and color. The ideal shot should be thick enough to bulge from the corner (check left image) and leave a fine coating of oil on the spoon surface. Shake it around and check the oil. The image on the right is a magnification of the left one, shows the edge of the liquid.

Observe the gradient made by the oils sticking to the spoon surface. If it's thick and dark in color, it means u done good. Pat yourself on the back, and lets get to the next step.

Boil water. The espresso we got is 1/4, so boil the rest 3/4. Usually 2 min in the microwave is good enough. While that is boiling, add sugar (1tsp) and leave it. Wait for the water to boil.

Pour the boiling water, stir it. Now add nestle coffee mate... keep adding... till its thick, but not overtly milky. Again, experiment. Start from less and add till its not too acidic. Should be just-enough-acidic or its no fun.

Why coffee mate and no milk? Well.. cause milk tends to congeal and get a skin is as disgusting as finding roaches in your cup, and anyway its a bad form to drink espresso with milk. Foamed milk for cappucino or lattes is fine, this one goes better with coffee mate. Trust me.

So what next?? DRINK IT !!

Congratulations you have the best coffee available in the north. Of course, if you're in bangalore etc all you have to do is walk out, get that strecth variety kaapi they serve in small metal glasses for 2 bucks. Thats the best commercially available coffee in India. Cheap and strong. They use milk, but they mix it well.. For personal use, there's coffee mate.

So there you have it folks, the perfect recipe for the perfect cup.

Movies to watch: Coffee and Ciggeretes:

"Coffee and Cigarettes" features an incredible cast of movie stars (including Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Roberto Begnini), hipsters (such as Ms. Renee French from New York), and musicians (Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, GZA and RZA.) There are eleven short films, all of them shot in black and white, with recurring elements of coffee and cigarettes and overhead shots of the crowded tables. Some of the episodes flat out don't work at all, but most of them do. From one scene to the next, you never know what to expect, and that's thrilling. [Link]

A brilliant movie, shot in beutifull black and white, every frame is as composed as a still photograph. Watch it for its artistic brilliance, if not for the coffee/ciggy part.

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1:27 AM, August 28, 2005

Microwave? The horror!    

5:29 PM, August 28, 2005

I do my own bastardized impression of decoction coffee, using an espresso maker, and I've found that (since I take brown sugar in my coffee anyway), if I add the sugar to the milk before I zap it in the microwave for 1:30, the milk gets heated but without the yucky skin on top.

Thanks for the detailed instructions. Will buy one of those thingys and give it a try.    

11:08 AM, October 28, 2005

I've just found your blog about barista expresso machines whilst I was looking for more information to add to my blog about barista expresso machines. You've got a great blog going here. It's always good to have more information about barista expresso machines. I've just started my own blog about barista expresso machines if you would like to take a look.
Keep up the good work.    

7:20 PM, May 01, 2006

Hey there! You are definitely right about using automatic coffee machines. Although I am not a huge fan of the espresso I get out of my Capresso F9, the coffee (crema coffee) is awesome. I use Dunkin Donuts or "Superautomatica coffee" from JL Hufford (I hope I did that right!). I add nondairy creamer instead of cream to crema coffee, though, as cream makes it to rich for me. Crema coffee already has a cream on it, of sorts.

Anyway, nice blog!    

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