By Kathy Flaxman
Mary Lou Hukezalie likes to start her day with a jolt. At precisely 7:15 a.m., she takes a sip of her first coffee, brewed to her specifications by her coffee maker which she programs the night before. Coffee matters to Mary Lou: she owns four different coffee makers including a small one she takes on trips, ensuring that: "anywhere in North America, I can enjoy my coffee the way I like it. All I need is hot water."
Has the cappuccino maker replaced the luxury sports car as the supreme object of desire? For the coffee aficionado, the answer is yes. An astonishing array of coffee makers await the dedicated caffeine seeker, along with a full complement of accessories. All this, before any actual coffee is purchased!
Mary Lou's 7:15 a.m. brew is courtesy of an electric brewer. Their popularity lies in the fact that they are programmable and dependable, using a standard beans/filter/water preparation method, with lots of available options and features. Some have a carafe that acts like a thermos, ensuring the coffee stays hot but doesn't burn by sitting too long on a hot element, for example.
French press coffee makers are also sought-after. Those who like them swear by the method. Coffee in, water in, wait, push, and presto: coffee, as hot as you wish in the strength you desire. Purists blanch at the thought, but many French press users will reheat in the microwave for a residual cup. These glass and metal coffee makers come in an excellent range of styles and sizes, including a popular one-cup coffee maker that looks adorable, like a toy caffeine dispenser.
Mary Lou's travel option is the one-cup drip method, using very fine grounds, a filter, and water poured directly on the coffee. Once the darling of the caffeine set, this slow drip method is fine for one cup; more and the dripping seems to take a long time. Another, used right on the stove, is two glass globes linked by a clear tube. Water in the bottom globe boils up into coffee in the top globe and when it drips into the bottom again, you have it.
The popularity of cappuccino and latte is phenomenal and both can be prepared at home. Stovetop makers will brew the espresso and partner with stovetop frothers to add that tasty and pretty milk topping. Moving up, a variety of machines add high pressure steam to the mix and are designed to take the guesswork out of espresso-based coffees, while offering options such as the ability to brew a number of cups at one time.
Finally, there is the ultimate, the coffee lover's dream machine! These will, with the push of a single button, grind the beans, dispense the water, and brew one or ten cups of European-style coffee: your choice of cappuccino, café Americano, latte, or straight espresso. One button, one push. The features are endless and some can be hooked directly to the plumbing so even filling a water reservoir is done when the button is pushed. Price range? Think in the thousands.
Feeling overwhelmed? Need a coffee before you can deal with all this? Take heart. According to Alan Erdstein, a coffee importer and retailer, the most important factors in producing the best cup of coffee are fresh beans, good water, and temperature. We're talking hot, really hot. "If your water tastes fine to you, it's fine for coffee," he says. "Many types of coffee makers will produce an excellent brew. People should just relax and enjoy the experience."
Perks of the Trade
The tamper: Picture a small mallet but rounded on the base, the tamper is a must with espresso, to ensure that the correct amount of coffee is used.
The coffee mill: The grinder that uses a sort of propeller-like blade is one level of dealing with beans. The mill is the next, allowing a choice of textures for different types of coffee and coffee makers. The French press needs a coarse grind; espresso, the finest of the fine.
The airtight container: Coffee beans to be ground should only be stored for a week; ground coffee is best used immediately. Air is the culprit keep it out.
The gold filter: Never buy filters again. This one saves trees and keeps your coffee pure.